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French Toast

To the barricades, glass in hand

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Americans just don't celebrate Bastille Day like they do the public holidays (or national heritage-themed festivities, anyway) of a handful of other nations: with a bout of drinking any alcoholic beverage associated with said nation.

Maybe July 14 follows too close on the heels of a beer-soaked Fourth, but it's a missed opportunity for North Coast wineries. As Irish stout is to St. Patrick's Day, surely such a French-themed holiday would be soused in what most folks think of as numéro un of French wines: Cabernet Sauvignon.

The funny thing about that is, while Cab is king in California, it's merely in the top five in France, ranking below workaday Carignan and humbled by the reign of Merlot. And while native to Bordeaux, Cab gained its favored status in close concert with the wine-drinking habits of aristocratic Englishmen who were in need of something weedy and tannic with which to continue staining their teeth after taking black tea at four.

There's a line of wine criticism which insists that, since Americans prefer coffee, often with cream and sugar, they fancy their Cabernet with roasted oak, vanillin and sweet fruit flavor. The Educated Guess 2016 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99) offers no contradiction—only roasty, toasty French roast aroma, inky purple marker notes and convincing tannic grip, for a democratic price. The producer, an outfit called Roots Run Deep Winery, also makes a Napa Valley-designated wine; this even more economical North Coast version includes a Lake County portion that comes to the blend with the good rep of Beckstoffer Vineyards. The wine's black plum and black-cherry fruit flavors sweeten in the glass, balancing the charred character. If this doesn't do it for your backyard barbecue guests, then let them drink . . . $400 Napa Cab?

Another funny thing about Cabernet in Napa Valley is that it's most often seen in the company of that trophy blonde, Chardonnay, when its real mate, or rather, maman, back in Bordeaux, is Sauvignon Blanc—a mix-up that probably stems from the lineup at the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting.

Speaking of stems, the Ehlers Estate 2017 St. Helena Sauvignon Blanc ($32) fumes with those pyrazine notes shared by both varietals. Here, it's evocative less of green pepper than dusty shale, or to some, flint or smoke, like some Loire Sauvignon Blancs. Grapefruit pith and hardly ripe yellow plum flavors might be a bit tart for some tastes, yet if the long finish is bracing, it isn't bitter. Anyway, this organically farmed, varietal exemplar is best suited for quiet summer evening sipping, not a bout of drinking.

This story was updated to correct information about Roots Run Deep Winery.

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