WineInk: The Tour returns with wine, bikes and maps |

WineInk: The Tour returns with wine, bikes and maps

by Kelly J. Hayes
Sommelier Greg Van Wagner pulls a bottle at Jimmy’s.
Anna Stonehouse / The Aspen Times

This Saturday, the world’s most significant bike race begins in the world’s most significant wine nation. The 104th Tour de France will set out for a 21-stage, 2,082-mile pedal around the edges of France.

You may remember last year that a sommelier in Aspen, Greg Van Wagner of Jimmy’s: An American Restaurant and Bar, paid homage to the synergy of the Tour and wine by researching and selecting a different wine for each stage that corresponded to the route of the race. This year, Van Wagner reprises his Tour du Vin, but with changes that reflect what he calls “the atypical” nature of this year’s Tour.

“So, the Tour this year starts in the northwest and stays north for the first nine stages,” he explained. “It goes through places that are Muscadet and cider country.” In fact, the race starts in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île, an island in the Vendee, and then heads toward first Brest, and then northeast to the cobblestones of Roubaix. The Tour takes an off day as teams fly to the Alps, before heading west into the Pyrenees. While scenic and historic, the atypical route forgoes renowned wine regions like Champagne or Bordeaux.

In fact, curiously, with the exception of Languedoc-Roussillon, none of the most significant major wine regions of France will see the riders this year.

“In order to give our customers a selection of unique wines from some regions that may be a bit more obscure, I decided to pick five beverages, a cider and four wines, that are among the most interesting things from where the stages run,” Van Wagner said. Nightly during the Tour, Jimmy’s will offer up glasses of the five selections for $14 each.

There will be crisp Julien Braud, Muscadet-Sevre-et-Maine made from a grape called Melon de Bourgogne, from the region near the Tour’s start, and a Etienne Dupont “Reserve” Cider that is aged for six months in Calvados barrels from the Pays d’Auge in Normandy. Van Wagner has also obtained the only Colorado allocation of Domaine Belluard, “Les Perles De Mont Blanc” Sparkling Gringet, made from a grape grown on vineyards at the foot of Mount Blanc. Staying with a crisp and fresh summer white wine theme, there will be a Jean Masson & Fils, Apremont, “Vieille Vigne Traditionnelle” from the Savoie in the French Alps. The only red wine hails from a fairly obscure AOC region (I had never heard of it) called Irouleguy (ee-RHOO-lay-ghee) in French Basque country. The wine, Herri Mina, Rouge, is made from 100 percent cabernet franc. My guess? You have never tasted any of these wines.

Van Wagner plans to keep a cursory eye on the race as he works the floor at Jimmy’s and also prepares to take the “theory” portion of the master sommeliers exam in Dallas on July 23. As an advanced sommelier he has rigorously studied the past 11 months for the exam that explores the most obscure information about the entire world of wine and is so tough that the pass rate is around 10 percent.

Interestingly, he has applied techniques that he developed while searching for wines for last year’s Tour du Vin event to his master’s study.

“I use Google Earth to help me get a visual idea of the wine world and the places I am studying,” he said as opened his computer. “Last year, I overlaid a wine region map and the Tour de France course over a map of France and it let me see producers who were along the route. So now I use Google Earth to select locations of vineyards, producers and other info I need to know and then pin them with my notes.”

As he turned his computer my way I saw a Google Earth version of France with hundreds of yellow pins covering the wine regions. As he clicked on one, his notes appeared with detailed analysis of the history of the producer, the vineyards, and the wines they make. Then Van Wagner closed the note and drilled down to where we could see a perfect Google Earth visual of the winery and vineyards.

The entire world of wine was covered and pinned with Van Wagner’s notes. It is an amazing and creative use of modern technology to make visual connections to places that no one person could ever hope to visit in a single lifetime.

In what may be a karmatic sign, Van Wagner will need not be bothered with the Tour on the day of his exam. July 23 is a rest day for the Tour in Carcassonne. Look it up on Google Earth.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at