Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
July 1, 2011
For most Americans, the Tour de France is simply some bike race in Europe that has been overshadowed by scandal.
But beyond the sideshow of innuendo and sound bites about doping in the sport, there is much about the Tour to recommend it. Begin with the spectacle itself: a hundred riders in electric-colored jerseys take to cobblestone streets and impossibly steep switchbacks, exhibiting courage, stamina and skill over 21 stages.
Around our house, the Tour is an excuse to come home each July evening, fire up the grill and hang out, watching the spectacular scene on the Versus network. It also allows us to drink a score (plus one) of the wonderful wines from France. While we love wines from around the world, the excuse to spend three weeks focusing on the various wine regions of the world’s greatest wine country is simply lagniappe (a little something extra) on top of the racing.
Amazingly, the 2011 Tour will miss the majority of France’s significant wine regions. Unlike previous years, when riders would skirt through vineyards in Burgundy, streak down the vine-covered hills of Alsace, or ride along banks of the Gironde River in Bordeaux, there will be surprisingly little coverage from these iconic wine regions.
Rather, much of the racing will take place in Brittany and Normandy early on, before the riders bisect the Loire Valley. The route will head south, and then west, to the Pyrenees Mountains. A little bit of the Mediterranean coast will come into view before the race turns into the Alps and finally finishes in Paris on July 24.
I won’t be able to pair my wines on a nightly basis with the riders by region, but I shall not be dissuaded from my plan to pop a cork each night.
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Last night’s opening stage was a good place to try a Rose and the plan was to crack open a bottle from Alsace, one of the regions that will not get air time on Versus this year. I also thought because it was the opening night that some bubbles might be nice. The choice was a Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose made from 100 percent Pinot Noir grapes. This salmon-colored sparkler was a basket of berries in a bottle and for around $20 was an elegant wine for both my Saturday night and the first turn of the wheels.
For the next few days I think the focus will be on wines from the Loire Valley. A vast region that runs from the Atlantic to the east along the Loire River, this area is best known for white wines. From the west come the Muscadet wines that are influenced by the sea and are the perfect accompaniment to briny lobsters and oysters. To the east it is the Sancerre wines made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. These crisp, clean, clear, stony and, occasionally, grassy wines can be served alone or with a piece of grilled salmon and they will be equally alluring.
Any tour of France would be inconceivable without some Burgundy, so I think on the weekend I will open a bottle of Pinot Noir from the place that perfected it. Fortunately I have a bottle of Nicolas Potel Pommard 1er Les Fremiers 2005 in my rack of wines that needs to be claimed. No better time, no better place than home on a Saturday night to drink it.
Once the big dogs get to the Alps and the classic climbs, including the legendary L’Alpe d’Huez and its 21 turns, I think I will be ready for something to go with a big rib-eye. If you see just one stage of the Tour De France, be sure to tune in on Friday evening, July 22, for the epic ride. For me that night will feature a great grilled steak and a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. For my 13 grapes – the number permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape – I will turn to Chateau Beaucastel and the elegant, enormous, earthy wines from the Perrin family.
While most of my viewing will be on tape-delay in the evenings, I plan to rise early to watch the finale in Paris live on Sunday morning, July 24. And believe me there will be a bottle of Champagne in bed. Sound decadent? It is. To salute the champion and his victory ride down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, I will open a gift bottle of Dom Perignon Rose that has been sitting my fridge for the better part of a year.
So many nights, so many wines. Let the ride begin.