Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
July 3, 2009
It’s Tour time.
Yesterday, Lance, Levi and Alberto took to the streets and hills of Monaco for the opening time trial, the first of 21 stages of this year’s Tour de France. Here in Aspen, interest in the race is as high as perhaps any town in America due to our own strong cycling community and, of course, Armstrong’s recent relocation to the West End.
Around our house, the Tour is a nightly event. We tune into the Versus network and take a vicarious trip to France. It has become our summer ritual to fire up the grill, open a bottle of French wine and settle in to listen to the recently knighted Phil Liggett call the action as the peloton tackles the pavement.
The Tour provides those with an interest in wine to see in High Definition the terrain and terroir of many of the varied wine regions of France. Each year the course changes and this year the major wine regions that will host the riders include Provence and Alsace. Fortunately, both regions produce terrific wines for summer sipping that can also offer great value.
Today, the Tour takes the riders from Monaco to Brignoles on a 116.2-mile (187 km) stage that begins by hugging the coast along the Mediterranean Sea before turning inland to cut right through the heart of Côtes de Provence. This region is famed for the production of Rose, which, like Provence, can produce some of the most beautiful visuals in the world of wine. The pink hues of these wines, with hints of orange and sometimes light purple, can rival a sunset.
Rose wines made international news this month when the European Union dropped plans to allow European wine producers to produce and label wines as Rose that are made by simply blending red wines and white wines together.
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Traditionally, European winemakers have used red wine grapes (called black grapes) exclusively to make Rose. In Provence, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault are predominant among the grapes grown and used for the wine. Many of the best Roses are produced using a process called Saignee (pronounced “son-yay”), which translates literally to “bleeding.” This method is a favorite of wine geeks.
In Saignee, winemakers crush the grapes and then let the clear juice sit with the dark skins in fermentation tanks for a short time, allowing the skins to impart color to the wines. When the juice reaches the color desired by the winemaker, it is drained, or bled, from the tank that holds the skins and placed in a separate tank to finish the fermentation process. This can be a painstaking process, as the winemaker may choose to bleed small portions out of the initial fermentation tank on an hourly basis as the wines achieve the desired shade.
It is possible to make good Rose by blending red and white wines – we do that here in the U.S., and Australia also has some good blended Rose – but the argument in Europe was that the traditional techniques produced a better, purer version of a unique wine style and should be recognized as distinct practices so as not to confuse consumers. So by reversing its field regarding blended wines, the EU got this one right.
For tonight’s Tour broadcast (we avoid the daily results and tune into the evening rebroadcast of the day’s ride), our wine of choice will be mas de la dame Rose du Mas 2008 from the Les Baux de Provence appellation in the western part of Provence near the Rhône river. This bottle can be found shoulder-high on your left as you enter the wine room at Carl’s Pharmacy. It sells for around $15 and is a steal. A blend of the traditional Provence grapes I mentioned before, this organically farmed wine benefits from the consult of Jean-Luc Colombo, who produces intense and highly prized wines in the Rhône Valley.
Mas de la Dame translates to “Farm of the Women” and the 16th-century estate is owned by two women who have produced a feminine, distinctive, fresh wine that is a great example of how satisfying, refreshing and fruity a Rose from the South of France can be.
As Lance and company make the turn from the coast towards the mountains, I plan on sipping the summer sun in a glass of Rose from Provence.