Cycling and wine. They seem to pair about as well as peanut butter and jam. But why? Perhaps it is the proximity to the pastoral times of yore, or the accessibility of both to those of all shapes, sizes, ability and age (okay…not all ages). Asking a former Tour de France cyclist, he responded that possibly it was the individual, silent pursuit of both that intrigued him so much—that eccentricity was actually rewarded for each. Some of the best wine trips involve cycling. You not only see but also taste the culture you are visiting—a true immersion, a most memorable pairing. This month, get the most out of the Tour de France by tasting through its stages, which will be going through the country’s best wine regions. If you can’t actually be there, what better way to experience than to taste the route itself?
If you live in Denver, stop on by my shop (Little’s Wine & Spirits near the University of Denver, 2390 South Downing, 303.744.3457) and grab a yellow card, where you will receive 15% off a bottle from every region (10 total). Finish the race, you win some wine! Plus, on days the tour goes through a wine region, tell us who won the stage by the next day, and we’ll take 20% off a bottle from that region.
If you are not in the area, go to your favorite wine shop and set yourself up for the challenge. It’s a fun way to partake in all the lovely regions this historical race intends to pass through this month!
To begin, July 7th: Champagne. The word alone inspires a sense of pedigree, prestige and nobility. Its history runs long, even proceeding the medieval era. No matter the century, Champagne’s allure and acknowledged exceptional status above other bubbly has wavered little. It is difficult not to spend the entirety of this issue poring over its particularities, but in respect for France’s other incredible wines you will get to know, I will truncate Champagne’s raison d’arte to one word, one source: soil. This chalky, belemnite, fossil-laden soil that come to compose the bleak, dreary fields of Champagne are the reason they produce the most untouchable, superior bubbles in the world.
Next stop: the Maconnais on the 9th, one of five major regions of production in Burgundy. It sits just above Beaujolais in the southern portion of the Burgundian map and is known primarily for its whites (about 90% is Chardonnay). This pocket of Burgundy tells the story of limestone, the warmth of the sun, and fresh, pure Chardonnay. I’ve always been a fan of the lesser expensive 2007 Drouhin St. Veran ($17) or 2008 Cave de Grands Crus Blanc St. Veran ($14) to experience the rounder notes of apple and pear. If you like a leaner, more mineral-driven style with higher acid, try any of the biodynamic 2008 Dominique Cornin line. Or, if you are in the mood for something a little more special, consider the 2006 Daniel et Martine Barraud ‘La Roche’ ($29) drinking beautifully now with rich notes of toasted hazelnuts and savory scents of earth. The 2006 Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse is a very traditional, ageworthy Fuisse, while the 2007 Cave de Grands Crus Blanc Pouilly Fuisse ($23) is a fresher, fruitier style.
I also recommend you sample some Beaujolais, as the tour will skim through this piece of Burgundy as well. This is a region that is often scoffed at and associated with plonk Thanksgiving Nouveau. But it is not. People have overlooked some incredible values from their top Crus (10 total), not the least of which Ruet’s ‘05 Brouilly ($20) and Clos de la Roilette’s floral, peaty ‘06 Fleurie ($21). If you like Pinot Noir, you will undoubtedly like these.
Alpine-bound, we will be fortunate to stop in the Savoie. Known for its first rate skiing and savory fondue, this region also boasts of dry, acid-driven, lean, clean wines—both red and white. I absolutely love the 2008 Dom. Jean Vullien ‘Montemelian’ at only $11.99. Try also the Perrier line, which include a Pinot Noir ($13.99), Mondeuse($16) and Apremont ($14) made of the Jacquere grape. If you are thinking Perrier water, you are onto something. This is the same family that brings you delicious, non-alcoholic, re-hydrating bubbles. If having Fondue or Raclette party, there is no other wine more appropriate that those from the Savoie!
If you tuned in to last month’s lengthy entries, no need to prattle on about the next couple areas in the South of France, which include Vaucluse, Ventoux, the Languedoc and even a touch of the Northern Rhone. If you didn’t happen to discover them last month, try try again during this month’s tour. They start as little as $9.99 with the Cave de la Romaine Ventoux and cap out at in the $100’s, especially if you land on Hermitage (Chave classically one of my favorites when I can sneak a sip), though you’ll be delighted to learn there are dozens under $20, such as the quirky, funked out red and white Le Pigeonaire ($10.99), the elegant cherry-kissed, earthy Domaine de la Damase ($12.99), the jammy, bbq perfect Grand Chemin Rouge ($10.99) and their light-footed Rose in a Gris style($9.99).
Finally, to bookend the tour by complimenting its prestigious beginning of bubbly Champagne, we end this 3-week long meal with the delicate whites, hearty reds and sticky sweet Sauternes of Bordeaux. A region far too complex in history, variety and culture to really understand within the confines of a paragraph or two, there are a few things you should know about Bordeaux.
For one, there is a left bank and a right. The Cab-driven reds lie on the left (like Haut-Medoc, Margaux, Pauillac, St. Julien, St. Estephe and Graves), where the softer more youthfully accessible Merlot-driven reds sit on the right (St. Emilion and Pomerol, namely). Dry whites made of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are also found here, not the least of which Graves, such as the endlessly interesting 2008 Lacoste Graves ($20). I am sometimes amazed at the quality you get per dollar with that one. To get a sense of these herbaceous, mineral-kissed whites, also try the 2007 Chat. Thieuly ($17) and the 2007 Chat. Peyruchet ($12), especially if you are preparing some herb butter sole or goat cheese with chives.
Bordeaux is also famous for its honeyed, age worthy, botrytis-affected desserts wines. If you have never taken the time to get to know the sweeter side of wine or hold some prejudice, I dare you to relax and take a sip. I am certain you will fall just as deeply in love with stickies as I have. Sauternes are particularly famous for their ability to achieve balance with acid and sugar—the perfect duo to avoid flabby, cloying, sugary sweet messes of wine.
So mix it up this July and allow yourself to interact with the most famous bicycle race in the world. Imagine, while watching highlights at night, you can actually see the region you are tasting in your own living room. Now that’s the kind of Tour de France I’m talkin’ about.