Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More on the Road of Le Tour

As predicted, I’ve not managed to drink along with the route of this year’s Tour de France. Nope, I’ve not managed to post daily notes or wine-related stories that relate to the locale of each stage. Fact is I’ve had a hard time keeping up with the race itself. I managed to completely miss what’s arguably been the most exciting stage of the race thus far – the finish atop Arcalis in Andorra. Somehow, so did my DVR; so I’ve seen only the brief highlight reels of Alberto Contador dropping the other overall contenders during Stage Seven’s mountaintop finale. I haven’t even watched yesterday’s stage yet, much less today’s (which should still be in progress as I write). So don’t spoil it for me by spouting out the results. I’ve got some catching up to do.

In that spirit, here are a few highlights and observations from week one of Le Tour. I’d hoped to share them earlier but hey, what can I say?

En route from Marseille to La Grande-Motte, Stage 3 took the peloton straight through the heart of the Camargue and the network of lakes of the Bouches du Rhône, south of Arles and Aix-en-Provence. I recognized the countryside right away but was pleasantly surprised when I recognized some of the actual roads the race was traversing, as the pack climbed the Category 4 Côte de Calissanne. It’s a pretty little bluff in the immediate environs of Château Calissanne, an estate in the sprawling Coteaux d’Aix en Provence AOC that my wife and I visited on our honeymoon back in 2000. I profiled Château Calissanne last year, after a visit from their then commercial director allowed me to taste through their more current range of wines and reflect on our trip.

While the Stage 7 finish atop Arcalis may have given us the most exciting finish of the Tour thus far, it was the Stage 4 team time trial (TTT) that’s proven to be the most decisive stage of the race up to this point. It was one of the craziest, most dangerous TTT courses I’ve ever seen, twisting and turning, climbing and dropping through the narrow roads around Montpellier, the capitol of the Hérault and of the Languedoc-Roussillon. TTTs are more typically held on wide open roads as a sheer test of speed, precision and teamwork. While crashes in a TTT aren’t entirely uncommon, there were just a ridiculous number of spills in this year’s stage, the most dramatic of which has to have been the off-road wipeout of half the Boygues Telecom/Bbox Team.

After Stage 5 took the race through the heart of Corbières on its way from Le Cap d’Agde to Perpignan, Stage 6 saw the entire race transfer into Spain for a stage from Girona to Barcelona, finishing atop the Montjuich hill. When I think of Barcelona, I tend to think more of Antoni Gaudi and the beaches of the Costa Brava than of wine. If you were listening closely enough during the evening coverage of Stage 6, though, you may have caught commentator and ex-racer Bob Roll’s typically anti-Gallic comment that he “had to go Spain to find some good wine – an '04 Priorat….” As absurdly misguided as are Roll’s opinions on wine, he was right about one thing: Priorat is indeed just down the coast, to the south and west of Barcelona. Here’s another hit from the archives, my notes on the Priorats of Trio Infernal – Spanish wines made by a bunch of Frenchmen. Take that, Bob Roll!

To round things up….

Author Robert Camuto, who was kind enough to guest post here with the story of his day at Stage 2 of Le Tour, also chimed in with a response to my assertion that there is no wine grown in the tiny principality of Monaco, where the Tour started this year. Confirming my suspicion, he dropped this little tidbit my way:
“Bellet (Nice) would be the closest appellation to Monaco. Bellet has about 12 producers and is the only in-town appellation in France. Reds are made from the Folle Noire (lit. "Crazy Black") grape, which sort of unbelievably can have some fantastic pinot qualities after a few years in bottle. Best producer = Clos St. Vincent. (biodynamic etc.).”

As Le Tour reaches its midpoint, 31 Days of Natural Wine is heading towards its final stages at Cory Cartwright’s blog, Saignée. If you haven’t been following along, put down your work, sit down for a spell and catch up; you’ll find it worth your while. And stay tuned in the closing days for my contribution, an interview with Mr. L’Enfant Terrible himself, Michael Dashe of Dashe Cellars.

Finally, in the wake of all this action, I managed to miss a minor benchmark. My recent piece on the Chablis of Laurent Tribut marked my 500th posting here at MFWT. How’s that for a little pat on the back? Maybe I should open something decent tonight to celebrate.

First though, it’s time to grab some lunch and catch up on the Tour….

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