Wednesday, July 14, 2010

TDF 2010 Stage 10: Chambéry to Gap

Happy Bastille Day, all. Today's 10th Stage of the Tour de France marked the race's half-way point and saw the riders bid adieu to their annual passage through the Alps. Though there were no major passes along the lines of what the pack faced in Stage 9 (or what's still to come in the Pyrenées) , there were several stiff cols today. That said, the climbs were lessened in their impact by the field's decision — at least most of the field — to celebrate the French national holiday with a fairly relaxed gruppo compacto roll along the course, leaving it to a small breakaway group to fight for the glory of a stage win.

Starting in the town of Chambéry, in the Savoie Department, the 179km stage took the peloton just east of the city of Grenoble, in the Isére, before winding down to a finish in the Hautes-Alpes town of Gap. The most memorable scenes from today's coverage were not of the climbs but rather of the technical, bordering on frightening, descent of the Col de Noyet, about 25km before the finish.

This was the same descent on which, in 2003, Spanish rider Joseba Beloki suffered a horrendous crash after rolling a front tire that had hung up in melting tarmac on the road surface. On Beloki's wheel, Lance Armstrong took to the fields to avoid a similar fate, riding downhill on bare instinct and rejoining the group around the next switchback, after a cyclocross style dismount and remount, necessary to clear the gully at the side of the road. In spite of similar weather and pavement conditions, this year's field appears to have avoided similar incident.

* * *

I was rather quietly and rightfully chided today for what I wrote about today's stage in my preview of this year's Tour stages:
"It's Bastille Day and the riders will bid adieu to the Alps. Beginning in Savoie, the riders will also leave wine country, skirting the mountains to their east on a path through the Val d'Isère (Rhône Alps). Sorry, no l'Alpe d'Huez this year. A good day for cheese, perhaps?"

In fact, today's course passed within just a few kilometers of the Savoie wine growing regions of Chignin and Apremont. Oops.... I meant no offense to Savoyard citizens, of course. It's just that Savoie wines rarely cross my table, or my path — something I'll have to rectify in the not too distant future. Where I'm taking you instead is to a less proximal and also relatively unfamiliar part of the Savoie.

Bugey Mondeuse, Franck Peillot 2006
$19. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
If the wines of Chignin and Apremont suffer from a lack of identity on the US market, Bugey could certainly be said to have an identity crisis of its own. Originating from Montagnieu in the eastern section of the Ain Department, at the southern tip of the Jura mountain range, and roughly 60k to the WNW of today's start in Chambéry, Bugey is actually most often associated with the Savoie region.

I can hardly claim to be an "expert" on the wines of Franck Peillot any more than on the regions of Chignin and Apremont. I've had only a few chances to try them in the past. This bottle was the closest thing I had in my cellar to falling within striking distance of today's stage route, and it had been tempting me for some time anyway. What better occasion....

Peillot's 2006 Mondeuse leads off with a nose of crushed black cherries, bay leaves, white peppercorns and a suggestion of stemminess. It's firmly structured and broadly textured, with a slightly chalky tannic feel reminiscent of pressing fruit skins between your cheeks and gums. Very visceral and mineral-rich on the finish. An hour or so after opening, it clamped down and clammed up, feeling leaner and less giving. Day two, on the other hand, brought forth darker fruit and loamy aromas, along with suggestions of the approaching maturity I might have expected but hadn't detected a day earlier.

Frankly (no pun intended), this isn't something I'd envision drinking on a regular basis. The wood-like astringency of its tannins limits its versatility, though it did prove a fine match with dark meat chicken. Expressive yet complicated juice... or maybe I just need to get to know it a little better.

Next up: turning west, turning foodward.

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