Sunday, July 25, 2010

TDF 2010 Stage 19: Bordeaux to Pauillac

Even after arrivals and departures in towns like Reims, Epernay and Pau throughout the 2010 Tour de France, I think it's safe to say that no stage route screamed more obviously, more de rigueur, of a particular wine or food focus that Saturday's Stage 19 from Bordeaux to Pauillac.

The only full length individual time trial in this year's Tour — more typically there are two, plus a prologue — started in Bordeaux, winding through city streets for 15k before emerging from the relative shelter of an urban setting for the final 37k trek northward along the left bank of the Gironde estuary. Each rider, racing only against the clock, the elements and their own limits, would travel a route more or less identical to La Route du Médoc — the Chateaux road. Each would pass through Cantenac, Margaux, Tayac, Arcins, Beychevelle and St. Julien en route to the finish in Pauillac, home to more estates registered in the classification of 1855 than any other Médocaine commune.

Along with the better part of three weeks of cumulative fatigue, the wind blowing along the vineyard road proved the nemesis of most riders on the day. That wind favored the earlier starters, such as stage winner Fabian Cancellara, and battered the higher placed racers with later start times. I can't remember an eventual tour winner placing so lowly in the final time trial as did Alberto Contador, who finished only 35th on the stage, a major letdown relative to his triumph in the final TT in the 2009 Tour. Nonetheless, it was enough to keep him in the maillot jaune as he finished 31 seconds ahead of his main rival, Luxembourgian Andy Schleck, in 44th place.

The fact that Contador's final margin of overall victory, 39 seconds, exactly mirrors the amount of time that he gained by taking advantage of Schleck's mechanical difficulties in Stage 15 puts a permanent (if only implied) asterisk next to Contador's name in the annals of Tour victors.

Even though I was craving something white and, even more importantly, refreshing to accompany dinner and the stage viewing on a sweltering July night, I gave in to the greater calling of Le Tour and delved into the cellar for something appropriate to the day's finish line.

Pauillac, Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 1995
Price on release unknown (gift); $125+ on current market. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Seagram Chateau & Estate, New York, NY.
There are the famous three of five firsts, then the somewhat less illustrious twelve of eighteen fifth growths, Grand-Puy-Lacoste generally being considered one of the better performers among that lowest ranking in the commune of Pauillac. From my perspective these days, that's trivia and little else, for I rarely buy Bordeaux of late and drink it with not much more regularity. Though far from bad, this bottle reminded me why.

Actually, there was a lot for someone to like. Still plenty of vigor in the fruit department. Pretty classic structure, with firm, slightly astringent yet well-integrated tannins. It's medium-bodied; a true 13% unlike so many of the Bordeaux I've tasted over the last few years that are still labeled at 13 but drink more like 14.5. There's even a clear sense of terroir, of the classic Médoc gravel, cassis and graphite. But the wood...

It's not that the oak was overly sweet, toasty, chocolaty or (fill in your favorite pejorative barrique-ism). But the wood treatment nonetheless dominated the wine — on the nose, to the tactile senses and on the palate. I found it too obtrusive, as if the barrels had sucked the energy out of the wine while asserting their presence, leaving little sense of purity or pleasure in their wake.

One could argue, and I'm sure some would, that the wine was simply too young. Certainly it had plenty of life ahead of it if left dormant in the cellar. But as dominant as the oak is today, I don't see it ever finding balance.

Up next: Paris, a day late and a bottle short.

2 comments:

abc said...

You are a more dedicated Tour wine drinker than I am. I went for Sauternes and called it good enough.

David McDuff said...

Hey abc,

When the opportunity to nail an exact wine or food connection came up, which was all too rare via this year's Tour route, I tried to go for it. There are a decent number of other bottles along these lines in my cellar and they need to be drunk at some point. This one definitely could have gone another 10-20 years but I'm not sure it would have proved any more or less enjoyable.

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