Wednesday, July 7, 2010

TDF 2010 Stage 4: Cambrai to Reims

After three straight days of utter chaos on the roads of Holland, Belgium and Northern France, would Stage 4, from Cambrai in the Nord Pas de Calais to Reims in the Marne, finally prove safe passage for the riders of the professional peloton?

I don't want to break my own rule, to divulge the name of the winner to anyone who's not yet had the chance to watch today's race coverage, so I'll only answer my own question. Yes. One or two men hit the deck, of course. I wonder if there's ever been an entirely crash-free stage of Le Tour...? But it was overall a day of clear sailing, in spite of a tricky run in to the city center of Reims, a day that finished in a classic bunch gallop to the line and proved the resurgence of the old guard is no joke.

I could devote today's post to the coronation of kings, to Jeanne d'Arc, to brioche and game tarts, to the history of gothic architecture and stained glass. But I'm guessing you all know what's coming, for Reims is home to more than just one of France's most impressive cathedrals; it's the mercantile capital of the Champagne region.

I'm also guessing that today's stage victor celebrated on the podium by taking a swig and then spraying the crowd with something from one of the Reims-based négoce houses or co-ops. I celebrated for him with Champagne of a different ilk, paired with that most untraditional of Champenoise delicacies: veggie pizza.

Champagne Brut Nature "Les Béguines," La Closerie (Jérôme Prévost) (2005)
$80. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
As is often the case with unusual and/or profound wines (and, in this case), the last few drops in the glass were the most aromatic, the most compelling, the most revealing. Caramel dipped apples, marzipan, Lopez de Heredia blanco, golden wheat, peach compote, coffee crumb cake.... I kind of hate to go on like that but this is the kind of wine that easily compels one to conjure such lists. There was just a ton going on, constantly shifting and morphing from beginning to end.

Like the wines of his friend and mentor, Anselme Selosse, Prévost's Champagnes are fermented and aged in small- to medium-sized oak barrels. Though the wood combined with the intense physiological ripeness of Prévost's fruit adds unmistakable roundness, color and vinosity to the wine, the wood itself seemed otherwise transparent. Right down to the last sip, that is, when my nose picked up an aroma reminiscent of walking into the barrel aging room at a winery, a soulful smell if ever there was one.

By the way, "Les Béguines," though not vintage dated, is always a single vintage wine, in this case from the 2005 harvest as indicated by the "LC05" lot number that appears on the lower part of the front label. It's also produced almost entirely from Pinot Meunier, as all but two-tenths of a hectare of Prévost's 2.2 hectares are planted exclusively to 40 year-old Meunier vines.

Deliciously different stuff. And yes, it was a good match.

Tomorrow: would anyone refuse another visit to Champagne?

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