Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stages 8 and 9 July 11th and 13th - The High Mountains!

Today the Tour reaches its first true mountain stages with two rarely climbed category 1 ascents. The start leaves Station des Rousses on the Swiss border and heads south through the Jura before turning back towards Switzerland, not far from Lac Leman. There are a couple small cat 4 hills before they encounter the mountains proper at the Ramaz Pass (only climbed twice in the history of the Tour) at about 40 kilometers from the finish. The stage concludes with a category 1 uphill climb to the finish in Morzine-Avoriaz, last visited 16 years ago. It should be an exciting day before they get a rest day on Monday and continue in the mountains for an incredible day of climbing in stage 9 Tuesday along the French/Italian border including the Hors Category climb over the Col de la Madeleine. Don't miss the excitement and the breathtaking views - the mountains are where the race can be won or lost!
All this time the Peloton is cruising through the beautiful scenery of the high Alps in the Jura and Franche Comte, a region little known for its wines and well-known for its cheeses. Comte, Morbier, Munster, Grand Cru Emmental, Upper Jura Blue and Mont D'Or are some of the best of the region, and the first two are pretty much world renowned classics. 
The wines of the Jura on the other hand can be a bit quirky, unchanging and unflinchingly secure in the own identity, and for that reason are sometimes a bit of a challenge for outsiders and new world wine lovers used to drinking fruit driven, full bodied plush styles of wine. Here the indigenous grape varieties that include Poulsard, Savignin and Trousseau are the stars,  with more familiar Pinot and Chardonnay playing fairly minor roles. The high Alpine environment at between 800 and 1300 feet above the Plaine de Bresse is continental, but colder than Burgunday far below and to the west. Even within this region, terroir plays a role as each wine growing area has very specific soils : Red and blue marls for the Poulsard ; Rich gravels and warm soils par excellence for the Trousseau ; Light marls for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir ; Grey marls for the Savagnin. Vin Jaune, a wine made in an oxidative style, is one of the most popular (and idiosyncratic) wines from the region - almost sherry like in its nutty, rustic yet intriguingly delicious way, and there is sparking Cremant made here as well as a vin de liquer wine called Macvin.  Looking at our rather thin selection from the Jura and the mountainous east of France  (how can we not have Vin Jaune?) I have made a definite note to get out and taste a lot more wines from the region and beef up the selection! Better yet - ROAD TRIP!! Here are a couple of my favorite wines from the region:

2007 Domaine Rolet Nature du Jura Arbois Blanc $22
Region: Arbois (Jura,) France
Grapes: Chardonnay and Savagnin blend
Not too oxidative or rustic at all, this has a nutty, mineral stony character - piercing and focused on the palate with a long finish that sort of lingers and fades into almond nutty tones. A great example of a fresher style from this region. 

Apremont Vin de Savoie, Marc Portaz $16.50 - Unbelievably the Janquere grapes for this wine are grown on the rubbly rocky soil from a giant landslide from Mount Granier 750 years ago that buried a few hamlets and villages. Light, crisp, aromatic and refreshingly delicious this wine seems to capture the alpine air and stony soils of where it is grown. Aged sur lee it sometimes has a slight sparkle when drunk young.  Another delicate, lovely summer white!

Ceron de Bugey, Domaine Renardat Fachet $24 - One of my favorite wines in the world, seriously! It is a methode ancestral (same as Champagne methode) that is made from Poulsard and Gamay grapes with just a hint of sweetness. It has pale pinkish hue, lovely fine bubbly mousse, hints of fresh strawberry and raspberry, and wonderfully low alcohol - all making the a perfect summer afternoon aperitif or an after dinner palate refresher. We drink it on the beach at the end of the day!

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