Friday, July 1, 2011

Le Tour de France Begins - A Love letter from the French Countryside

Stage One: Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes - 191.5 kilometers

Let the race begin! July 2nd marks the beginning of the 2011 Tour de France, one of the greatest sporting specatcles of the year, and a visual love letter from the Versus network to the French countryside. For the next three weeks the Peleton will wind its way through the villages, vineyards and incredible mountain passes that make up this years route, with the riders covering a total of 3430.5 kilometers over 21 stages. Whether a cycling fan or not, the race is worth tuning into from time to time purely for the sheer beauty of the scenery. With cameras filming from practically every angle including helicopters, cars, planes and motorcyles, the perspective ranges from placid and almost hypnotic as the field snakes through a pastoral setting, to vertigo-inducing shots on the descents of the Alps and Pyranees. The race takes me back to the many hours each year I spend driving to visit and taste with winemakers, and offers a view of the unique character of each region of France it passes through. It is also perhaps one of the best covered sporting events, with the Versus network practically become the "Tour Network" for the month of July, providing hours of coverage beginning live in the mornings and repeated several times each day. They also have some of the best qualified commentators in the biz.

To make the viewing a little more enjoyable, for the next three weeks I'll choose a wine or two from a region along the route with a little commentary, beginning with tomorrows wild start on the Passage du Gois in the Vendee. The unofficial start is with a parade lap of the Isle de Noirmoutier, with the official start taking the riders from Noirmoutier to the mainland over the Passage du Gois, a 4.5 kilometer stretch of road that is fully submersed twice a day at high tide. The riders finish 191.5km later at the town of Mont des Alouettes.

This region on the west coast of France is known for oysters and seafood of all sorts, is a hot spot of competitive sailing, a huge sport in France. It is the starting place of the around the world single handed non-stop Vendee Globe, one of a handful of sporting events that makes the Tour look tame. For a taste of the action scroll down to the video below!

On the wine front, the Muscadet region is just to the north and east of the route for the first couple of days, and it is here that the Melon de Bourgogne grape creates incredible, mineral, crisp and intense wines with racy acidity and brillant focus. The region is not without its problems, namely expansion and over production, but there has been a renaissance of small artisan growers who are changing regions image with superb wines based on the unique terroir. For an excellent explanation of the Muscadet region click here to go to The Wine Doctor website.

One of my favorite producers is Marc Olivier of Domaine de La Pepier , who makes a range of fantastic wines from his classic "Sur Lie" to the old vines "Clos Briords" and the lovely Cuvee Eden. His wines are made traditionally, starting with hand harvesting (one of the very few in the region), fermenting with wild yeasts that allow the wine to slowly complete fermentation naturally (instead of innoculating with starter yeasts that are used to rush fermentation to get the wine sold sooner), and bottles with only a very light filtration. Pepier is also one of the few wineries with vineyards entirely of original stock with no clonal selections. The Cuvee Eden 2005 - we have only magnums in stock so buy one and have it Saturday, Sunday and Monday as you watch the race - is racy, loaded with minerals, and has a slightly floral nose with hints of seashell, stoney/briny minerality. Perfect with clams, mussels, cockles or oysters, or mild fish such as dover sole, fluke or flounder. Chill it down, crack it open and enjoy the race! To purchase the Pepiere Muscadet Cuvee Eden Magnum, click here.

The Tour wanders around the Vendee though day three, then out of wine region to Britanny and into the heart of the Loire in Stage 7 on Friday July 8th from Le Mans to Chateauroux. Check back mid week for wine suggestions as the route passes near Vouvray, Montlouis, and Chinon and more!

Vendee Globe 2008 2009 teaser by VendeeGlobe

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