It’s that time of year again when Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen (as well as the superhuman riders) light up the screen with their fascinating Tour de France coverage interspersed with local facts about the beautiful regions the Tour passes through. Three weeks of bike racing with some daily rides over 120 miles leaves the announcers some downtime to dig into local culture which got me thinking about all the interesting vineyard and wine-related areas the riders are passing through.
The Tour started this year in Dusseldorf which is home to ProWein which is the biggest international wine fair held each March. While Dusseldorf itself is too far north to grow grapes, there are plenty of nearby options from the famous Mosel and Rheingau wine regions. World-class Riesling of all styles (dry, off-dry, and sweet) may be found here with all of them sharing lively acidity and brilliant mineral notes. Look for any wines produced by Selbach-Oster – fantastic!
The Tour went through Belgium next which focuses on varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and also produces sparkling wines. 80% of Belgium’s wine is white with 15 approved varieties.
Stage 3 took the riders through 3 countries in one day: Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Luxembourg has been making wine since Roman times but its wine is rarely found outside the country as most is not exported. White wines dominate and crémant (sparkling) wine is also popular. Auxerrois (a Pinot Blanc relative) is a beloved white grape and does particularly well here due to its low acidity which is important in a cooler region.
Stage 4 passed through the Côtes de Toul which produces a local Vin Gris wine. While the name translates to “gray wine”, in reality the wine is light pink and typically made from Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes. Quiche Lorraine is also a regional specialty that pairs quite well with Vin Gris.
Stage 5 ended with a dramatic climb into La Planche des Belles Filles which is located in the Vosges Mountains. The Vosges are an important geographic feature for Alsace as it provides a rain shadow which creates drier and warmer growing conditions for Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewüztraminer, and Muscat grapes.
Stage 6 was the first entry into Champagne (enough said there) passing into the Aube département. The local specialty here is Rosé des Riceys which is a pale pink wine made from “bleeding off” some of the Pinot Noir juice after a short maceration with the skins.
Stage 7 brought the Tour’s first-ever appearance in the town of Nuits-St-Georges which shares its name with one of the most famous Burgundy (Pinot Noir) appellations. Wines from this region are known for their animal/game aromas, robust tannins, and powerful style.
The Stage 8 ride included a ride through the Jura which is a fascinating wine region showcasing the rarely seen Savagnin (a Sauvignon Blanc parent) and the highly unique Vin Jaune. Vin Jaune, which means “yellow wine”, is an unfortified wine made from Savagnin grapes and aged for at least 5 years with a film-forming yeast called voile on top of it. The voile imparts unusual aromas that resemble that of a dry sherry. Vin Jaune is easy to spot as it comes in a squarish bottle called a clavelin and its incredibly long distinctive finish makes it unforgettable after one taste.
Stay tuned for more Tour wines next week and here’s the map if you want to follow along:
P.S. A recent Wall Street Journal article by Jason Gay (https://www.wsj.com/articles/paul-phil-will-make-you-love-the-tour-de-france-1498759126) said that Phil likes French red wines, Montrachets (white Burgundies), and Sancerres. I wonder what Paul is drinking as well as Paul Burmeister, Bob Roll, and Christian Vande Velde (the captivating studio and analyst hosts).