My first real road bike was a Shimano 600/Mavic equipped Peugeot Tourmalet, "Baby," was purchased within a month of my first car, a 1977 2-door Pinto Wagon. Yes that was the one with wood on the side. The car was the automotive equivalent of "A Boy Named Sue." It doubled in value when I bungeed said bike to said wagon.
I do indeed ride, and I do indeed drink wine, although rarely at the same time. I've ridden Time Trials, Criteriums, and Road and, I even have the dubious distinction of having beaten Lance Armstrong once. Back when we were both teenagers, I "beat" him to a preem for a bottle of Gatorade at one of the numerous North Texas Criteriums - another story for another time... I have even been approached by more than one unscrupulous individual to use performance enhancing drugs, this before I turned 16. I have picked hot tar and gravel out of my skin from scalp to heel, and I can trace the exact route of my first century to this day. These days however, my pace is slower, the bikes a little better, and my time is divided into 30 minute segments instead of periods called "weekend" and "after school," and somewhere along the way I discovered wine...
My life aside, how can we coalesce the worlds of wine and the bicycles? Perhaps we can draw upon the the fact that the three major tours happen within the three major wine producing regions of the world (France, Italy, and Spain), or perhaps, through the countless bike tours routed through wine country near and far. We could examine bicycle themed labels and names or we could extoll the health benefits of wine, after all, the euro teams will still drink it daily with their evening post-race protein-repair meal. Ultimately, I suspect, we will touch upon all of these.
But for now... What I enjoy the most about "Le Tour" are the wine producing regions through which it travels. Whenever Sherwin, Liggett, and yes even Bobke, remark upon the wines of a given region, I break out my trusty copy of Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine , a glorious marriage of a world atlas and the wine regions from some of the most far-flung corners of the world. The tour will no doubt provide race commentators with much to talk about as the stages unfold. I on the other hand, will concentrate on one stage in particular, Stage Thirteen. Having topped a few medium grade "mountains," I wouldn't mind finishing a day of riding by entering the town of Colmar, the undisputed capital of Alsace, and more importantly, uncorking a sampling of its superlative Alsatian wines.
Unlike the constantly changing politics of the region, the people of Alsace have a well established identity. They have been defined nationally as German, or French several times throughout history based upon the uniform of their occupiers. And, in no small, part this recurring cycle has them eschew being referred to as French or German, insisting, instead, upon being referred to as Alsatian. Which goes directly to understanding their wines. Although they employ some grapes that are clearly Germanic in origin (Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner and the like), their pressings render them in a style much closer to their alternate political definition, that of the French labels.
I pulled three wines suitable to grace any teams' post-ride table, three wines that give a good cross-section of what you can find at the affordable end of the spectrum when it comes to an Alsatian wine. Some examples can reach well north of $400 per bottle. But, we'll save those for the Prince and Parlee owners concentrating instead upon labels affordable to domestiques.
The first is a 2006 Pinot Gris from Frey-Sohler, an appellation of Rittersberg, within Alsace. While most of us, recognize a Pinot Grigio from Italy, as an anemic, diminutive, just-shy-of-tap-water, white - best chilled and quaffed by the pool. On the other hand,a Pinot Gris undertaken in Alsace, is pumped up considerably in viscosity (think whole milk versus skim in terms of weight in your mouth, aka "mouthfeel"), rich in minerality, and white fleshly fruit flavors. When compared to its Italian cousins the performance of this Pinot would certainly result in a visit to Controlee Anti-Dopage.
In an homage to the "older equals better mantra" in wine vines, we move on to a Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes (literally Old Vines) 2006 from Domaine Ostertag. Drawing its fruit from several sites, it goes under the umbrella appellation of Alsace (equivalent to naming Napa Valley vs. Howell Mountain, less specific, but probably still really good fruit - thus the inclusion in this stage of our tour). For those who are looking for a cleaner and crisper wine, this grape will fill the bill. Perhaps our soigneur will put out some simple seafood to accompany this wine. Bright, and steely, with nuances of mineral (quartz?) the flavors marry well with those of under-ripe green apple, pear, and a hint of honeysuckle. It is a pretty wine that will please the palate seeking the driest of wines.
Finally, for some spice and fruit, we are offered a 2004 Gewurztraminer from Hunawihr, their "Secret Valley" bottling. "Gewurz" is really known for its traditional baked apple, spiced apple, and lychee nut flavors with what some describe as a mild white pepper hit on the palate. If you've never had a lychee nut, do yourself a favor and get thee to an Asian/Indian specialty food store and try them. The flavor resemblance is uncanny. The heaviest of the three, this wine might be paired with cheeses, or as an aperitif all on its own.
Three great wines to wind down after a relatively mild course (barring any bizarre attacks on the flat stages or heroic climbs) any of which can be had for around $20 a bottle US.
Of course if you aren't heading to Colmar compliments of several deep-pocketed sponsors, these three wines are still perfectly suited for fresh shellfish, lighter poultry dishes, or most any cheese from a runny, nutty bleu to a sharp cheddar. And of course, these wines are astonishing on their own "legs." I promise however, that they will taste so much better consumed while you are still wearing your cleats, your ride leaned up against an outdoor café, with your heart rate slowly descending back to idle, and you begin to understand "Breaking Away's" David Stoller's desire to be French after the Italians broke his heart and possibly a collarbone with a nasty pump-in-the-spokes move.
But the stage that ends on the climb to Mont Ventoux (stage 20) seems to have been perfectly paired. I huge mountain stage late in the race that takes the peloton past some of the best vineyards the Southern Rhone has to offer. A powerful stage with equally powerful wines. We'll look into the wines of stage 20 next.