Tour de France by the Glass 2016 – Stage Four Saumur to Limoges

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The Race

Monday the riders take on the longest stage of this year’s tour, making their way from Saumur in the Loire Valley, to Limoges.  There won’t be much to interest the climbers today, as there is only one King of the Mountains point up for grabs.  And given that most of the course is flat, the sprinters will have their eyes trained on the last few kilometers, hoping for a stage win.  Might be a bit of a yawner today, so let’s drink some good wine instead.

Wine and Food

Saumur, as a wine-producing area, is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, churning out all the major types of wine:  still, white Saumur Blanc made from Chenin Blanc; Saumur Rouge predominantly from Cabernet Franc (but Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot d’Aunis may comprise up to 30% of the blend); and two versions of sparkling wine.  Saumur Mousseux (either white or rosé) can be made from Chenin Blanc, with international varieties playing supporting roles.  More highly regarded is the Crémant de Loire, which is made via the traditional method, the same one used in Champagne.  It relies mainly on Chenin Blanc, distinguishing it from Crémants produced in other areas of France which tend toward Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a là Champagne.  Price-wise, Crémant de Loire gives you a big bang for your buck, and it tastes pretty good, too!

But when I think of the Loire Valley, I immediately think about the lovely and refreshing red wines made from Cabernet Franc.  And the area around our departure point today produces some excellent ones.

Saumur ChampignyThe village of Saumur-Champigny lies in the eastern reaches of the Anjou-Saumur district, and is basically a western extension of the neighboring district of Touraine, especially when considering the styles of wines produced there.  Greater Saumur is most famous for its Chenin Blanc-based sparkling wines, particularly Crémant de Loire, which is made in the style of Champagne.  But the small town of Saumur-Champigny is Cab Franc country, home to crisp, light-bodied wines redolent of currants and raspberries that are perfect quaffs on their own or with a charcuterie platter.  That’s how I sampled a bottle of Château de Villeneuve Saumur-Champigny, alongside a plate of assorted Spanish ham and some French cheeses.  The wine, served slightly chilled, was fresh and full of red fruit, with barely noticeable tannins.  It’s a wine for a summer evening, as you sit on the deck contemplating the sunset. (Note to self: stock up for the brutally hot South Florida days to come!)

What else to serve with wines such as these?  I’ve enjoyed them with salads, cheese plates, roasted chicken thighs and a host of other things.  But for some reason I really enjoy Cab Franc with roasted pork loin atop chard and white beans or potatoes.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think pork brings out the sweetly floral nature of the grape, while the natural acidity present in these wines helps balance the salty/fatty profile of the meat.  In any case, try it out for yourself and do some experimenting of your own – these versatile wines won’t disappoint!  If you’re lucky enough to live in New York, New Jersey, or Delaware, check out Moore Brothers Wine Shop.  They have a great inventory of wines from the Loire Valley and beyond, making it easy to explore your options.

 

History

Limoges_ciborium_circa_1200Limoges, the finish for today’s stage, is world-famous for its porcelain production.  As it happens, the same soil that nurtures the vines of Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc is loaded with kaolin, a rock rich in white clay that’s instrumental in crafting fine china.  The city, founded by Romans around 10 BC, was originally named Augustoritum, after the emperor Augustus.  In later years it was renamed in honor of the original Gaulish settlers to the region, the Lemovices, and ultimately became Limoges.  During the 11th century Limoges became a flourishing arts capital, specializing in exquisite, colorful works of copper enameling (see photo.)  As the town grew, its population split into two settlements: the town proper, run by the local bishops and inhabited by the workers; and the castle and Abbey of Saint Martial, which were walled-off and fortified, and controlled by the abbot.  The two camps were frequently at odds but were finally reunited in 1792.  [Photo credit: (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D.

I hope you enjoyed our trip through Saumur and Limoges, and a small sampling of the wines of the Loire Valley.  Let’s meet again tomorrow to talk about the next few stages, which take us ever closer to the Pyrénées Mountains along the border with Spain.  It will be exciting, no doubt, with some fun wines to try.  Enjoy your day, and Vive le Tour!

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