The quest to dominate the Pyrénées begins in Spain Sunday morning, and edges upward, ever-so-slowly toward Andorra. With Chris Froome in the yellow jersey after Saturday’s surprise attack on the descent from the Col de Peyresourde, it looks to be another day of scheming and strategizing for the GC contenders. Froome and Team Sky are experts at maintaining a lead once they’ve built one, so I think this is the day Nairo Quintana and Movistar have to make their move. At any rate, it will be exciting to watch, given all the ups and downs of today’s race route.
Andorra, nestled in the eastern Pyrénées Mountains between France and Spain, must be an agreeable place to live. According to The Lancet in 2014, its people were the longest-lived on Earth, with an average life expectancy of 81 years. The nation, which is technically a co-principality, is ruled as you would expect, by two princes. But what you might not know, is one of those princes is the Bishop of Urgell (Catalonia) and the other, the President of France. Not a bad perk from their day jobs, right?
The culture is predominantly Catalán but French, Spanish and Portuguese are also spoken by many of the inhabitants. It is believed that Charlemagne granted the original territory of Andorra to its people after they fought with him against the invading Moors from the south. Today the economy’s main drivers are ski tourism and banking, although Andorra may be more familiar as a tiny tax haven for wealthy individuals the world over.
Wine in Andorra
Wine production is a fledgling industry here, and most of the vineyards are small with limited output. That said, Andorra does have several wineries that strive to craft beautiful wine in the challenging mountain conditions. Casa Beal produced the first wine in Andorra, called Cim de Cel, and Celler Mas Berenguer is growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc for use in its sparkling wines. Casa Auvinyà introduced the first Andorran red wine to the public in 2009: called Evolució, it is a blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah. They also make a white wine called, Imagine, which they affectionately dubbed their “snow wine.” An atypical blend to say the least, Imagine is an intriguing mix of Albariño, Viognier, and Pinot Gris. Here’s a quote from the winery, which expresses the optimism of the team, despite the extreme climate in which they are situated. It makes me want to pour a glass of Imagine right now, and pay tribute to their labor of love.
“At Casa Auvinyà we respect the caprices of nature and we take great care in preparing our snow wine. Every day we watch the mountains, the clouds and the sky with a single wish: to be able to harvest with the first snows and before the ice comes and stops our work. Thus our white wine was born, which we imagine born of snow, with the colours of sun and moon.”
Andorran cuisine reflects the aromas and flavors of the mountains. It is highly seasonal and based on products that can be sampled only at certain times of the year, such as wild mushrooms, winter vegetables, and charcuterie. Highlights of the Andorran table are listed below (thanks to www.visitandorra.com):
Escudella is a light pork stew with seasonal vegetables. A traditional dish typically served during winter and at popular events. At Christmas, you can try the dish with a traditional type of pasta, called sopa de galets or sopa grossa.
Trinxat de montanya is a typical Pyrenees dish made with winter cabbage, potatoes, garlic and tocino.
Andorran cannelloni are a variant of the Catalan recipe featuring a mix of minced lamb, pork and chicken inside pasta rolls and served with bechamel sauce.
Game dishes such as jugged hare or wild boar stewed in red wine are popular at the beginning of the hunting season and are typically served with vegetables and wild mushrooms. With the onset of the fishing season, you can sample pan-fried trout with almonds and cured ham known as Trucha a la Andorrana.
Cod used to be eaten as a main course like herring or eel, types of fish that reached mountain areas thanks to salting techniques. Nowadays you can try Andorra’s most traditional cod dish, cod au gratin with aioli (garlic and olive oil) sauce.
Wild mushrooms such as the boletus, the saffron milk cap, the grey knight, the common morel or the Scotch bonnet are the most common varieties. You will find them in creams, rice dishes, sauces and accompanying meat dishes of every kind.
Codony aioli is a quince, olive oil and garlic-based sauce that typically accompanies grilled meats and is highly regarded sauce in mountain cuisine.
Charcuterie is produced during the traditional pig slaughter at the beginning of January in the form of cured meats such as bringuera, donja, bisbe, longanizas and morcillas.
Common chicory or dandelion is picked wild on the mountainside and is an excellent variant for salads. It is typically seasoned with tocino and nuts, and is only served in spring.
Caracoles a la llauna, consists of snails that are usually grilled over charcoal and seasoned with a variety of spices. Typically accompanied with quince aioli, this delicacy will satisfy the most exigent palates.
Enjoy Stage Nine and the side-trip to Andorra. As Monday is a scheduled rest day for the Tour, I’ll be back Monday with wine ideas for Tuesday’s Stage Ten. Until then, Vive le Tour!