A Day to Relax — Sort of
The last Sunday of the Tour always brings us to Paris, where the final yellow jersey will be awarded. Respecting protocol, the peloton will relax a bit today, enjoying the ceremonial cruise onto the Champs-Elysées. With the podium positions established after Saturday’s race, Chris Froome will indulge in a celebratory glass of Champagne with his Sky team members, thanking them for their hard work and protection over the past three weeks. Almost everyone will take a deep breath, enjoy the scenery, and look forward to the cheering crowds that await them. The sprinters, however, still have work to do.
Although the early part of the ride from Chantilly to Paris will be low-key (despite a Category 4 climb about 30 kms in), that will change drastically when the peloton comes through the tunnel and onto the Place de la Concorde. The riders will then do eight laps of a circuit that passes iconic landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, the statue of Joan of Arc, the Ferris Wheel, and the Musée du Louvre. As with all sprint finishes, the sprinters’ teams will go into familiar formations, creating lead-out trains that will launch their superstars into a final dash to the line. Every sprinter dreams of winning on the Champs-Elysées, the most prestigious stage finish in cycling.
Possible complications? Potential disasters? You betcha! First of all, the riders will be bunched tightly together for the eight laps, greatly magnifying the consequences of any slip, miscalculation or error. Add to that the cobblestones, which cover one stretch of the course. They always cause problems! And because of the limited space on the roadway, team cars will not have ready access to their riders in case of a punctured tire or chain malfunction.
So who will win? It’s anyone’s guess. Andre Greipel is hungry for a stage win, having been shut out for the first time in his Tour history. Marcel Kittel has tasted victory only once. There are so many talented sprinters in the field, it’s impossible to predict whose legs will prevail. One thing is predictable, though: it’s always a thrilling finish, and a perfect end to three incredible weeks of racing.
Champagne for the Victors
Paris doesn’t lie within the confines of Champagne, the region responsible for the gorgeous, elegant sparkling wines coveted around the world. But it’s not far away, either. And I think any true celebration merits a glass of liquid magic.
Champagne, about an hour northeast of Paris, is the most northerly, classified wine area in France. The climate is chilly, but that is exactly what allows the wines from this area to maintain their freshness and lively personality. Because of the cool weather, grapes attain a lower level of ripeness, which roughly translates into less sugar and higher acidity levels in the finished product – a perfect recipe for sparkling wine!
Champagne’s principal grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, and they can be blended together in any combination. A bottle labeled Blanc de Blancs is white in color and will be crafted entirely from Chardonnay. One called Blanc de Noirs is also white, but produced using red grapes (either of the Pinots or a combo of them) by minimizing contact with the skins. Rose can also be made, by either increasing the base wine’s exposure to the red grape skins or by blending a bit of red wine into the base.
When you shop for Champagne, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. While sparkling wine is produced in many parts of the world, only wines made within the specified boundaries of Champagne, France, may carry that name. The majority of wine is categorized as Non-vintage which means the label will show no year on it. NV Champagne represents a producer’s standard house style year after year, and it is a blend of several wines from several different years. Vintage sparklers are made only in exceptional years (noted on the label), using the finest grapes and produced with lots of TLC! Their price tags are usually in line with their exceptional status! The last category of Champagne is what we call the Special or Prestige Cuvées. These are the Champagne houses’ luxury brands and they carry prices to match. You probably recognize Dom Perignon (Moet & Chandon) and Cristal (Louis Roederer) as examples of Prestige Cuvées.
Most Champagne is produced by the big houses but, interestingly enough, most of the grapes are purchased from independent growers. Over the last decade, quite a few of these grape growers have chosen to make their own, small-production wines. They are well-worth searching out, and your best guide to finding them will be your local wine specialist.
TDF BTG Recommendation
Explore the Champagne shelves at your local wine shop and pick up a bottle that strikes your fancy: white, pink, or maybe one of each? And invite a friend or two to over to share it, as you watch the excitement on the Champs-Elysées. After all, it’s always a party when you have bubbles!
Thanks for joining me for Tour de France by the Glass, 2016. I hope you’ve enjoyed traveling through the cities and wine regions with the peloton, and that you’ve discovered some new favorite wines to add to your home cellar. I’m always sad when the Tour ends, but I also look forward to the next big race: the Vuelta a España, which begins in September. Come with me, and experience the history, culture, and wine of beautiful, sexy Spain! See you then.