I can’t believe the 2017 Tour de France is almost over – just three days to go until Paris and the final podium placements. And what an exciting three weeks it has been! Think about all that’s happened so far:
- In Stage 1, several riders abandoned the Tour after crashing into the spectator barricades;
- In Stage 4, Peter Sagan, the Tour’s five-time sprint champion was expelled from the race after a dust-up with Mark Cavendish in the final meters (see video below);
- Italian champion Fabio Aru blew away all the rest of the climbers in the first mountain stage;
- Perilous mountain descents in rainy conditions caused multiple accidents, forcing Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte (an overall contender) to abandon;
- After winning five stages, super-sprinter Marcel Kittel abandoned on Stage 17 after a crash.
But while the competitive battles have certainly caught our attention, it’s the enchanting countryside of France that has captured our hearts. Every day the peloton cycles through a different region, each one alive with history, culture and, best of all, winemaking. Since 2015 I have followed the Tour from a wine lover’s perspective, offering snippets of interest from each town on the circuit, highlighting the local wines and cuisine. Tour de France by the Glass is a labor of love, bringing together as it does three things I adore: cycling, wine, and the stunning scenery of France.
Stages 18-20: Where the Race Will Be Decided
Yes, the 21st stage in Paris is technically the last day of the Tour. However, the general classification (i.e., the Yellow Jersey for the lowest total time over the three-week period) will be decided at the end of Saturday’s race. Sunday will be a ceremonial ride for the victor and his teammates, pretty much an hour- long photo-opp as they ride arm-in-arm and sip Champagne. It will be another story altogether for the sprinters: everyone who still has legs will vie for the win on the Champs-Elysées. It’s the most-coveted sprint victory in cycling.
So that means Thursday and Friday matter a lot to anyone dreaming of a podium finish at the end of the race. For the first time in Tour history, there are three riders within a minute of the leader going into the final stages. In all my years watching the Tour, I can’t remember a single race that was this competitive this deep into the third week. It’s going to be exciting!
Thursday gives us the only mountain-top finish of 2017, and it’s sure to be a nail-biter. In the final kilometers of the race, riders will climb two extremely difficult mountains: the first, the Col de Vars, topping out at almost 7,000 feet; then the Col d’Izoard, the final challenge for the day at almost 8,000 feet. And in between they will descend on narrow Alpine roads at speeds topping 50 miles per hour. Yikes!
On Friday, Stage 19 sends the peloton south, toward the sunny fields of Provence and the birthplace of Nostradamus, famous astrologer and physician. The course route flattens a bit here, giving some relief to the sprinters who’ve been tortured in the Alps the past few days. Saturday brings a time trial, in which each rider races alone against the clock. Not thrilling, really, but the landscape of Southern France brings other reasons to watch. In my opinion, it’s the perfect occasion to pour yourself a glass of refreshing rosé and toast the riders as they speed by.
Provence is world-famous for its pale pink wines; indeed the word rosé itself transports many of us – virtually, at least – to the southern shores of France where the Mediterranean beckons us to slow down, unplug, and enjoy the good life. And while rosé is practically synonymous with the region, there are some kick-ass pink wines made elsewhere: for example, the Languedoc to the west is a treasure trove of high-quality wines that represent great values. Spain makes some amazing rosados, too; wines that run the gamut from simple, Garnacha-based quaffers to sophisticated sippers from Tempranillo. And the good-old U S of A is no slouch in this department either: think Napa Valley and Mendocino.
Rosé and #WineStudio – A Grand Tradition
I was thrilled to participate in #WineStudio’s June program featuring rosé wines from around the globe. If you haven’t heard of #WineStudio or its creator, Tina Morey, do please visit the website and learn more: it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about wines directly from the producers in an interactive forum with other wine enthusiasts. Each month we delve into a new region, style, or variety – June’s program was all about rosé.
This was my first rosé rodeo with the group and it’s easy to see why people love it. Start with the promise of summer and three months of balmy weather to come. Gather together a few wine aficionados and a winemaker or two, and add some delicious bottles of refreshing rosé. Now there’s a recipe for unabated joy!
We sampled six bottles in total: three from France; two from California; and one from Spain. Here are my notes on each:
FRANCE: Domaines Paul Mas
Driven by a philosophy he calls Luxe Rural, Jean-Claude Mas crafts his wines with an eye toward appreciating life’s simple pleasures: that which Nature provides unbidden; things we need to slow down to experience in full. The three wines we tasted fall effortlessly into that category. They’re wines for sitting on the back porch in August, listening to the crickets and watching the fireflies. Or for sharing with an old friend as you reminisce about secrets of old. Can you tell I like these wines a lot? Read on for the details.
NV Côte Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé Brut St. Hilaire (12% abv; $15.99 SRP)
A blend of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc, and 10% Pinot Noir, this is a pale pink sparkling wine from Limoux, the birthplace of bubbles in France. It is part of the larger Languedoc region on the southwest Mediterranean coast, just at the base of the Pyrénées Mountains. Made via the same method used to produce Champagne, this wine is a feast for the eyes, nose, and mouth. A stunner!
It’s pale pink with a fragrant nose of berries and white peaches that gives way to crisp raspberry and lemon-peel on the palate. I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to celebrate a holiday – or a Tour de France win – than with a glass of this overachieving rosé sparkler.
2016 Arrogant Frog Rosé (13% abv; $9.99 SRP)
Made from 100% Syrah, this wine is made via the saignée method, in which free-run juice is drained off from red wine grapes, then vinified like a white wine. Blah, blah, blah. Bottom line? This rosé is just plain delicious. Carrying the IGP Pays d’Oc appellation, Arrogant Frog combines solid winemaking techniques, high-quality grapes, creativity, and some tongue-in-cheek humor to show what wines from this region are all about: simple pleasures.
A deep, pink-red, this wine invites you to cast off your cares, prop up your feet, and enjoy the long days of summer. Beautiful aromas of cherry, blackberry, and thyme will have you dreaming of France; a sip will have you booking your flight.
2016 Cote Mas Rosé Aurore (12.5% abv; SRP $10.99 for one-liter bottle)
A blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, and 20% Syrah, this one is for the hedonists who love a deeply-colored, full-bodied, full-on-flirty rosé. Hey, there’s a time and a place for the pale pink, pretty-and-proper rosés, and I adore them. But some nights call for a no-holds-barred, get-the-party-started bottle. The Rosé Aurore is that wine. Invite your best girlfriends over for a charcuterie/cheese plate and a couple bottles of this, and see what happens. You might have evolved past making prank phone calls and braiding each other’s hair, but you’ll feel like you’re 15 again – in a good way!
On the nose, there are intense aromas of cherry and strawberry underpinned by a little citrus and herb. A taste reveals round, red fruit kept honest by bright acidity. It’s fun in a bottle, plain and simple. Warning: it goes down easily; buy it by the case and you won’t be sorry.
SPAIN: Hacienda de Arínzano
During May, #WineStudio ventured to Navarra, Spain, to Hacienda de Arínzano, a winery holding the esteemed Vino de Pago designation. Situated in the northeast between Rioja and the Pyrénées Mountains, vineyards benefit from cooler climates than in the rest of Spain, which helps retain all-important acidity in the resulting wines. The estate is certified by the World Wildlife Federation for environmental sustainability, with substantial acreage set aside for indigenous flora and fauna, including the otters who call the nearby river home.
To read more about our journey to Hacienda de Arínzano and the incredible wines produced by the estate, click here.
2016 Hacienda de Arínzano Rosado (13.5% abv; $19.99 SRP)
This is a grown-up rosé or perhaps I should say, Rosado. It’s 100% Tempranillo from a single vineyard dedicated to rosé production. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Tempranillo-based Rosado before, but I sure hope this won’t be the last. Its beautiful deep salmon color comes from extended skin contact; intense aromas of strawberry, citrus, and wet stones mingle with a distinctive floral component that is quite inviting. On the palate there are red fruit, citrus zest, and a little bitter almond. The bright acidity balances the fruit, and the texture in the mouth is round and medium+ in body. As far as rosé goes, this wine has it all. Far from a simple quaff, you could serve this at a fancy lunch with anything from seafood salad to grilled steak. If you’re looking to impress without trying too hard, open the Hacienda de Arínzano Rosado. People will think you’re brilliant.
USA: Bonterra Vineyards 2016 Mendocino County Rosé (12.9% abv; $16 SRP)
A pioneer in the move to organic viticulture, Bonterra has always subscribed to the belief that attention to detail and respect for the environment allowed the vineyards to produce the highest-quality fruit. With an established portfolio including a wide array of wines, it is worth noting the introduction of a rosé wine into the mix.
Taking their cue from the famed pink wines of Provence, Bonterra sought to craft a rosé redolent of pure fruit balanced by crisp acidity. They sourced grapes from Mendocino County where growers share their organic philosophy and respect the vineyards and surrounding lands. The blend behind this rosé is unorthodox; but then most creative inspirations are, at least at first. A concoction of Grenache (74%) with the balance made up of Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, this wine is truly more than the sum of its parts. Each variety brings something to the party, with Grenache contributing color, body, and cherry aromas; Sangiovese adding some earthy notes; and Nebbiolo pitching in rose petal notes and tannic structure. And, boy does it all work!
Only 2,000 cases were made so if you’re looking for a bottle you’re best off going to the website and contacting the winery directly. Good luck – this one’s a winner!
USA: 2016 Conn Creek Napa Valley Rosé (12.5% abv; $24 SRP)
Just 67 cases of this lovely rosé were made in 2016, so if you stumble upon a bottle or manage to purchase some from Conn Creek before it’s gone, good for you! It is made from 100% Malbec grown on the slopes of the Atlas Peak AVA, in the Antica Vineyard. Mountain sites offer cooler temperatures than elsewhere in Napa Valley, and the grapes have the chance to ripen slowly while maintaining their acidity. Enologist Alyssa Taylor informed us that this wine was Conn Creek’s latest “experiment” in crafting small lots of wine that sing a slightly different tune from their traditional wines. The #WineStudio crowd unanimously proclaimed it a success, oohing and aahing over its vibrant fruit character and refreshing acidity. I found it totally delightful.
In the glass, this wine is a warm salmon pink – a bit like the setting sun as it creeps below the horizon. Beautiful aromas of red berries, cherries, and fennel invite you to take a sip, filling your mouth with strawberry and nectarine flavors and tangy, lemony acidity. This wine is delicate yet structured, exuberantly fruity yet restrained: it’s a contradiction but a highly enjoyable one.
I’ve given you some excellent sip-along suggestions for watching the last weekend of the Tour de France. Any one of these bottles (but surely you’ll buy more than one, right? RIGHT???) would make the perfect addition to your summer table. Or you could just keep a few chilling in the fridge for when friends pop by. As for me, I’ll be enjoying these wines as reality dawns on me: (sigh) the Tour is over for another year.
But then again, the Vuelta (aka Tour of Spain) begins August 19th! I’ll be back with daily updates on what to drink as you follow the riders through scenic, sexy Spain. Stay tuned . . . .