As I write this post I’m lounging on the couch watching Stage Two of this year’s Vuelta a España (the Tour of Spain.) After yesterday’s (somewhat) ennui-inspiring team time trial, I’m thrilled to hear about crosswinds and splits in the peloton. And I never tire of the stunning scenery of Southern France.
France? Yes, this year’s race began in the Roman city of Nîmes, and the route sent the teams racing through Les Arènes, the famous amphitheater dating back 2,000 years. Today they edge closer to Spain, on a westward course that skirts the Mediterranean coast. I’ve already seen a few acres of vineyards and I wonder whether they’re international grapes like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, or perhaps indigenous varieties that I know little about. Either way, I’m enjoying the exercise.
A Mini History Lesson
Nîmes became Roman back in 31 BC when Augustus conquered the Roman Empire. He rewarded his faithful troops with a city of their own, which went by the moniker “Little Rome.” Yesterday’s race paid homage to the region’s Roman heritage by staging the departure point in La Maison Carrée, a temple constructed in 17 BC.
Sunday’s destination is the cluster of towns known as Gruissan/Grand Narbonne/Aude, situated a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. The route is flat but subject to crosswinds and frustratingly narrow roads that could create some drama before the day is done. And a bit of drama would be an appropriate tribute to another chapter in local history: the legacy of Redbeard the pirate.
The tower dominating the landscape in Gruissan was named for a local pirate who went by the name Barberousse (red beard in French) in a nod to the infamous Barbarossa brothers (Aruj and Hizir) who raided ships from their base on the Barbary Coast of Africa. In a strange, although by no means unusual turn of events, Barberousse was eventually given command of a small coastal fort located 10km south of Gruissan as a reward for his efforts.
Which Wine to Drink?
The Languedoc-Roussillon region produces a stunning variety of wines; it would be hard to recommend just one. But Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, as well as Carignan are responsible for some really delicious bottles! Today I’m waxing poetic about a complex, well-structured, yet totally charming red wine from century-old Carignan vines.
2012 Domaine Le Roc des Anges Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Cuvée Centenaires ($53 retail)
Grapes for this heavenly wine come from three parcels planted in 1903. Marjorie Gallet, who purchased the vineyards in 2001, farms organically and seeks to elicit the most charming characteristics from her Carignan. In this hot, dry climate, old, bush-trained vines yield only miniscule crops. But those few grapes are intensely concentrated, with deep color and aromas of black fruit.
Tasting note: Dense purple color, all the way to the rim. It looks like velvet! Aromas of black cherry and plum are complemented by soft hints of vanilla, rosemary, and forest floor. On the palate it is smooth, with fine tannins and medium acidity framing black fruit, spice, and an herbal component. It needs time to open before it gives up all its charms, so plan to enjoy it over the course of a few hours (if you’re that patient.) As a food pairing, you can’t go wrong with grilled lamb or beef, or even slow-braised chicken in a flavorful sauce. I bought this wine at Moore Brothers Wine Company, which will ship wines where permitted by state law.
Monday’s Race: Stage Three
The peloton gets a taste of the mountains today, as it climbs to the principality of Andorra. It’s our first glimpse of the Pyrénées, and the climbers who always lay claim to the Vuelta.