Friday was a long day in the saddle for the peloton: 230 km of rather uneventful riding. But those of us who watched the race – you know, just in case there was some excitement – were rewarded at the very end.
With a long, flat lead-out to the finish line, every sprinter who could still pedal after yesterday positioned himself to vie for victory. The last few kilometers did not disappoint! We saw the best of the big guys go toe-to-toe (and sometimes elbow-to-elbow) as they fought for their lanes.
Here’s all you need to see from stage 7:
What to Expect in Stage 8
I’d call Saturday’s race a lumpy day on the road: seven categorized climbs totaling 3,800 meters. Yep, that’s more than 12,000 feet!
Lucky for us spectators, the scenery will be pretty, as the peloton pedals through the picturesque vineyards of Beaujolais. Located south of Burgundy, this region is most famous for its annual production of forgettable Beaujolais Nouveau, released on the third Thursday of November each year.
Leave that stuff to college kids and folks who just need a reason to celebrate something. Anything. There are much better wines from Beaujolais.
What is Beaujolais?
This oblong parcel of land, sandwiched between Burgundy to the north and the Rhône Valley to the south, specializes in the Gamay grape which, in the right hands and treated respectably, produces downright beautiful wines. And they can be real bargains, if you know how to shop for them.
There are several categories of Beaujolais. At the base level, which accounts for roughly half of all production, we have wines labeled simply as Beaujolais – no further distinction applies. The grapes are grown on the flatter expanses of the region and make agreeable, if not complex, wine. The next step up is what we call Beaujolais-Villages, which makes use of grapes grown on the more desirable hillside locations, where they bask in full sunlight and enjoy the wind protection afforded by the hilly terrain. These advantages result in wines of greater complexity and structure, with a background of beautiful ripe fruit. Most wine of this category is labeled simply as Beaujolais-Villages.
The individual villages that comprise the Beaujolais-Villages appellation may, if all the wine comes from a single commune, post the name of that commune on the label. Ten of those villages, (all located in the northern reaches of Beaujolais) whose wines perpetually top the charts, are known as the Beaujolais Crus and have earned the privilege of their own appellations.
They come from the best sites or terroirs, and have real personality. Quite a few of them improve with age, sometimes evoking comparisons with the fabled wines of Burgundy. Finding them is easy, once you understand how they’re labeled. Often, these bottles will show the name of the village only, without any reference to Beaujolais, so it can be a little confusing. But because they are so delicious (and budget-friendly) learning their names and basic characteristics will help you find them in your local wine store.
Here’s a little cheat sheet:
- Saint-Amour – on the lighter side, with a romantic name, to boot
- Brouilly – the largest of the Crus, with mass production; light and simple wines
- Côte de Brouilly – higher elevations mean a bit more complexity than in Brouilly
- Morgon – one of the biggest wines in terms of structure and depth; meaty
- Régnié – light, soft and feminine; try one with a Morgon and compare
- Chiroubles – charming village with wines to match
- Fleurie – sounds like “flowers” and that’s not a bad description; delicate
- Moulin-à-Vent – the masculine side of Beaujolais; some can age like good Burgundy
- Chénas – smallest of the Crus in terms of land; not easy to find
- Juliénas – charming in youth, with the structure to go the distance
Tour de France by the Glass Recommendation
Saturday’s race route runs right through three of the crus: Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, and Régnié. My suggestion is to track down a bottle from one of these places, give it a slight chill, and serve it with a charcuterie and cheese plate as you watch the race.
If wines from these regions aren’t available, ask for a bottle from one of the other crus or even a bottle labeled Beaujolais-Villages. They’re pretty easy to find and are usually priced attractively.
Enjoy the ups and downs of stage 8. I’ll be in touch with some ideas for Sunday’s stage.
Vive Le Tour!