We Finally Get to France!
The peloton departs Seraing, Belgium and heads southwest toward the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France. It’s an area rich with history. Our destination, the city of Cambrai, served as the Duke of Wellington’s headquarters for the British Army of Occupation from 1815-1818. Later, during World War I, the Battle of Cambrai was etched into the chronicles of military history as the first time tanks were successfully deployed in war on a large scale.
Cambrai, just outside the metropolis of Lille, will welcome the riders today after the longest stage in this year’s Tour. And it’s likely to be another exciting day in the saddle for all – did someone mention cobblestones? That’s right! There will be seven sections of them, for a total of 13 km of wicked riding. Wind, rain, and fierce competition are small potatoes compared to the delight of riding on the cobbles, even if it’s only for a short distance. Add a little inclement weather into the mix and there’s potential for chaos at every turn. Flat tires, crashes, injury – all reasons the riders fear these old roads. Should be fun to watch, though!
My Pick to Win the Stage: With a crazy stage like this one, I’m going with a great bike handler – Peter Sagan. He’s been lurking among the top finishers every day. Maybe today’s his day.
My Pick to Earn the Yellow Jersey: Froome might stay in it if nothing happens to him on the cobbles. He has a solid team around him so, yeah, I’ll go with him.
Wine in Northern France
This region is still a bit too far north for grapes to ripen reliably, to the extent required for top-tier wine production. But just to its south lies the region of Champagne, 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. Rosé 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. Most people will 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, more of these grape growers are choosing 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 both? And invite a friend or two to over to share it. It’s always a party when you have bubbles!
Vive le Tour!