Stage 12: Escaldes-Engordany to Lleida

The Wines of Costers del Segre

Wow, what a difference a day makes!  Today’s route is a total departure from Wednesday’s brutal mountain-hopping stage.  On Stage Twelve, the peloton says good-bye to Andorra and heads back to Spain over a few rolling hills before the only categorized climb of the day, the Cat 2 Col de Bóixols (about 1400 meters high).  The rest of the route, approximately 120 km, is a gradual descent to the flat finish at Lleida.  Anyone who’s got energy left after yesterday is likely to insert himself in an early breakaway, dreaming of an elusive stage victory.

Lleida, our destination in Stage Twelve, is located northwest of Barcelona, and served as the backdrop in 49 BC for a key battle in Julius Caesar’s Civil War.  It was here that he and his troops survived flood and famine to construct a bridge that allowed them to reach his sworn enemies, the Spanish army of Pompey the Great.

Els_Gegants_de_LleidaThese days life in Lleida focuses on more pleasant passtimes, such as the annual festival L’Alpec de Caragol each May.  Celebrants participate in cooking and eating copious amounts of escargots, a local delicacy.  Presiding over all the red-letter days of Lleida are the twelve Gegants de la Paeria, the Giants of Town Hall (see photo.)

I’m guessing there is a running supply of local wine, served to match the heaping plates of garlicky snails and whatever else is being celebrated.  As it happens, Lleida sits smack in the center of the Costers del Segre DO, a wine region originally conceived and developed by one man:  Manuel Raventós, whose family founded the Cava house Codorníu in Penedés, to the east.  In 1914, he bought a large parcel of land that seemed exceedingly unpromising for fine wine production – the extreme continental climate brought searingly hot days in summer and frost in the winter.  And there was little rainfall to sustain any agricultural efforts.  But when a man has a dream, especially one that focuses on making beautiful wine, there is always a way.

Raimat CastleSeñor Raventós worked to promote the construction of a canal that would allow mountain streams from the nearby Pyrenees Mountains to flow to the fields around Lleida.  That ultimately led to complex irrigation system which protects the vines from frost and extreme drought.  Today, the fruit of his labors, Raimat Winery, is the largest producer in the DO (see photos).  It makes wines from indigeous grapes like Tempranillo, Parellada, and Macabeo (these last two, instrumental in Cava production), with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.  Raimat makes red and white varietal wines, as well as traditional Cava.Raimat Vineyard

My Vuelta Vaso recommendation today is any wine from the Costers del Segre region.  Try to find a bottle of Raimat, if you can.  If not, snatch up a bottle of Cava from Codorníu – that’s available practically everywhere!