Wine and some other drinks of Tour de France 2017: Stage 6. Vesoul — Troyes

No surprise with victory to Fabio Aru. The big question now is: Will Chris Froome stay in yellow to Paris? It may be a bit earlier than he wanted, to avoid spending too much time on the official program the leader of the race has to be part of, every day. From now, the other GC-contenders will have to attack, while Sky and Chris Froome can sit back and wait and see.

Today’s stage is flat, and will probably end in another mass sprint. The Tour will never be the same without Peter Sagan. I still think he was punished too hard.

I am closing the circle. Stage 12 in 2009, from Tonnerre to Vittel, passed through this area, Aube. French TV often cover life along the stage, before the riders arrive. Le doyen of French sport journalism, Gerhard Holtz, presented champagne from this area. At that time I did not know that they produced champagne in this area, and I got the idea to explore wines along the Tour de France stages. In 2010, i started the blog series “Les vins du Tour de France”, in Norwegian, despite the French title. Now we are back in this area again.

with Côte des Bar som det viktigste produksjonsområdet, Fransk TV pleier å ha innslag fra livet og aktiviteter langs etappen, før syklistene kommer. På denne etappen var Gerhard Holtz her og smakte på og snakket om champagne. På det tidspunktet var jeg ikke klar over at man kunne produsere champagne også i dette området. Da fikk jeg ideen om å se hva slags vin man finner langs de ulike etappene, og serien “Les vins du Tour de France” så dagens lys i 2010. Nå er vi tilbake i det samme området. Man skal aldri la sjansen til å drikke champagne gå fra seg. Så selv om vi kommer tilbake til champagne under finalen i Paris, så kan vi ta et glass eller to i dag også.

Champagne is a sparkling wine made from grapes grown in designated areas within Champagne. They are making sparkling wine many places, and many produce good sparkling wines. But only sparkling wine from Champagne, made according to the rules for making champagne, kan be called champagne. Champagne starts as a still, white wine. It is usualy stored for a long time. TMost of the champagne we are buying, from well known and wll marketed brands, are blended from many such wines, often from different vintages. The blending, or making of the cuvées is a difficult process that requires a lot of expreince and great skills. The cuvées will change a lot during the second fermentation, and the blenders must be able to forsee the end result.

Then some must and yeast is added, and the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. It is stored for long time, sur lie, meaning on the remains of dead yeasts and other by products from the frementation. The bottles are slowly rotated and turned uside down, som that the yeast etc sinks down to the neck. The neck is frozen, the bottle is opened and the pressure in the bottle shoot out the little frozen block. Then some wine is added, the bottles are corked and labeled, and after being stored for another few months, they are ready for the market.

The ares where today’s stage ends, has not been fully accepted as part of the good champagne company, even though they have the right to call their wines champagne. In 1911, there was an uproar among the champagne producers further north in Champagne, in them more well known towns Reims and Epernay. They wanted to exclude Aube from the rank of chamåagne producers. They were relegated to some kind of a second class status. It was not before 1927 that they again were accepted as proper champagne producers. In Aube, they mainly produced grapes that were delivered to the champagne houses in Epernay and Reims.

Champagne is made from tree different grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. In Aube they mainly gros Pinot Noir. The production is 87% Pinot Noir, 7% Cardonnay and 5% Pinot Meunier. 50% of the Pinot Noir grown in Champagne is grown in Aube.

The producers of champagne are usually divided into two main groups: NM: Négociant-Manipulant and RM: Récoltant-Manupulant. There are more, but we leave it with that. An NM may grow their own grapes, and buy grapes from other growers. A RM will grow their own grapes and use them in their production of champagne. Most of the well known champagne houses are NMs. Few of them would admit that they were buying grapes from Aube, or they would only admit that they used small quantities. They were looking down at the producers in Aube, and still regarded them as second rate growers.

Geographically, Aube is closer to Chablis than to the champagne towns Reims and Epernay. There has been a very intersting development among at least som of the producers in Aube. In the best area in Aube, Côte-des-Bar, they are more inspired by Burgundy than the producers further north in Champagne. The key word is Terroir.

The well known champagne houses want their champagne to have consistent taste from year to year. A standard, non vintage Moêt & Chandon shall taste like Moêt & Chandon, and not have the character from a grape grow. They say that champage is too much recipies and too little terroir. They want to change that.

Even though they mainly grow Pinot Noir, they also produce excellent Chardonnay, in particular in Montgeueux, a little west of today’s finish town, Troyes. The major champagne houses have been talking down this area. But there are exceptions.The late Daniel Thibault, from the two Reims based chamapgne houses Charles- and Piper-Heidesieck, was a strong admirer of chardonnay from Montgeueux, which he called “Champagne’s Montrachet”. For those who do not know Montrachet: It is the top of white wines from Burgundy.

Tom Stevenson writes about Montgeuex:

“The hill Montegeuex on the western side of Troyes is perhaps the trendiest source of grapes in Champagne at the moment. The pure chalk soil, very different from the rest of Aube, produces wonderfully structured, spicy and mineral Chardonnay.”

In general, I find products with a character form their place of origin more interesting than standardised brand name products. It does not mean that the major champagne houses do not produce good champagne, or that champagne from small producers always are better. But wines with character of terroir are always more interesting. Often, small producers give better value for money. They do not spend as much on marketing as the major champagne houses. And in the end, it is us, the consumers, who pay for this marketing when we buy the products.

I learn something new all the time. This is why I do this, and this is what makes it interesting to search for wines along the stages in Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. In 2009, I learned that this area is part of Champagne, and that they do produce champagne here. I did not study this area in any depth at that time, and my impression was still that Aube and Côte-des-Bar were second rate producers who had worked their way into the good company, but were still not invited to sit at the main table. Now that we have returned to this area, I find it much more interesting.

Working with the stages in Tour de France is frustrating in the way that the stages are published only about a month before the start. They publish an overview with start and finishing town in october the year before, and a very rough overview of the stages. This, in contrast to Giro d’Italia, who publishes maps of the stages in october the year before. It is not possible to go into the details of the stages before the beginning of June. When I find wine districts that are unknown to me, or that turns out to be much more interesting than I was aware of, there is not enough time to do empirical studies and actually taste the wines. (Many of the lesser known wines are often hard to find outside their home districts.) I have to rely on litterature, and note that these are wines I have to taste when I get a chance to do so.

I was in Champagne a few months ago. But I was in Reims and Eperany, and my impression is that these are not the places to look for champagne from Côte-des-Bar. These are champagnes from this area I have noted as interesting, and will taste when there is an oportunity.

New York Times name these producers (in an article from 2011, and a lot can have happened since that time):

  • Céderic Bouchard
  • Donson & Lepage
  • Drappier
  • Fleury
  • Jacques Lassaigne
  • Marie-Courtin
  • Jean Velut
  • Vouette & Sorbéee

In addition to these, Tom Stevenson mention these:

  • Horiot
  • Serge Mathieu

The  World Atlas of Wine

1845336895If you will have only one book on wine, “The World Atlas of Wine”, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson is the one you should have. It is a classic, and it is now in its seventh edtition. It is a beautiful book with nice maps and excellent content. It covers the entire world,  but still with an emphazis on "The Old World".

Buy it from Amazon UK or  Amazon US.

Tom Stevenson: Christie's World Encyclopedia of Champagne & sparkling wine

1402772246This book is the international refernce when it comes to sparkling wines. The title says Champagne & sparkling wine, and it should come as no surprise that champage get the broadest coverage. Og the book'a 500 pages, 150 are dedicated to champagne, 50 to a general introduction to sparkling wine, and 300 pages to sparkling wines from other regions than Champagne. More than 1600 wines are rated.

Buy it from Amazon UK or Amazon US.


The Oxford Companion to Wine

0198705387If you want to have a more encylopedic book on wines, Jancis Robinsons and Julia Child: The Oxford Companion to Wine is the one to have. It is an encyclopedia of wine, with articles on not everything, but as close as you can get in one volume. It is written by on of the world's leading experts on wine.

I have the third edition, published in 2006. It is now in its foruth edition, published in 2015. A lot has happened in the wine business since 2006. So maybe I should get myself a copy of the most recent edition. It is available in hardcover edition and Kindle edition. When reading a book from beginning to end, I like Kindle. But when jumping around from one article to another, I prefer the paper version. An e-version of a book like this should be organized like a database, not as a "book".

Order from Amazon US: Kindle edition, or Hardcover edition.

Order from Amazon UK: Kindle edition, or Hardcover edition.


Tour de France 2017

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