Wine and some other drinks of Tour de France 2017: Stage 21 Montgeron — Paris Champs-Élysées

Despite that it rests one stage, everything except the stage win is already decided, provided that they get to the finish. Chris Froome wins the genereal classification, Warren Barguil is King of the Mountains, Michael Matthews wins the green jersey, Simon Yates is the best young rider, and Sky is the best team.

The cycling season is not yet over. Among other races, there are Vuelta d’Espagna, World Championship etc. But nevertheless, I will say that the team of the year is Team Sunweb. It was not a team I thought of as one of the top teams at the beginning of the season. Tom Dumoulin won Giro d’Italia. In this year’s Tour de France, they are winning the Polka dot King for the Mountain jersey and the green points jersey, and have four stage wins. Michael Matthews is among the candidates to win the final stage, so it may be five. The strong riders are young. Tom Dumoulin and Michael Matthews are 26, Warren Barguil is 25. They are riders for the future. If Sunweb is able to keep them, is another question. We can give a toast for Team Sunweb.

Edvald Boasson Hagen may win the final stage. But I will reflect a little about the significance of his stage win. If he had ended with two second and two third places, it would have been a good result, but only an “almost” that would have been soon forgotten by anyone but those who have a speical intrest in his results. A stage win is remembered. Add his two seconds and thirds to the stage win, and the total outcome is very good. The stage win is very important in itself, but it also increases the value of his other good results.

The final in Paris is tradition, and we stick to the tradition too. Today, it must be champagne. Champagne is a wine for the great occations, and for the not so great occations. As someone, I forgotten who, has said:

You should always have a bottle of champagne in the fridge, in case there should be something to celebrate. What you want to celebrate, may be the fact that you have a bottle of champagne in the fridge.

There is some wine production in Paris, and in the surrounding communes. But it is almost a curiosity. The most well known vineyard in Paris is the one at Montmartre.

But there are also vineyards in Belleville and other quartiers of Paris. When we had dinner at the restaurant Benoit in Paris not too long ago, they had a white wine rom Paris in their wine list. But the food we had ordered asked for red wine, and I did not want to buy a bottle of the Parisian white, just to taste it. They did not have it by the glass.

If we should go to the wine district most close to Paris, it will be Champagne. The vineyards in Champagne start 50-60 km east of Paris

Champagne is a sparkling wine, made in Chamagne, according to the rules for making champagne. They produce sparkling wines many places, some places they produce excellent sparkling wines. But if it is not made in Champagne, it is not champagne.

They use three grapes for the production of champagne. On white, chardonnay, and two reds or black, pinot noir and pinot meunier. For historical reasons, six other grapes are allowed. But they are not used.

Any quality product starts with good raw materials, which often means expensive raw materials. 1,2 kg of grapes are needed to produce one bottle of champagne. In 2012, which is the most recent year from which I have figures, the average price for champagne grapes for 5 €/kg, meaning that the average price of the raw materials for a bottle of champagne was 6 €. Quality varies, and the better the quality, the higher are the prices. From the grapes, we enter a long, complicated and difficult production process, before we can open a bottle of champagne. It is no surprise that these wines are expensive.The best vineyards are classified as grand cru, and below that is premier cru.

The fermentation is usually done without skin contact, meaning the we get at white wine. Some producers make rosé champagne the same way as normal rosé is made, from red/black grapes with skin cotact for a limited time in the fermentation. This method is called saignée. But most of the rosé champagne is made by adding red wine to a white champagne, a method called assemblage.

The wine is first fermented to a still, usually white wine. After the alcoholic fermentaion, it is common with what is called a malolactic fermentation. It is actually not fermentation, but a process done by bacterias. The sharper malic acid is transformed to the softer lactic acid. The wines get softer, but also less fruity. Most of the champagne producers use malolactic fermentaion. Some producer do not, among them Krug, Lanson, Gosset, and Louis Roederer for some of their cuvées.

After the first fermentation, the wine is usually aged for some months. Some producers use oak barrels, and among them some use old and some use new oak. The wine is aged at the remains from the fermentation, such as dead yeast etc, “sur lees”. Some wines are stored for a long time, as reserve wines.

Now we come to one of the difficult tasks: The blending of the cuvées. Skill and experience are needed. They are blending still wines. They must be able to forsee the end result after the second fermentation, when the alcholic strenght i 1% higher, and the wine is cabonic. A cuvée may have grapes from different producers and vineyards, and even different vintages. The big champagne houses want to maintain their brand style, and the champagne shall not be different from one year to another. Vintage champagne is only made in very good years, and then they use only wine from the year indicated.

Here is a “library” of vintages at Pommery.

When the cuvée is blended, it is ready for the second fermentation. Som must and yeast is added, and the wine is botteled. The second fermentation takes place in the bottle, which is usually sealed with capsuls of the kind we know from beer bottles, at least for normal sized bottles. During the fermentaion, alcohol and CO2 is produced. CO2 is dissolved in the wine, and will in the end produce the bubbles. The bottles are then aged. The minimu requirement is 15 months, but they are often aged longer. The bottles are stored horisontally, to better distribute the remains from the fermantaion, which are important to the taste. The bottles on the picture below are magnum, and they have used corks, not capsules.

How many bottles of champagne there are “sleeping” in these vaults, I du not know. But they are rather deep, so there are many.

When the wine is almost ready, the dead yeast and other remains from the fermentaion must be removed. The bottles are placed in a rack where it is slowly turned, a quarter of a turn per day, and tilted to an upside down position. This process is called remuage. Traditionally this was done by hand, two bottles at the time (one with each hand). This is a demontration rack in plexiglass at Taittinger, made to show how he process is working.

They developed more efficient was to do this. Now bottles are put in bins, so that they can turn and tilt a large number of bottles simultanously. But when visiting a champagne house, they like to show the old method. This is what they like to show to visitors.

They still do it manually or their prestige cuvées. The picture below is from a visit at Veuve Cliqout in 1988. They may have developed them further since then.

When all the sediments have fallen down in the neck of the bottle, the neck is put down in brine, at a temperature well below the freezing point. After a minute or so, it has frozen to a plug. It is not really an ice plug, more like some gel. When the bottle is opened, the pressure in the bottle will shoot out the plug. It is important so loose as little wine as possible in this process, called degorgement. But some will always be lost. New wine is added, and the bottles are corked. The the bottles are labeled, and they are usually store for another few months, before it is ready for the market. Here bottles are arriving for degorgement at Veuve Cliqout.

The process is the same for all champagnes. But as we have already been in the district Aube, we stay further north this time.

The big champagne houses may grow some grapes themselves, but they also buy grapes form indpendent growers. Some producers, for instance Jaquesson, make their champagne only from grapes that they have grown themselves. When they are blending their cuvées, they try to make the best out of the grapes they have, rather than to have cuvées that are similar from year to year. Some champagnes, usualy the nore exclusive champagnes, are made with grapes from a single vineyard.

The majority of the champagnes are made as blends of the three grapes allowed when making champagne. But the proportions are different, and there are many other aspects that also influence the taste of the final product. But some champagnes are made from only one type of grape. A blanc de blancs, white from whites, is a white champagne made only from white grapes, which means 100% chardonnay, as chardonnay is the only white grape that can be used for the production of champagne. The main area for growing chardonnay is Côte de Blancs, south of Epernay. It has its name from the white limestone.

A blanc de noirs, white from blacks, is a white champagne made only from blac (red) grapes. It will usually be 100 % pinot noir. But it may also be a blend of pinot noir and pinot meunier, or even 100% pinot meunier. Montagne de Reims, between Reims and Eprnay, is one of the more important areas for pinot noir. Vallée de la Marne is the main area for pinot meunier. The aproximety to the river, makes the climate a bit cooler, and pinot meunier can stand the cold better than the other grapes.

As an aperitif, particularly on a summer day, I would have chosen a blanc de blancs. This would also be my choice to celebrate a good result and that the job is done, again particularly in the summer. If it was really something great to celebrate, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne would be a good candidate. It is one of the better blanc de blancs I have tasted. But it is an expensive champagne.

Champagne goes very well with food, and we can drink champagne to almost anything. It goes well with luxury food like oysters and caviar. But it also go well with more rustic food. A rather profiled Norwegian chef like to serve hot dogs and champagne, which is a good combination. But we must skip the ketchup. Wine and tomatoes is a difficult combination. For food to which you would usually drink beer, champagne may be a good alternative.

Which champagne to drink, will of course depend on what you are eating. But as a champagne for the entire meal, I would choose a rahter full bodied champagne, lik Bollinger or Gosset. A blanc de noir may also be a good choice to food.

The area Montagne de Reims, between Reims and Epernay, is one of the main areas for pinot noir. Here we find the cooperative Maiily, which only uses grapes from the granc cru vineyards in and around the village Mailly-Champagne. They make very good wines, particularly blanc de noirs.

There wines are reasonably prices. Very good value or money, in my opinion.

There is also rosé champagne. It is usually not made as a rosé wine, but as a white champagne with red wine added. Rosé champagne is not my favourite. I prefer white. But some make rosé champagne the same way as rosé wine is usually made, from red grapes with sin contact the first part of the fermentation. This method is called saignée.

One of the bette rosé champagnes I have tasted, is one from Jaquesson, produced with the saignée method. But this champagne is no longer producec. At a tasting of champagnes from Jaquesson, they told that they used to produce this rosé with pinot noir from one specific vineyard. One year, they got problems with the grapes. It was something on the skin, but I missed the details. To avoid contaminaton of the wine, they decided to produce it as a blanc de noirs, with not skin contact. They thought that if it was not good enough for a Jaquesson, they would sell it to another producer.

I asked how they could sell it, if it was not good enough. They said that it was not difficult to sell it to some producer who make “cheap” champagne, even if the wine is not up to Jaquesson’s own standards. They produce “cheap” champagne for super market chains who will sell it under thei own label. It is a champagne, even if it is not among the best champagnes. It is “cheap” only in comparision with champagne of better quality. I think one have to pay a premium when it says “champagne” on the label, and that one can probably get a crémant that is better, maybe at a lower price.

Back to Jaquesson. The wine was good, and they sold it as a blanc de noirs. Everyone at Jaquesson agreed that the blanc de noirs was better than their rosé. So they decided to stop the production of the rosé, and is now using the grapes from this vineyard for the blanc de noirs. They know their wines better than I do. But I still think it is a pity, because of the rosé champagnes I have tasted, ths was the only rosé champagne I really liked.

When we were in Epernay earlier this year, we visited Collard-Picard. They produce a rosé champagne with the saignée method, Cuvée des Merveilles Rosé de Saignée. Immediately I liked it. A champagne with a clear pinot noir character. But it was too much of a good thing. Champagne can be made as white or rosé. Red champagne is not allowed within the classification. But there is no clear border between a dark rosé and a light red. This wine is a borderline wine.

After these rather negative views on rosé champagne, I have to add that some of the champagne house’s prestige cuvées are also made in rosé versions. Louis Roederers Cristal rosé is said to be an excellent champagne. But I have not tasted it, and have no opinion.

This is about cycling and wine. This is not a bike anyone would choose for Tour de France or for other long trips on bike. But still, this bike at Mercier is a bike to my taste.

Then we can only wait for next year. June 30. Tour de France starts in Vendée, where the river Loire flows out in the sea. The first stage starts at Nouirmoutier-en-l’Île, and the riders have to cross Passage du Gois on their way to the mainland. It is a road that can only be used at low tide. The three first stages are in this area. Stage 2 takes us a bit in from the coast, nearer to some wines. Stage 3 is a 35 km team time trial. For stage 4 they have only published the start. We do not know where we will end. We will be in the area or Muscadet and some other Loire wines.

It is also confirmed that the Grand depart 2019 will be in Brussels, but no details are published. But it will be more Belgian beer.

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.


Tour de France 2017

Tour de France
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