Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 14: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux — Mende

Maybe yesterday’s stage gave an indication of what we can expect on flat stages with only a few sprinters left: A breakaway will not get much time, so it will not be too hard for the peloton to catch the breakaway.

Today’s stage is hilly. It starts with a modereate ascent, and ends with the climb up to la Croix Neuve, finishing at the airstrip on the top. It is a climb often callen  La Montée Laurent Jalabert (Laurent Jalabert is from Mende, and had a spectacular win here). It is 3 km, with an average ascent of 10,1%, with 13% at the steepest part. In 2015 it was a finish up here. The two French riders Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet were leading, and were looking at each other wating to see who would attack first. The French commentators were talking about a double French. Then came the British rider Steve Cummings, cycling for the South-African team MTN-Qhubeka. They were cycling with orange helmets, to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday. He passed the two French riders, and won the stage. This gave MTN-Qhubekas their first grand tour victory, on the Mandela day. The French commentators were very disappointed.

Who will be the favorite today? It is hard to say. I has been thinking that this could be a stage for Vincenzo Nibali, but he is out of the race with injuries. Geraint Thomas has demontrated that he is good at sprinting uphill. Maybe Greg van Avermaet can be another candidate.

We start in Rhône. Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux is located in Tricastin. Coteaux de Tricastin was I wine I used to drink when I was young. When we drank red wine, it was often wines from lesser known areas in Southern Rhône. We did not know were it came from, and we did not really care. What was important to us was that we liked the wine, and that it was (relatively) cheap.

In France, people associate Tricastin with the atomic power plant located there. There has been some problems with the power plant, and the wine producers do not like to be associated with it. The name of the wine appellation has for this reason been changed to AOP Grignan-les-Adhémar.

In Northern Rhône, the grape syrah is dominating. I Southern Rhône it is supplemented by grenache and some other grapes. These are grapes that must have a warmer climate than syrah, grapes that will not ripen in the north. The main grape, in addition to syrah, is grenache. It is an originally Spanish grape, were it is namend granacha. It gives the wine body and alcohol, but not very much structure. The high alcohol makes it good grape for producing sweet wines and fortified wines. I find that wines with 100% grenache often will have a jam character. But syrah and grenache are two grapes that complement each other.

The landscape opens up and get wider south of Avignon. We have what is called the Pre-Alps or Alpilles to the east, with for instance Mont Ventoux. But the landscape is flatter, and is no longer a valley. We are in the Rhône delta. There is a plateau here, that goes a bit out in the sea. At the edge, it goes down to several thousand meters. This is the remains of an old, collapsed mountain chain. The bay is called Golfe de Lion. I had hoped that it had something to do with lions, and that it was an interesting story behind this. But it is Golf of Lyon, which is not as interesting. This picture from Google Earth shows how it is under water in the bay.

The Rhône delta, the wet area Camargue and most of Languedoc are built by what is carried by Rhône and other rivers, and maybe ice, that have been deposited at the plateau. Rhône is one of the large rivers in Europe. I have read that it carries 2 mill tons of loose gravel, sand etc each year, which should be the equivialent of 50 truckloads a day, that are deposited where the stream slows down as the river widens out. If it had not been for the plateau, it would have been transported out to deep sea.

The soil is different in Southern Rhône, compared to the north. And it is warmer.

As in many large and good wine regions, the classification of Rhône wines i hierachical. The basic classificataion is  AOP Côtes du Rhône. Some areas where they produce higher quality, are classified as Côtes du Rhône Village. At yet a higher level, the wines can be classified as  Côtes du Rhône Village with the name of the commune added, as in for instance . Côtes du Rhône Village Laudun. At the top level, they have their own crus, meaning their own AOP-classification. In the Southern Rhône, the most well known is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, located between Avignon and Orange. All the classified areas in Northern Rhône are separate crus with their own AOP. Formally they are equal, but some are more equal than others.

In AOP Grignan-les-Adhémar they produce mainly red wine with syrah and grenache as the primary grapes. It must be minimum 10% of each, but there cannot be more than 80% of one grape. It can be up to 30% of the secondary grapes Cinsault, Mourvèdre or Carignan, but no more than 15% of any of them.

They also produce some white wine, with grenache blanc, roussanne, clairete blanc, marsanne and viognier. It cannot be more than 60% of one grape.

Differencet soil and variations in the grape blends, means that the wines can vary a lot.

On the other side of the Rhône, on the right bank, is Côtes du Vivarais. This is also mainly a red wine area. It must be minimum 30% grenache and minimum 40% syrah. It could be up to 10% carignan in wines harvested in 2017 or earlier. This has been changed, so from 2018 there can be up to 10% cinsault.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, located between Orange and Avignon, is the most well known cru in Southern Rhône. They can use as many as 18 different grapes. Grenache is usually the dominating grape, blended with syrah and mourvedre.

We cannot cover all the classified areas in Rhône. But I will include two areas across the Rhône. Lirac and Tavel. Lirac is mainly a red wine area, where the red wines are made with the same grape blend as in other areas in Southern Rhône. It must be minimum 40% grenache, minimum 25% (together) of syrah and mourvedre, and maximum 10% of cinsault and carignan. The soil is a bit similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is less known than Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and for this reason usually more reasonably priced. Give it a try.

In Tavel they produce only rosé. They use mainly grenache and cinsault, but also some syrah and mourvedre. The producers in Tavel often say that in other classified areas, red wine is the main product and the best grapes go into the red wine. But in Tavel, they produce only rosé, and their best grapes are used for the rosé. Rosé from Tavel is often darker and more tasty than most other rosés. When we are in France in the summer, we drink a lot of rosé. When it is hot, we prefer rosé over red wine. We often drink rosé from Tavel with food with which we usually would drink red wine. When we are in the area, we often visit our favorite producer, Chateau d’Aqueria, and buy a case or two of their rosé.

Rhône is only the start. We do not often hear about wines from Ardeche. But many of the classified wine areas on the right bank of Rhône, both north and south, are in Ardeche. Most quality wines from Ardeche are classified and sold as Rhône wines. But I will mention some wines from Ardeche that are not classified as Rhône wines.

When I am at a good restaurant, I often buy their tasting menu, with wine pairing. I prefer to have a glass of selected wine with each course, rather than to buy a bottle as a compromise for the entire, or at least a large part of the menu. They know their food and their wines, and will often make better and more interesting choices than I would have done. At a very good, small one star restaurant in Paris Qui Plume la Lune, we got two very good white wines from Ardeche. One was a Grande Ardèche 2009, from the well known Burgundy producer Louis Latour. They had been looking for an area where they could produce a good chardonnay at lower cost than in Burgundy, and in 1979 they had chosen Ardeche. This is really one of the better chardonnays I have tasted, produced outside of Burgundy.

The other wine was produced by Sylvain Bock, who produce nature wine. They use no sulphur or other chemicals in any stages of the production. The wine had the rather strange name Ne fais pas sans blanc”. It was made with 2/3 chardonnay and 1/3 grenache blanc.

These are reasonably priced wines, that give very good value for money.

To stage 4, I mentioned the law saying that from Januray 1 2016, the wine producing areas cannot be expanded. This means that they cannot, or at least they will need a license to develop a promising wine producing area as Ardeche.

The stage ends in Mende, in the departement Lozere. Lozere is the least densly populated departement in France. I have been searching for local wines when I have been in Lozere. But I have so far not found a wine I will recommend. Get some wines at the start of this stage.

Tour de France 2018


Tour de France
Giro d'Italia


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