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Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 21: Houilles — Paris Champs-Élysées

Everything, or at least almost everything, is decided. Geraint Thomas is the winner of Tour de France 2018. Tom Dumoulin is second and Chris Froome third. It seems that everyone, also his hardest competitors, think that Geraint Thomas really deserves this win, but they would of course have preferred to win themselves. BBC Wales celebrated with yellow jersey on the Welsh Dragon. (I first overlooked that they had changed name from BBC Wales to BBC Wheels.)

The competition for the Green Point Jersey, the polka dot King of the Mountains Jersey and the White Jersey for the best young rider, was decided several stages ago.  Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphilippe and Pierre Roger Latour only have to finish today’s stage.

Today’s stage is, as the final stage has been the last years, short and flat. It is “olny” 116 km. If you think this is really short, get your bike and go for a 116 km ride. It will be some photographing and cheering before they enter the final part in Paris, where the race begins. I hope the riders will let Sylvain Chavanel get a chance to go in a TV-breakaway in Paris, on the final stage in his 18th and last Tour de France. I do not have the statistics, but I do not think any other rider has been in as many breakaways in Tour de France as Sylvain Chavanel.

The stage will probably end with as sprint, as it usually does, among the sprinters who have made it to Paris. As a Norwegian, I hope for Alexander Kristoff of Edvald Boasson Hagen. But to be honest, I think Peter Sagan will be back in business, and take this one too.

The stage takes us through the quarter Saint Germain en-Laye, where the composer Claude Debussy was born August 22,1862. Claude Debussy showed his musical talent early, and was accepted as a student at Paris Conservatory of Music when he was 10 years old. Conservative professors were critical to his more and more unorthodox compositions. But despite that, he won the most prestigious prize for young composers, Prix de Rome, when he was 22, for the cantata  L’enfant prodigue. This prize meant a scholarship to go to Rome to study.

Claude Debussy was one of the most important composers at the beginning of the 20th century. He moved away from the traditional tonality. His harmonies were not functional, in the sense that they were not driving the music. They were more “sound colouring”. It has been said that none other composer has been plagiarised as much as Claude Debussy. All composers of film music are indebted to him. His music is often called impressionistic, a term he refused.

Claude Debussy was skeptical to Richard Wagner, who had many followers among those who wanted to be modern. Debussy said that Wagner was “a beautiful sunset, mistaken for a dawn”. Debussy was skeptic to anything German. Not very surprising for one who grew up with the Franco-Prussian war, and experienced the siege of Paris as a kid.

Artists who are breaking or transcending the conventions in their own time, are often not well received among their contemporaries, also among contemporary artists. Another of the great composers of the 20th century, the Russian born Igor Stravinskij studied for some time with Nikolai Rimskij Korsakov. When Stravinskij mentioned Debussy, Rimskij Korsakov replied something like this: “Don’t listen to it. You may end up liking it”. Stravinskij ended up liking it.

Here is one of Claude Debussy’s important compositions: “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune”, played by The Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle.

There is some wine production in and around Paris. But it is only a small production and mainly a curiosity. To find what is the local wine of Paris, we have to go some 50 km to the east. We do not have to go any further to find the closest vineyards in Champagne. And there is no wine better to celebrate the final of Tour de France than champagne.

Champagne is a sparkling wine, made from grapes grown in designated areas in Champagne, produced according to the rules for champagne, and produced in Champagne. There are many other sparkling wines produced other places, many of them good, but they are not champagne. And to be honest: I have yet to taste a sparkling wine from other places that is as good as a good champagne.

Most of the champagne sold are made by large champagne houses. They often buy grapes from independent growers, but some also grow their own grapes. They are brands that shall have a consistent taste, no matter when it is produced. A Moët & Chandon Brut Impèrial shall taste like a Moët & Chandon Brut Impèrial, like it did three years ago. They are often made with grapes from several growers, often from different vintages.

Some producers make champagne only from their own grapes, others supplement with grapes from others. In the recent years, there has been a trend where the growers want to produce their own champagne, rather than to sell their grapes to the big champagne houses or to cooperatives. I like this trend, but it makes it difficult to follow the development with many small producers. Many of them produce excellent champagnes, and their champagne is often less expensive than the champagne from the large champagne houses. Guy Charlemagne, is one such producers that has become very popular in Norway.

Champagne is made from three different grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. For historic reasons, some other grapes are allowed, but they are not used, or very little used, in practice. The two main cities in Champagne are Reims and Epernay. The wine growing areas in Champagne are like this:

By DalGobboM¿!i? – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5264890

There are four important wine growing areas. Vallée de la Marne is closest to Paris. Here they mainly grow Pinot Meunier, which is regarded as the least noble of the champagne grapes. It is a cool micro climate along the river, and Pinot Meunier tolerate cold weather better than the other grapes. In Montagne de Reims, between Reims and Epernay, they mainly grow Pinot Noir. Côte de blanc is the best area for growing Chardonnay.  Aube and Côte de Bär, further south, was for a long time looked down upon by producers in Reims and Epernay. They would not admit that they were buying grapes from this area, but they did.

In recent years, it has been made some very interesting champagnes in Aube. Some think that the best champagne now is coming from producers in Aube. It is an area closer to Burgundy than to the champagne cities Reims and Epernay, and the culture is influenced by Burgundy. They put more emphasis on terroir, that the wine shall have a character from where the grapes have been growing, than they traditionally have been doing in Champagne.

But we are in Paris, not Champagne. We stick to the part of Champagne that is closer to Paris, meaning the areas around Reims and Eperany.

Champagne is first made as a still wine. It is stored sur lie, on the lees, and must be stored like this for a minimum of 15 monthts, but it is often stored longer. The wine get an aroma from the yeast, often described as brioche, which sounds better than yeast. Some grape must is then added, and it is a second fermentation in the bottles. The bottles are then gradually turned and tilted, so that they ends up with the heads down, with the deposits at the cork. This part is then frozen, the bottles are uncorked and this piece is shot out of the bottle, the bottles are then refilled, corked and labeled. After some further storage, they are ready for the market.

Most champagnes are blends, or cuvées made from many wines, often from different vintages. This blending is a process that requires skills and experience. The still wines are blended before the second fermentation, and they must be able to predict how it will be carbonated after this fermentation, with slightly higher alcohol, etc.

Almost all champagnes are produced as white wines. The colour is in the skin of the grapes. If the skins are removed before the fermentation, the result is a white wine. The majority of rosé champagnes are made as white champagnes, and then some red wine is added. A very few are made as proper rosé is made, where the skins remains in the must during the first part of the fermentation, and are then removed. Genereally, I prefer my champagne white. And I like the proper rosés better than the rosés with added red wine.

A champagne made from only white grapes, in practice Chardonnay, is called blanc de blancs, white of whites. This gives a fresh champagne. It has been a warm summer, and the weather forecast says that it will be a warm afternoon in Paris. A blanc de blancs would be my choice. If really should celebrate, and not care too much about the costs, my choice would be Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs. It is an expensive champagne, it is available at the Duty Free store at Oslo AIrport for around 140€. I usually do not buy such expensive wines. But I tasted it when we were visiting Taittinger in Reims last year, and it is an excellent blanc de blancs. I have been tempted some times when I have landed at Oslo Airport, but so far I have resisted this temptation. We can get good blanc de blancs that are more moderately priced.

A champagne made only from red or black grapes, is called blanc de noirs, white from blacks. It will usually be made from Pinot Noir, but it can also be made from Pinot Meunier or a blend of the two. A blanc de noirs can be a good choice if you drink champagne with food. There is a cooperative called Mailly in Montagne de Reims. It only produces champagne from the grand cru vineyards in the area. They make a very good blanc de noirs that is sold at a moderate price.

There are many qualities of champagne. I usually go for the “standard” cuvées. Champagne is an expensive wine, and I cannot afford to buy wines at 100 to 2 000€ a bottle. At least, then I cannot drink wine as often as I do.

There are also “cheap” champagnes. Many cooperatives and other producers make champagne from low quality grapes, often sold to supermarket chains that sell them under their own brand name. The are “real” champagne. But a good cremant or another sparkling wine can then be a better choice. But for those who drink labels more the the content, it is champagne.

Tomorrow is monday, and we get a feeling of emptiness. What shall we do when Tour de France is over? I start the second part of may bikerail trip. I will go by train to where the Moselle/Mosel river starts in Vosges, then cycle along the Moselle/Mosel river to where it flows out in the Rhine river i Koblenz (I cycled along the Rhine river two years ago), and then go by train from Koblenz to Bremen, to Hamburg and to Kiel, and take the ferry from Kiel to Oslo, where the ferry docks a few hundred meters from where I am living.

Next year, there is no World Championship in football or other events that interfere with Tour de France. The start will be a normal time, July 1st. The start  2019 will be in Brussels, which also celebrates that it is 50 years since the Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx had the Yellow Jersey in Tour de France for the first time.

The tour starts with a 192 km stage from Brussels to Charlroi, and then back to Brussels. Stage 2 is a 28 km team time trial in Brussels, starting at Palais Royal and ending at Atomium.

Where it will continue from there, is not yet published. We can expect to see many speculations, but we will not know before the stages are presented in October. But it should be a safe bet that there will be a stage to somewhere in Northern France. This means that we will have a few days with Belgian and French beer, before we can find some wines.

I also hope that there will be a stage or two in my part of Languedoc.

Tour de France 2018


Tour de France
Giro d'Italia


Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 20: Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle — Espelette (Individual Time Trial)

As expected, a lot of action on yesterday’s stage, with an impressive final by Primoz Roglic. Yesterday I found something that I should have found before:  A time limit calculator. I hope it will be available in an updated version next year. Peter Sagan suffered, but finished within the time limit.

Today everything will be decided. Today’s stage is a 31 km long individual time trial. Usually it is only the GC-riders that have anything to fight for on these time trials, in addition to time trial specialists like Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin, who ride for a stage win. But as far as I have registered, there are noe time trial specialists in the race, that are not competing for the GC.

The domestics have done their job. They cannot help their captains on an individual time trial, and their job is to finish with a safe margin to the time limit. Jens Voigt once called these time trials near the end of a grand tour “semi rest day”. Peter Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe must also just complete the stage, to secure the green jersey and the polka dot jersey that they have already won, as long as they make it to Paris. I am sure Peter Sagan will ride for a win on Champs Elyssées if he has recovered. But he only has to get to the finish to win the green jersey.

Continue reading Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 20: Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle — Espelette (Individual Time Trial)

Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 19: Lourdes — Laruns

At last a success for Arnaud Demare. André Greipel has deleted his comment about suspicious climbing, and has apologised. Then it remains to be seen if his win gives him a boost on the next stage, or if he get a “mission completed” reaction, and get at bit too relaxed. It will be another fight with the time limit today.

Now it is this year’s last high mountain stages, with Pyrenees classics like Col de Tourmalet and Col d’Aubisque. For the GC-riders and the climbers, yesterday’s stage was a kind of recovery stage. Today, Tom Dumoulin has no choice: I has to attack, if he has legs for an attack. Others, for instance Chris Froome, may have to fight for a position on the podium. And there can be a fight for positions a bit further down the classification. Chris Froome is third, but there is only 4 minutes and 2 seconds down to Dan Martin who is ninth. Jakob Fuglsang on 10th place does not have a safe lead on Alejandro Valverde and Ilnur Zakarin. I should be some action on this stage.

As this is the final mountain stage, I include the profile.

This is another mountain stage where we will not find interesting wine.

The stage starts in Lourdes, the town often called The Disneyland of the Catholic Church. February 11th 1858, the then 14 year old peasant girl  Bernadette Soubirous told that she had seen a lady in the old grotto Massabeille, about a kilometer from the town Lourdes. Bernadette had after that many visions, and the lady in her visions had said that people should drink the water from the source in the grotto, and wash themselves in it. People were of course skeptic. Bernadette was a poor peasant girl with an alcoholic father, and she did not seem to be very smart. But she avoided being locked into an asylum, The Catholic church accepted her visions in 1862,

According to the legend, people who were drinking the water from the source, were cured from diseases. This was the so called miracle in Lourdes. This is the basis for today’s pilgrim industry in Lourdes.

Now there are millions of visitors. I am not sure if they should be called tourists or pilgrims. They are probably both. Some are devoted pilgrims, others may be tourist who just happened to be in the area, such as me.

I kø for å drikke og fylle opp flasker med vann fra kilden

Over the grotto is built a cathedral. The lower part is at level with, and the extension of the grotto, an the level above a more normal cathedral. Along the wall, there are drinking fountains as well as water taps where people can fill up their bottles and cans. There are also bathing facilities. Around are hospitals and other institutions where people can get treatments.

Lourdes has 15.000 inhabitants. But get around 5 million visitors a year. It is the town in France with the largest hotel capacity, after Paris. In the centre, there are mainly hotels, souvenir shops and cafes. The majority of the hotels have a rather simple standard, one or two star hotels.

For a person who is not very religious, Lourdes is a strange sight. There are souvenir shops with names like “The Mercy of God”, “Jesus’ Holy Heart”, etc. Religious souvenirs dominates. Visitors can buy statutes of Bernadette, as well as bottles and cans to fill with water from the holy source.

Pligrims bring water home for friends and relatives who cannot make the journey themselves. With today’s airline regulations, with strict limits to how much liquid passengers can bring on board the plane, which also applies to holy water, it is not as easy as it was to carry the water. I only bought a box of peppermint sweets made with water from the source. I have tried eating them when I have had a cold, but they have not hepled me.

The town is international. We can see signs all over, telling that they speak English, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, etc. I guess that people from these countries are running the souvenir shops. It is at least not difficult to find shops where they speak for instance Italian, but only a little French.

Pilgrim tourism is big business. Many are flying to Aéroport de Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées. 70% of the passengers at this airport are pilgrims to Lourdes. There are five TGV’s (high speed trains) daliy from Paris. Busload after busload is coming to the town, and there are of course many who are driving their own cars.

Folk i kø for å bade i vann fra Bernadettes kilde

I find it somewhere between absurd and grotesque when people in wheel chairs and even hospital beds are pushed to the source so that they can drink from or even be bathed in the water. If you have tried everything, this may be the last resort. It is probably not worse than a lot of the other miraculous treatments that are offered to sick people, often at high prices. The Catholic Church has officially accepted 67 miraculous healings that are said to have happened because of the healing effect of the water.

I chose not to get too close to the attractions, such as the grotto, the source or the many water taps. I am not a very religious person. But I respect other people’s religion. I shall have a good reason to disturb what is holy for other people. My own curiosity is not a good reason.

For a superstitious, catholic cycling team, it may be an idea to use water from this source when mixing the sports drinks that the riders drink during the race. If you believe int its effect, it may be of some help.

The religious, superstitious and womanizing Italian rider Angelo Lamorosse, also called Gigi, in the  first volume of the comic book Le Tour de France, made among others by the cycling legend and now TV-commentator Laurent Jalabert, secured himself a bottle of water from Lourdes, to protect him from the famous Tour de France specatator El Diablo. Unfortunately, they did not publish many volumes of these comic books. There is another Tour de France comics series, Velomaniacs, but I like Le Tour de France better.

Lourdesis a strange phenomen, and can be an interesting place to pay a short visit. But it is a place to tick off on the list “Been there, done that”, after having been there once.

They harvest a lot of blueberries (myrtille) in the mountain areas in France, also in the Pyrenees. Blueberries are rich on antioxidants,  and can be good if you have stomach problems. Both can be good for exhausted cyclists. But Blueberry Liquer Crème Myrtille, is probably not what they should choose. But we who are not going to cycle hard mountain stages, can try a Kir made with Crème Myrtille and Jurançon sec, alternatively a dry Pacherenc-du-vic-bilh.

According to a friend, they make a very good ham in the mountain area behind Lourdes. But I do not know the name of this ham, and have not tasted it.

Tour de France 2018


Tour de France
Giro d'Italia


Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 18: Trie-sur-Baïse — Pau

I did not find the grid start very exciting. There is no reason to repeat this. But short and steep stages give action. The tour is still rather open. Greaint Thomas seems to be the stronger of the two Sky-riders, and Chris Froome seems to have accepted that. Chris Froome has been in the situation where he had to hold back to let the captain, Bradely Wiggins, win. He was quite clear then that the best rider should win. Maybe he has not forgotten.

Philippe Gilbert’s injury turned out to be more serious than they thought at first. 60 km of bicycle racing is probably not the best treatment for a fractured knee cap. But Peter Sagan’s injuries were only superficial, with nothing broken, according to what French TV reported after the medical examination. It would really have been sad if he had to abandon now, when he has already won the green jersey.

Today it is a flat stage. Under normal cicumstances, it would be a bunch sprint. But there is not a bunch of sprinters left to sprint, and it remains to be seen if those who are left still have som punch in their legs, after the mountains. Arnaud Demare still made it within the time limit, with a few minutes margin. Some has hinted that he lost suspiciously little time to Nairo Quintana up the last mountain, and that he could not have achieved that without some help. But I do not know. He is still in the race.

At last, we can find some wine. We will be in the rather strange wine area AOP Béarn, which to me is confusing. By the way, Béarn is more known for the sauce, Béarnaise, than for wine.

AOP Béarn covers three different areas. One is the same as the two geographically identical AOP Madiran og Pacherenc-du-vic-bilh. Antoher is the same area as AOP Jurançon. The third is only AOP Bearn, an area that also includes the sub area Béarn-Bellocq.

Pacherenc-du-vic-bilh covers white wines, made from the grapes l’arrufiac, petit manseng, gros manseng and petit courbu, These are the same grapes used in Jurançon. The area is influenced both by the cool and humid winds from the Atlantic ocean, and the warm and dry foehn winds coming over the Pyrenees from the south. There is a dry and a sweet Pacherenc-du-vic-bilh.

Madiran covers excatly the same area as Pacherenc-du-vic-bilh. It is because of history, tradition and politics that they have different names, and not just a classification for white Madiran or red Pacherenc-du-vic-bilh. Madiran is made from the grape Tannant, which menas something like tanninic. And so it is. It is a grape that gives tanninic wines that should be stored for some time. But also in Madiran, some producers have started to make wines made for more imediate consumptions. Today’s consumers are impatient.

Jurançon is the area between Pau and the Pyreneenes. Pau is one of the cities most frequently visited by Tour de France. There is not very much wine to be found here. We have visited Jurançon many times, and I am sure that we will come back another year. So we skip Jurançon this year.

The third area is the one that only is AOP Béarn. I have not been able to find out much about the wines from this area, and I have never tasted these wines. It seems to me that AOP Béarn to a large extent is a classification for “wrong wines”. Only white wines can be classified as  AOP Jurançon. Red wines or rosés from this area can be classified as AOP Béarn. But there are also white AOP Béarn from this area. The same with rosés from Madiran or Pacherenc-du-vic-bilh.

We can have a stronger final for this day: Armagnac. Armagnac is a grape brandy produced in a designated area in France, just as cognac is a brandy made in Cognac. They produce brandy many places, but they cannot call their brandy cognac or armagnac, just as sparkling wine produced outside of Champagne is not champagne.

Armagnac is the oldest French brandy. It has been produced since the 14th century. It is a meeting of three cultures: The roman, that introduced wine (which the Romans again had learned from the Greek), the arabic that introduced distillation and the celtic that introduced the barrels.

Armagnac is divided into three regions: Bas Armagnac, Haut Armagnac and Tenaréze. Only ca 1% is produced in Haut Armagnac, so this is in practice not a very important area.

Armagnac starts as a rather boring, white wine. They use grapes that give a wine that is low in alcohol and high in acidity. Ten different grapes are allowed, but in practice they use the first four on the list:

  • Ugni Blanc 55%
  • Baco (aka Baco 22A) 35%
  • Folle Blanche 5%
  • Colombard 5%
  • Plant de Graisse
  • Meslier St François
  • Clairette de Gascogne
  • Jurançon blanc
  • Mauzac Blanc
  • Mauzac Rosé

The wine is then distilled. In Armagnac, they usually use an Alambic Armagnacais. These are often realitively small, often mobile.

It is made of copper. It is a continuous distillation process. Wine is filled in the wine container at the top. The wine is used to cool the destillate, which again pre heats the wine.

Armagnac is distilled one time, usually to a strength between 52 and 72,4%. They are distilling for higher strength for armagnac with finesse, and Blanche Armagnac (armagnac not meant to be stored). They distill to lower strength to maintain the fruitiness in armagnac meant to be stored.

In 2005 the regulation was changed, allowing the production of Blanche de armagnac, an armagnac not meant to be stored. I have not tasted this. I usually prefer my brandy stored. For stored armacnac, the quality designations are:

  • VS: 1 year
  • VSOP: 4 years
  • NAPOLEON: 6 years
  • XO: 6 years
  • 20 years  20 years

They also produce vintage armagnac. It shall be from the harvest the year indicated, and it shall be stored for a minimum of 10 years. The Englsish wine merchant Berry Bros and Rudd has a wide selection of  Armagnac, in vintages from 1893 to the most recent they can sell.  They used to have a Duty Free shop at London Heatrhow airport. They did not have a very wide selection at the airport. But w we could order from their catalog, and pick up the bottles when flying out of London. I used to order armagnac from 1955, the year I was born, for my 50 years birthday. Two bottles, each og 0,5 litres, each time (1 liter is the maximum we are allowed to bring into Norway). I thought I had five bottles. But when I was preparing for the birthday party, it turned out that I had seven. My guests did not drink too much, so I still have a few bottles left. This vintage is sold out, so maybe I will keep the bottles til I turn 70.

I find Armagnac more interesting than Cognac. More interesting does not necessarily mean better, just more interesting. We can often find vintage armagnac from small, single producers. Cognac is, just as champagne, to a larger extent sold under brand names that are blended to have a consistent taste from year to year. A Martell VSOP shall taste like a Martell VSOP, regardless of the year it is produced.

One time, a rather long time ago, it must have been in the 1990’s or late 1980’s, I had an interesting experience with armagnac at a good restaurant in Oslo. They had a wide selection of armagnacs. I noted that they had two different vintages of armagnac form the same producer (I have forgotten which one), I think one was 1963, and the other 1971. What we found interesting was that the 1971 was more expensive than the 1963. There was only one way to find out if the price difference could be justified: We had to order one of each. The 1971 was round and balanced, the 1963 more rough and edgy. It was really interesting to taste this difference between vintages in what once was a simple wine that then had been distilled, and stored for many years.

There are also many standardised brand names of armagnac, just as for cognac. And single producer cognacs, for that matter.

Armagnac is often a bith rougher, I am tempted to say masculine, than cognac. One explanation may be that armagnac is distilled one time, cognac usually two.

Tomorrow will be another “dry” stage, so save something for tomorrow.

Tour de France 2018


Tour de France
Giro d'Italia



Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 17: Bagnères-de-Luchon — Saint-Lary-Soulan

The French commentators cheered the French win. What is almost as exciting, in another way that who will win, is: Will Arnaud Demmare finish within the time limit? There are no other full blooded sprinters left, to be in the “bus” with. Yesterday he finished 41.02 after Julian Alaphilippe, and 10 minutes after the second to last riders. I do not think he will race to Paris.

It was dramatic and scaring to see Philippe Gilbert crashing. It was a relief to see him getting up to the road, give a “thumbs up”, get back on his bike and continue. He did not seem to be seriously injured. He also demonstrated what to do in these situations. To brake hard when negotiating a curve at high speed, does not work. Maybe he was braking a bit late, which started the problems. But then he continued in a straight line while braking as hard as he could and got his feet out of the pedals, in preparation for what was coming.

A reporter from French TV (I did not get who), was out riding with Sky on the rest day. He asked Chris Froome if Geraint Thomas was the hardest competitor. Christ Froome said that if Geraint Thomas or himself should win, it would both be super. The main competitor is Tom Dumoulin. We will see in the days to come how heartfelt this is from Chris Froome.

Today’s stage will be an interesting stage in many ways. It is short, only 65 km. It will be grid start, not the usual flying start. The riders will be lined up as in motor racing, with the leader in the GC-competition in pole position. The 20 best riders will start from grids, according to their position in the GC. Then the other riders will start behind, in groups of 20. With this start we can get jump starts. For an exlanation of the grid start, see this video.

The action begins right from the start, as the riders go directly into the first climb. There will be a fight for positions. Some climbers with ambitions of winning the stage, may be far behind in the start grid. And the domesticts may have problems getting up to their captains. I would not be surprised if we see some crashes in the start.

It the time limit is calculated as for other stages, some, not at least Arnaud Demare, will have problems.

Continue reading Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 17: Bagnères-de-Luchon — Saint-Lary-Soulan

Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 16: Carcassonne — Bagnères-de-Luchon

After a well deserved rest day, I think there are riders that would like to take tre train to Paris, rather than cycle three more mountain stages.

Today’s stage starts relatively flat, with two cat 4 climbs in the first half, before the intermediate sprint.If we look at the topography, the Pyrenees and Montagne Noir form a tract, with Carcassonne located where it is at its most narrow. Carcassonne used to collect toll on goods passing through here, on its way between the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans. But when the often wet winds are blowing from the Atlantic, it picks up speed here. It can be windy, with should be headwind or cross wind at today’s stage. When the wet air is pressed against the mountains, it is pressed up, cooled down and the humidity is dropped as rain. I have often had fog and/or rain at the French side of the Pyrenees.

This i a warm up before one cat 2 and two cat 1 climbs. Sky is in a comfortable situation. They have been able to control the last stages in a moderate tempo, without caring about breakaways, stage wins etc. Now they can wait for attacks from the other GC-teams, that have to attack. But who should they attack, Geraint Thomas or Chris Froome?

The stage makes a short visit to Spain. The last categorised climb is close to the border, but on the French side.

If I have got it right, it is in theory possible to win 280 points in the competition for the green jersey, given that there is no intermediate sprint on the time trial. Peter Sagan has a 282 points lead over Alexander Kristoff. If Alexander Kristoff should win the rest of the stages, including the high mountains stages and the time trial, as well as all the intermediary sprints, and Peter Sagan should not get any points, Peter Sagan will still win the green jersey if he makes it to Paris.

Continue reading Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 16: Carcassonne — Bagnères-de-Luchon

Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 15: Millau — Carcassonne

Yesterday’s stage was rather boring, at least until the final climb to the finish. The GC-teams cannot let this happen again. The riders in a breakaway may not be a threat to the top three riders. But for those who hope to finish within the top ten, riding like this can be a problem.

It was a bit fun to follow the stage on French TV. The final climb has been given the name Montée Laurent Jalabert. He had a spectacular win here in 1995, and he is from the area. Laurent Jalabert has been part of French TV’s Tour de France team as long as I have been following the race on French TV. They did of course show Laurent Jalabert’s win in 1995, and a TV-interview with a twenty some years younger Laurent Jalabert after the win. He was slightly embarrassed when Marion Rousse,  former French cycling champion, a beautyful young lady who is now expert commentator on French TV, said that he was just as handsome now, as he was then. But she added that she was only four years old when Laurent Jalabert won the stage, and that she did not remember it. But Laurent Jalabert got more embarrassed when Thomas Voeckler, who is now a reporter on motorcycle for French TV, started to tell how Laurent Jalabert was his hero, and that he used all his savings to get the same equipment as Laurent Jalabert had. “You have never told me this before”, said Laurent Jalabert. “No. You were a legend and a great hero, and I could not tell you”, replied Thomas Voeckler. “But now we are colleagues, so now I can tell you.”

Peter Sagan tweeted this, after the stage:

“All day in the break was a bit boring because I thought I was going to be dropped in the final climb. So, I focused on the last 5km and tried to go for the win. I didn’t make it but finished 4th. Still a long way to Paris…”

He did not seem too disappointed with his fourth place. Peter Sagan can be at the top on almost any stage.

Today it is another hilly stage. But the last part is a descent, and the finish is rather flat. It is a slight ascent the last kilometer, around 2%. I would have said that this could make this finish a bit too hard for some of the most typical sprinters. But the most typical sprinters are all out of the race, so this is no longer an issue. I would not be surprised if Peter Sagan will win this stage.

They have made a hard tour this year. Often, when the Alps are before the Pyrenees, they do not include too hard stages in the Alps, to ensure that the riders are not too exhausted when they come to the Pyrenees. If the Pyrenees are first, they usually do not include the hardest Pyrenees stages. But not this year. There were three very hard stages in the Alps. Often there are some flat “recovery” stages between the Alps and the Pyrenees.  But this year, it is only one flat stage.

The organiser has given priority to mountains over wine this year. They are circumventing some of the interesting wine areas that could have been included in a stage from Millau to Carcassonne.

If you like Roquefort cheese, you can bring some from the start. I have to admit that blue cheese is not my favorite. I like small quantities, like a piece as part of a cheese platter at a restaurant. But I never buy it, if I have not planned to use it when cooking. I know that if I buy this cheese, it will be resting in the fridge for too long time, without being eaten. Roquefort is made from sheep’s milk, and it must be stored in caves in the Roquefort area. All the caves are in use, meaning that production cannot be increased. Anyone can of course make blue cheese from sheep’s milk and store it in caves. But they cannot call this cheese Roquefort, just as we cannot call a sparkling wine made outside of Champagne, Champagne.

France had a region reform in 2016. It was 27 regions, now this is reduced to 18, including five overseas regions, which is some kind of a more politically correct term for colonies. What was Languedoc-Roussillon has merged with what was Midi-Pyrénées to the region Occitanie. The enitre stage today is in the region Occitanie. On the level below, there are 96 departements, and then 36.000 communes. In addition to that, there are cantons, and in the major cities there are arrondissements. I have tried to understand the administrative structure in France, and the distribution of competence among the various levels, but I have given up.

Some has argued that they could go further, and that two regions should be enough, divided according to what is really important: One region where they call the bread or cake, whatever you prefer, made from the same dough as croissants, with small pieces of chocolate, for Pain au Chocolat, and one region where they prefer to call it Chocolatine. We are now going from the Pain au Chocolat region to the Chocolatine region.

We can include some more food. Many cities in South-Western France claim to be the capital of cassoulet, among them Carcassonne, where they have a Cassoulet Academy. Cassoulet is a stew with dried white beans and meat as the main ingredients. What kind of meat, can vary from one place to another.

We must have some wine. Carcassone is located in, or at least close to Corbières. Even if the old region Languedoc-Roussillon has merged with what was Midi-Pyrénées , there are good reasons to maintain Languedoc-Roussillon as a wine region of its own. In Corbières they mainly make red wine. It is the area where they have the largest wine production in Languedoc-Roussillon. Corbières is divieded into ten designated areas:

  1. Montagne d’Alaric
  2. Saint Victor
  3. Fontfroide
  4. Queribus
  5. Termenès
  6. Lézignan
  7. Lagrasse
  8. Sigean
  9. Durban
  10. Serviès

Boutenac, that was such a designated area, got its own AOP-status in 2005, as AOP Courberes-Boutenac.

I have been mentioning chocolate. If we want to have a good wine with chocolate, and then I am mainly thinking of dark chocolate, we have to go a bit further south, to the district Maury in Roussillon, where the most well known producer is Mas Amiel. This is my favorite wine to chocolate, and I know that some very good patisseurs share this opinion.

Tomorrow is a very well deserved rest day. I am sure many riders are looking forward to this rest day, before the Pyrenees.

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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.

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Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 13: Bourg d’Oisans — Valence

Five riders sprinting for the stage win at the top of Alpe d’Huez after a very hard stage, was not what I had expected. Geraint Thomas seems to be the better sprinter among these riders. I do not know how fast he was riding. But at the end of stage 11, when i passed Mike Nieve, he acellerated from 31 km/h to 41 km/h. I find it hard to come up to 40 km/h when it is flat, without having cycled over two hard mountains first. If Chris Froome shall win the tour, it will be a challenge for Sky to let him take two minutes on Geraint Thomas without having it look like they are faking. Tom Dumoulin is strong. But he does not have a team as strong as Sky. He does not have a rider like Geraint Thomas to help him.

Today’s stage  is a stage where the sprinters can excel again. But there are almost none of them left. The majority of them has either abandoned the race, or have finished outside the time limit.

With so many sprinters out of the competition, it can be yet another race. It is the sprint teams that usually will close the gap to a breakaway, to get a bunch sprint. If they do not have anyone left for the sprint, why should they use energy to catch a breakaway? Without the sprinters, it will be more important to get someone in the breakaway. For the GC-contenders, a stage win is not as important as for the teams and riders who are mainly competing for stage wins. If a rider who is an hour behind in the general classification should win a stage with a margin of a few minutes, it is not a threat to them in the competition for the general classification.

We are finally coming into some wine districts. The stage starts in Bourg d’Oisans, at the foot of Alpe d’Huez, and ends in Valence in the Rhône valley.

When discussing Rhône wines, it is common to divide the Rhône valley in two parts. The southern Rhône, and northern Rhône, or Côtes du Rhône Méridionales and Côtes du Rhône Septentrionales as they say in France. Valence is at the southern end of the northern Rhône, which is the part from Valence to Vienne, with Côte Rôtie as the most northern appellation. Tomorrow, the stage will start at the northern end of southern Rhône. It will be wines from northern Rhône today, and southern Rhône tomorrow.

The Rhône valley is a rift valley between the Alps and the Massif Central. The geology on the two sides of the river are quite different. We can note that in the northern Rhône, the more interesting wine areas are on the western side, or the right bank, as they say in France. The concept of right bank and left bank is not very difficult, as long as you know in which direction the river flows. It is the right and left side when looking or going downstream. Hermitage and Crozes Hermitage are exeptions, as they are good wine areas on the left bank. But here the river has found a new way not following the rift. Geologically, they belong to the right bank.

In the Rhône valley, there can be hard winds. Mainly in the winter, but also in the summer. It is the Mistral a wind coming down from the mountains, that blows down the valley. I was cycling the ViaRhona route two years ago. When cycling from Lyon to Valence, I had this wind. But I had it mainly as tailwind, and sometimes at cross wind. I wanted to visit Montèlimar, and then I had to make a turn and cycle to the north and got it has headwind. I would have had a hard day on the bike if I had had this headwind all the day.

The riders come into the Rhône valley from a side valley, and will not be affected by any Mistral winds before the finish. I like to mention the excellent hotel/restaurant Maison Pic in Valence. It is a three star restaurant, and at least the last time I checked, it was the only three star restaurant with a female chef. Eating at three star restaurants is expensive. And the hotel is not a budget hotel. But we had an unforgettable experience and have good and lasting memories from this place.

We can start with the wines from the areas close to Valence: Saint-Péray. It is actually across the river from Valence. The area is protected from the cold winds from the north. Most of us think of Rhône as a red wine district. But in Saint-Péray, they produce white wines from the grapes marsanne, rousanne and bergeron. 70% of the production is sparkling sparkling wine, made by the traditional method, as in Champagne. In the 19th century, sparkling wine from Saint-Péray was more popular than champagne, but its popularity has faded. Napoleon Bonaparte said that his first experience with wine was when he, as a young cadette in Valance, was drinking Saint-Péray.

If we go a bit further north, we find the twin towns Tournon sur Rhône at the right bank, and Tain Hermitage on the left bank.

If they are twin towns, they are by no means identical twins. On the surface, Tournon sur Rhône seems to be the more interesting of the two, with a charming old town (but with a too large parking lot towards the river, destroying the riverside). But Tain Hermitage has more to offer. Here we find the wine areas Hermitage og Crozes Hermitage.

Hermitage is one of the great, French wines. It is a tanninic, masculine wine that can be and should be stored for some years. It is said that it can be stored for 40 years. Syrah, a grape originating from the northern Rhône, is the dominating grape. It is allowed to use some white grapes in the wine, but it is not done very much anymore. Crozes Hermitage is the little brother, that is less expensive.

There is also a white Hermitage, produced from roussanne and marsanne grapes. This grapes give an aromatic wine. White Hermitage should also be stored, and can be stored for 15 years.

In addition the these wine areas, Tain Hermitage is the home of Valrhona chocolate, one of the best quality chocolate one can get. Some years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a four days chocolate course at Valrhona. One thing I remember from when we were taken on a round in the production facilities, is that when other chocolate facotries were modernising, Valrhona bought their old equipment. They said that they could not get the same quality with modern, automated equipment as they could with older, manually controlled equipment, with good craftsmen.

We also had some wine tasting when in Tain Hermitage. I got the impression that the wine producers served better wines when Valrhona had booked a tasting for people attending some of their courses, than they would serve for a typical tourist tasting.

Across the river, around Tournon sur Rhône, we find the wine areas Cornas and Saint-Joseph. Cornas is a red wine made with 100% syrah, and is an excellent wine. Saint Joseph does not have to be aged for as long time. It is said that people are drinking Saint Joseph while waiting for the Cornas to be ready to drink

Rhône wines are good with game, tasty meat low in fat. We usually have groose for dinner on the Boxing day. I usually serve either Cornas, or a Côte Rôtie for these dinners.

North of Saint Joseph, is Condrieu, a white wine district. Here they produce white wine from the grape Viognier. The best vioginer wines come from this area, which is also reflected in the price. Viognier usually gives an aromatic white wine. I like it. It can be a bit to dominating with fish and other sea food. It is a white wine I prefer to serve with chichen and other white meat. The smallest appellation in France, Chateau Grillet, is located within Condrieu. It is an appellation that covers only one producer.

When we are that far north, we must include Côte-Rôtie, an excellent red wine that I like to serve with groose and other tasty game.

The best Rhône wines come from the northern part. They are also the most expensive Rhône wines, which shuold come as no surprise. But there are very good wines from the southern Rhône as well. We will come back to some of them tomorrow.

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Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 12: Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs — Alpe d’Huez

The classification after yesterday’s stage looks more like what I had expected after Tuesday’s stage, with the GC-contenders within a not too large time span. Sky demonstrated strength when Geraint Thomas could win the stage and get the yellow jersey, at the same time as Chris Froome seems to be in control. But it must have been bitter for Mike Nieve to be passed a few hundred meters before the finish, after having led the stage as he did.

Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw finished outside the time limit, and are out of the race. It seems that Rik Zabel was told by the team that Marcel Kittel did not have a chance, and to get himself to the finish within the time limit, so that the team would not loose two riders. He managed to do so with a one second margin.

Today’s stage is just as brutal. It starts with a moderate descent, but this is only some teasing before the climbs. They have  Col de Madeleine (HC), then Lancets de Montvernier (2 cat) as an intermdeiate klimb, before Col de la Croix de Fer (HC), and then a mountain top finish at Alpe d’Huez (HC). The stage is longer than yesterday’s stage. But there are no flat sections where riders can “relax” and catch up. The sprinters who were at their limits yesterday, may struggle today. The sprinters who survive, will get another chance to show off tomorrow.

Continue reading Wines and other drinks of Tour de France 2018. Stage 12: Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs — Alpe d’Huez