World-class cycling and wine-growing are two badges of honor for the French, as they are both part of the country’s identity. In fact, in days of old, riders of the Tour de France were provided with wine along the grand route to ‘nourish’ them and keep their spirits up during the grueling three weeks of riding. With the Tour de France well underway this year, we have been recalling a great visit to France for the Tour in 2002. While following in the mountain stages in the Alps and Lance Armstrong’s fourth Tour victory after a time trial win in Macon, we were fortunate enough to experience the local wines in each region. Whether enjoying a five course meal with a notable bottle Chignin-Bergeron from the Haute Savoie region by the Lac d’Annecy or sipping on a bottle of Macon-Villages table wine with local cheeses and meats on a baguette along the course, the wines of France added to our festivities as well as our cultural education along the way. What we have discovered in the years since is that the Tour makes for some great wine-tasting, even from our home here in the States. A wine map of France coupled with a map of the Tour makes for an easy guide to tasting your way along the Tour, a truly fun way to stretch your knowledge of French wines and introduce your palette to some new favorites.
For example, this year’s Tour began in England, one of the top countries to import French wines. After a time trial in London and the first road stage to Canterbury, the Tour moved to the European continent to begin a clock-wise tour of France. The cold weather wine-producing areas were the first on this year’s Tour, with an early stage from Belgium through the Champagne region, home to world renowned sparkling wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Riders then cycled through Chablis and the heart of the Burgundy region, known for both whites and red wines, also made with the above noted grapes. The TV race commentators even referenced team celebration of a stage win with a great bottle of local Chablis.
From Burgundy, the Tour heads to the Alps, and then on to the southern climes with the Cotes du Rhone region’s reds made from Syrah and Grenache grapes, front and center, followed by the reds and whites of Languedoc-Rousillon on the Mediterranean Sea, featuring Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes. As the Tour heads north toward Paris, riders will skirt the Bordeaux region adding Cabernet Franc and Semillon to the list. Once back in the summer heat of Paris, riders and spectators will no doubt enjoy some of the famous white wines of both the Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, and Alsace Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer, even though these wine-growing areas of France were not included in this year’s Tour.
So, go visit the French section of your local wine shop, armed with a map of the Tour de France (www.letour.com), and you too can enjoy these famous old world wines. Just don’t drink and ride!