This year’s iteration of Le Tour had a little bit of everything. The underlying drama has of course been a redemption song for Mark Cavendish and his near miss at usurping Merckx’s once seemingly unapproachable stage win tally. But there have been fantastic stage wins by Alaphilippe, van der Poel, and the amazing solo effort by Wout van Aert on the Ventoux double, not to mention those other back to back wins the Belgian had. While the GC story may have lacked some of the tension we hoped for, these efforts, along with a number of stage wins by riders who have committed their careers in support of others, have given us plenty to cheer. This year’s Tour has also visited some of France’s greatest wine regions, which make them among the greatest in the world. Here are a handful of wines that capture French culture and heritage along the roads to Paris and might help us pass the time until La Vuelta, or at least the Olympic road race.
By Clive Pursehouse | Photos Courtesy Billecart-Salmon
Stage 6: Sparkling Saumur
Any stage the rolls out of Tours is going to be rich in heritage. The hometown of René Descartes and Honoré de Balzac and the end point of Paris-Tours, Tours and Le Tour seem like a match made in heaven. The end in Chateauroux of course had Cav licking his chops having won in Chateauroux twice before, and as we know he’d make it three for three.
In between the start and the end of what was an exciting stage, the peloton traversed some of the most bucolic and important wine country in the world, in the Loire Valley. The region offers a ton of variety and in the valley’s center lies the region of Saumur. Saumur produces a variety of different wines as opposed to being known for a single grape. The red wines are made using cabernet franc, and white chenin blanc are very well known, and so are their sparkling wines.
Domaine du Vieux Pressoir – Fines Bulles
The fine bubbles of Vieux Pressoir’s traditionally made sparkling wine demonstrate that great bubbles in France don’t just come from Champagne. A blend of chenin blanc and chardonnay that is slightly off-dry offers a wine that is the perfect aperitif, or a great accompaniment to drinking sparkling wine for the hell of it. $25
Stage 7: Petit Chablis
The fast paced and frenetic Jacques Brel classic, Vesoul, actually begins with the verse: “T’as voulu voir Vierzon et on a vu Vierzon.” The distance between the towns of Vierzon and Vesoul is just over 400 kilometers, quite a haul. Fortunately for the riders in the peloton, they were heading instead to Le Creusot. Le Tour’s longest stage was a hair under 250 kilometers, leaving the rural town of Vierzon and the Loire Valley behind for the outskirts of the Burgundy region.
Between the start and finish the route took a turn towards the north and the punchy climbs of a regional natural park, and its steep hillsides made for an epic day. A group of chasers including the peloton’s biggest one day stars could not claw back Matej Mohorič, whose panache in stage 7 was too much for the pursuing peloton.
To the north of the Parc Morvan lies the Burgundian region of Chablis, one of the most famous white wine growing regions in the world. The hilly vineyards comprised of limestone and marine fossils make for some of the most bright and remarkable food wines you’ll find in all of France.
2018 Domaine Louis Moreau Petit Chablis
While the tiny steep region looking down on the sleepy village of Chablis is all about purity and minerality of chardonnay, Chablis from different sites within just a stone’s throw of one another can be incredibly sophisticated. Enter Petit Chablis, a wine that grows just outside some of the premier vineyards but is a perfect entry to the wines from this place. Notes of citrus and cut green apple, loads of minerality and great acid. A first class drinking experience at a bargain price. $18
Stage 20: Saint-Émilion, the Gem of Bordeaux
Saturday’s time trial before the finale in Paris is set to finish in one of the most beautiful towns in all the world. If you’ve got a pulse, you’ve heard of Bordeaux, probably the top wine region in all of the world, but it is also a region that is pancake flat. And while all the chateaux may be breathtaking, the natural scenery can leave one wanting, and then there is Saint-Émilion.
The medieval gem is loaded with ancient ruins and plenty of 12th century architecture. The substantial bell tower stands over the original monolithic church dug into the ground around the 12th century. The church, legend has it, was originally dug in the 8th century by a Breton monk named Émilion, from whom the town takes its name. A time trial through the vineyards a day before descending upon France is a fitting end to what has been a frenetic and unpredictable Tour de France. Wout van Aert flexed his classics power over the rolling course, salvaging a once seemingly disastrous Tour for Jumbo Visma.
Domaines Barons de Rothschild Legende Saint Emilion 2016
A world class wine from a world renowned producer, the blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc is a wine of elegance and depth. Aromas of smoke, turned earth and black berries. The palate is refined, with great structure, richness and finish. $48
Stage 21: Pop Bubbles in Paris
How would this first Post COVID Tour end? Will there be a new Tour stage record holder? Will Wout finally win a sprint stage or would Michael Matthews bring the bling? Wout’s celebratory three fingers held aloft made the finish clear. If the GC competition left us wanting, the breakaway warriors Wout van Aert and Mark Cavendish delivered. Pogačar delivered pure dominance in a way we have not seen in many years.
This was a tour to celebrate resilience. We made it through the worst of it; we came back; we rode on. Covid had us down, but we’re not out, and that my friends is worth celebrating. Au revoir France, until we meet again.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Nature Champagne
A blend of 10 vintages of wine though comprised mainly of the 2015 vintage the Billecart-Salmon Brut Nature is a “zero dosage “champagne meaning that it doesn’t receive the typical drop or two of sweet wine or Cognac that can add a touch of sweetness and body to the bracingly dry wine. This wine offers loads of complexity and layers of minerality, chalky stone and citrus flavors balanced with hints of stone fruit and ample body. A perfect wine to toast survival and renewal, à votre santé. $60