Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wines of La Vuelta Stage 2: Ouled Thaleb Syrah

As I said, I'm not blogging every stage. But geography made this one impossible to skip. And by geography, I don't mean the designed for the sprinters, flat stage. Instead, I mean the proximity to Morocco and the chance to drink a Moroccan wine. 

That said, I'm having trouble focusing on the coverage, as pictures from this morning's Napa earthquake are dominating local news. The extent of damage will take quite some time to determine, but the early pictures show significant property damage and there are reports of at least 87 injured, three in critical condition. It was the largest Bay Area quake in 25 years.

Today is a rare chance for the sprinters at this year's race, so one would expect a breakaway that is eventually chased down. Indeed, on the road, there was an early break consisting of Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka), Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida) and Romain Hardy (Cofidis). Their gap got as high as almost five minutes early in the stage. With forty kilometers to go, it had dropped to around two minutes. Thirty five kilometers left to ride and it had dropped to 1:19. It appeared the catch would come earlier than expected, as there was the possibility of crosswinds and echelons ahead. 
Seventeen kilometers to go and the group was all together. Sadly, no echelons. But to the front, the sprint trains were beginning to form as they neared the finish. A very technical finish awaited them. At the end, Bouhanni, with ease.

Stage: Nacer Bouhanni
Race leader: 

The wine: Ouled Thaleb Syrah 2010
 From Frankly Wines

 From Nomadic Distribution
Domaine Ouled Thaleb was established in 1923.  Located in the Zenata coastal appellations between Casablanca and Rabat, Ouled Thaleb led the renewal of the Moroccan wine industry in the 1990’s.  While most of their fruit is Estate grown, Ouled Thaleb partners with neighboring growers in order to produce classic style wines under the direction of winemaker, Stephane Marriot. Grapes are grown organically.

100% Syrah
 Fermented in concrete tanks aged in French oak for 12 months

I say: As I said above, how could I resist a Moroccan wine? Blackberries, spice, and some smoke. Fresh and as a friend said "supple." An excellent burrito pairing, but also very nice on night two. I'm a fan.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

La Vuelta: We Begin with Sherry

So here we are, or really, they are, in Spain for the 69th edition of La Vuelta. As I said earlier, I won't be drinking wines for every stage, but for a selected few during the race.
But first, the race. La Vuelta is the third of the season's grand tours, following the Giro and the Tour de France. The year's route map is below:
What do we have?
Running from Saturday August 23rd to Sunday September 14th 2014, the Vuelta will be made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of 3239,9 kilometres.
5 flat stages
13 hill and mountain stages
1 team time trial stage
2 individual time trial stages

Distinctive aspects of the race
12,6 kilometres team time trial stage
44,5 individual time trial stages
40 summits

I'm going with "the gang's all here" as my theme for this year. Because, Vincenzo Nibali aside, essentially all of the top GC riders are here from Nairo Quintana to Alberto Contador to Chris Froome and many more. Not here, with a last minute withdrawal is defending champion Chris Horner, due to low cortisol levels apparently resulting from a Bronchitis treatment. You can check out the complete startlist here. I'll also suggest checking out Viewers' Guide to the 2014 Vuelta a España! For Indifferent Spanish Cycling Fans on Podium Cafe. Because, really, Chris is funnier than I am.

For our opening stage we have an oddly shaped 12.6 kilometer team time trial.  Within those kilometers, 22 roundabouts!
If you are new here, I like team time trials, but not everyone agrees with me. I've explained team time trials before, here and here, in brief, in a TTT, each team rides together with the time taken as the fifth rider crosses the line. As they ride the course they take turns pulling on the front and then return to a place in line with their teammates. As I've also said before, a TTT rarely wins a Grand Tour for a rider, but a loss of time to rivals can be significant, though with a course this short, perhaps not as much as in other races.
Off they went, with MTN, the first team on course coming in at 14:42. Orica sets an early leading time of 14:19. Next in the lead, Cannondale, by less than one second. Coming in 3 seconds down, Trek. Perhaps their reported crash this morning slowed them down? Slow times for many teams today, with bigger gaps than expected. Sky in at provisional 8th. OPQS in at fourth. It was looking good for Cannondale. But at the end, Movistar, by six seconds.
Stage: Movistar

The wines: Hidalgo Napoleon Amontillado 
San Leon Manzanilla 

Both from Frankly Wines

Since they are riding in Jerez, Sherry was the clear choice. And why not two to compare styles? After all, I am still searching for the Sherry that makes me say "Yes, I get it now."

About those styles:
Manzanilla is a variety of fino sherry. It is generally pale, delicate and salty.
In contrastamontillado begins as a fino Sherry which contains around 13.5% alcohol. The cap of yeast though that makes a fino is the key to amontillado as well, however it is the inadequacy of such layer that makes the wine. Without this layer, the amontillado Sherry has to be fortified until it contains 17.5% alcohol, after which the Sherry is allowed to slowly oxidize in porous oak casks. The resulting Sherry is therefore darker in color and richer in flavor than a fino.

So what did I think?
As you can see on the left, as expected. the Sherries were very different in appearance. 

The Manzanilla was a very pale yellow. It tasted both slightly bitter and salty. It was mild and easy to sip.
In contrast, the Amontillado was a much deeper, brown color. It was dry but full bodied with what we decided were non-sweet caramel notes. It also paired really well with the shrimp burrito I tried it with. As I said to a friend, it may very well prove to be my "gateway sherry." Which would be great, because I have felt for a long time now that I was missing out by not having developed a Sherry love. Thanks for encouraging me to keep trying Christy!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Coming Soon: The Wines of La Vuelta

Each year I make the same Adam Hansen joke and fail to drink the wines of the Vuelta. This year, because of a decision made while suffering from Tour induced sleep deprivation,  I am drinking what we could call a "half-Vuelta." I'll not have a wine for every stage. but thanks to the help of Christy at Frankly Wines, I have ten bottles lined up for stages during the race. Which is more than the seven I originally intended, but I sometimes get carried away.

For those not as obsessed with professional cycling as I am, the Vuelta is the third and final three week Grand Tour of the season. I admit that in my mind it has always been third : I love the (usual) excitement of the Giro and the Tour is, well, the grandest of the three. The Vuelta is poorly televised in the US (Dear Comcast: Why can I not have Universal Sports again?) and hits right at that back to school rush time of year. So I have watched, but with far less intensity than the other two races.
It may also be that I know far less about Spain and the Spanish wine than I do about Italy and France. So I am looking forward to learning something during this project.

About this year's race:
Running from Saturday August 23rd to Sunday September 14th 2014, the Vuelta will be made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of 3181,5 kilometres (before ratification).

5 flat stages
13 hill and mountain stages
1 team time trial stage
2 individual time trial stages

Distinctive aspects of the race

12,6 kilometres team time trial stage
44,5 individual time trial stages
40 summits

The route:

Monday, July 28, 2014

Wines of the Tour de France 2014: The Complete List

Hard to believe that another edition of the Tour is over. I am pretty delighted by Vincenzo Nibali's victory. He rode a wonderful race from start to finish and as some readers may know, I've been a fan of his racing style for years. Other highlights: cobbles, Tony Martin and two Frenchmen on the podium.
On a sad note, I'm still upset about Cav crashing out and it would have been a pleasure to see Taylor Phinney in his first Tour. Next year!

Wine-wise, my biggest thank you  to Christy Frank from Frankly Wines who is responsible for sourcing and suggesting many of the wines that I pair with each day's stage. Her enthusiastic help makes this both an easier and more interesting project. Who else would find both a wine from Luxembourg and suggest to still wines for the Champagne stages? 
It would also not be a Wines of the Tour without several wines from
Selection Massale. Sign up for their mailing list here.  

Below: the complete Tour wine list, with links to each blog post. 

My wine of the Tour: Marie-Noelle Ledru Coteaux Champenois Ambonnay Rouge

Stage 1: 2011 Ridgeview Sparkling Cavendish
Stage 2: Cadenhead's Old Raj Gin
Stage 3: Fernando Castillo en Rama fino
Stage 4: Cuvee des Jacobins rouge and Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale
Stage 5: Clos de Rochers Auxerrois
Stage 6: 2008 Roger Coulon Coteaux Champenois Blanc
Stage 7: Marie-Noelle Ledru Coteaux Champenois Ambonnay Rouge
Stage 8: Chateau de Vaux Pinot 2012
Stage 9: Domaine Ostertag 2011 Riesling Vignobe D’e
Stage 10: Guy Bussière Domaine du Val de Saone Gamay Flûte Enchantée
Stage 11: Bornard Tant-Mieux Pétillant Naturel Rosé NV
Stage 12: Maison B Perraud  Moulin a Vent 2012 
Stage 13: Dominique Lucas "Un Matin Face au Lac" Chasselas 2012
Stage 14: A La Tache, "Badel"  Saint Joseph
Stage 15: Château de Lascaux Rosé 2013 
Stage 16: 2012 Aubunite La Sorga
Stage 17: La Ferme du Vert l'AmouReuse
Stage 18: Atxa Vermouth Blanco
Stage 19: Cazottes Reine-Claude
Stage 20: Chateau les Farcies Pécharmant
Stage 21: Andre Robert Les Mesnil 2006

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wines of the Tour Stage 21: And This is How the Race Ends: Kittel & Andre Robert Les Mesnil 2006

Where are we: Évry - Paris Champs-Élysées 137.5km
Le Tour link:

LeTour preview: The pictures of the 2013 apotheosis, with the pack riding past the Louvre and around the Arc de Triomphe, are still fresh in everyone's minds. These two highlights will be back this year, as well as the traditional climb up the Champs-Élysées, which is much trickier than it seems! It will all lead up to the spectacular pictures of the final sprint, magnified by the France Télévisions footage. I will go out on a limb and say Cavendish will take another win in Paris to go with the four he has got already. But that is just my opinion...

The race: Always such a strange stage. Purely ceremonial for a very long time generally followed by a very aggressive bunch sprint. Oh Cav, we miss you! 
Meanwhile, ceremony:

While waiting for the excitement, read about La Course:

And there they went, around and around. Crashes, attacks and eventually lots of tv time for Richie Porte:

Behind, would our lanterne rouge finish?

Just over seven kilometers to go and Porte was caught. All seemed set for a sprint finish. An attack from Simon Clarke. 2.9 kilometers to go and he was caught. I'm hoping for Renshaw. Hey, Bernie!  A bit of a chaotic sprint there, but at the end, the expected result. 

Stage: Marcel Kittel

Yellow: Vincenzo Nibali

1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 89:59:06  
2 Jean-Christophe Péraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:07:37  
3 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) 0:08:15  
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:09:40  
5 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:11:24  
6 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:11:26  
7 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team Netapp-Endura 0:14:32  
8 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Trek Factory Racing 0:17:57  
9 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling 0:18:11  
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling 0:21:15  

Wine: Andre Robert Les Mesnil 2006
From Dig
From the importer, Return to Terroir: André Robert is a Recoltant Manipulant, or “grower-producer” Champagne, identifiable by a small “RM” on the label. This means that the wine is made by the same person who owns the vines and farms the grapes. While common in other regions of France, this is rare in Champagne, where growers historically have contracted with one of the 110 houses (for example, Veuve Clicquot or Krug) to buy their grapes each year. Out of 19,000 growers, only 1200 produce their own label, largely due to the cost to produce, age and market good Champagne. The Roberts, however, are a part of the rising number of growers to take this on since after World War II. Winemaking has been a way of life for the Robert family since the 1800′s, but they did not own their current estate until 1960 when Andre bought the house, along with its maze of cellars, and 6.6 hectares of vines. The vines are broken up into extremely small plots – so small that the Roberts like to say they are gardeners, not farmers. Many of these are situated in the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil sur Oger, which is known for its chalky soil. The Robert’s vines are located midway up the chalky slopes where the limestone reaches the surface in a block sometimes over 200 meters deep.

Overall, 2006 was a warm yearwith a hot July, grey and cooler August, followed
by a warm, dry September.
TASTING NOTES Floral and minerally on the nose withlots of apple, meyer lemon and unripe peachon the palate. Fresh and not overly toasty. It finishes clean and crisp

From the producer:
100% Chardonnay­ Grape – Dosage 7 to 8 g/litre
The wine is raised and stirred for 7 months in 225- litre oak barrels with occasional stirring. There is no malolactic fermentation.

Style Fine and elegant as an English Lord, refreshing as a sunny summer morning – these are the features of the 2006 vintage faithfully revealed in this MESNIL vintage.

I say:  Champagne today, though I considered a favorite Sicilian wine to honor Nibali. But, I've written about it before. Do know that my love of the Calabretta Rosato remains strong.
Rich and nutty with pear, apple and yeast.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wines of the Tour Stage 20: Tony Martin, Our Final GC & Chateau les Farcies Pécharmant

Where are we:
Bergerac / Périgueux
Le Tour link:

Starting in Bergerac. Maybe time for some reading?

Michelin tells me this about Périgueux: "The ancient city with its Gallo-Roman villa crowned by a glass roof by Jean Nouvel stands on one side of the town, with the medieval and Renaissance district on the other, including the Cathédrale St-Front, with Byzantine cupolas by Paul Abadie. The modern Place de Francheville, with a garden and cinema complex, lies between the two. These two districts join up and follow a “green” path (voie verte) running along the River Isle, providing pleasant walks and different views of the town."
In honor of the last Tour of the great Jens! Voigt, maybe some geocaching
Specialities : Périgueux sauce (truffl e and foie gras), Périgueux pâté (foie gras and charcuterie truffle in a pastry crust), nut cake, mushroom omelette, truffles 

Le Tour preview: What happens in the organisers' dreams? The final winner is decided in this 54 km time trial. But I think the gaps will have opened naturally in the three weeks since the Grand Start in Leeds. I said it once and I will say it again: even without a second time trial, the 2013 Froome would have crushed the opposition on this route... But will the 2014 Froome be as strong as last year's? It all boils down to this. If so, he will certainly be in the mix to win the stage, whose solid course is more tailored to men in great form than to true specialists like Martin, Wiggins and Cancellara.

The race: Ah, the time trial. Although there is a lot on the line today, watching a time trial can be less than thrilling. I'm hoping for a Tony Martin win. Beyond that, it will all come down to the gaps between those hoping for podium spots below Nibali. 
Our early leader:

Next in the hot seat: Barta, as we wait for Tony Martin to finish. I find myself wondering how many riders he will end up passing. 

And eventually it was time for the gc riders. At this point, there were three minute gaps between the start times for the riders. Just a reminder that
Thibaut Pinot ( starts the TT in second place but leads fellow Frenchman Jean-Christophe Péraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) by just 13 seconds. Spain's Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is just 15 seconds behind Pinot.The last time two French riders finished on the Tour podium was back in 1984 with Hinault and Fignon.

Tejay was having a good day:

On the course, a flat for Peraud, but a very quick bike change. 

Another flat, this time Bardet as Tejay van Garderen comes in fifth. Wow and with that bike change, he loses his fifth place on the gc to van Garderen. 

Valverde finishes 4’28” down. Pearud 2'26". Pinot 3'12". At the end, Nibali would finish fourth on the stage. Another great ride for him today.

Tomorrow, the ceremonial ride to Paris, so there should be no gc changes. 

Stage: Tony Martin

Yellow: Vincenzo Nibali

Wine: Chateau les Farcies Pécharmant
From Frankly Wines

The producer says: The Dubard family purchased this Farcies du Pech’ estate in 2000 for the charm of its old-stone castle (XVIIIth century) and the quality and the reputation of the Pécharmant vineyards. The10-hectare vineyard consists out of 20-year old vines on average. 
The personality of this wine can be partly explained by the terroir it is sourced from, typical of Pécharmant, composed out of sand and gravel containing a deep ferrugineous clay layer. This layer, locally called “Tran”, is well-known to give
a mineral hint to the wine. 
Sustainable viticulture practises are used in the
vineyard. The high number of vines (5,000/ha) allows lower yield per vine (50 hL/ha), thereby giving the much sought after concentration and depth to wine.

The de-stemmed and crushed grapes underwent a 4-week maceration at 28°C. During fermentation, repeated pumping-over and one délestage (rack-and-return) at the early st ages guarantee a soft and progressive extraction of the phenolic structure. After malolactic fermentation, the wine was separated int
o three batches, to be matured for 12 months, in French oak barrels : one third in new barrels, one third in second fill barrels, and the last third in third fill barrels. Over these 12 months, regular stirring is suggested to ensure that the yeast lees are in suspension. These 3 batches are then blended back, which adds a delicate, integrated oak to both the nose and the palate.

Cabernet varieties communicate to “Les Farcies du Pech’” a complex nose where coffee, tobacco, cinnamon and black pepper are harmoniously blended. Ample and well structured, this Pécharmant has already pleasantly loosened up and filled out with time. The palate ends up on a firm minerality due to the specific
terroir, which gives a lot of personality to this wine.

This intense and deep red wine will form an ideal
accompaniment to terrine dishes, roasted poultry or with sauce,and cheese. “

I say:  The regional wine organizaiton tells me that: Pécharmant AOC wines are made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Côt or Malbec and Merlot Noir. The incomparable taste of Pécharmant is, to a great extent, due to its soil; the sand and gravel of the Périgord which hides deep down a layer of iron clay known as the « Tran ». Pécharmant has great potential to age.
Lots of black pepper. Smells like Cab Franc to me. Deserving of the (often dreaded) word smooth. I liked this one much more than I expected. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Wines of the Tour Stage 19: An Elephant, Navardauskas & Cazottes Reine-Claude

Where are we:
 Maubourguet Pays du Val d'Adour / Bergerac
Le Tour link:

An area of plains and hills, the Pays du Val d'Adour is at the crossroads of the Béarn, Bigorre and Gascogne cultures.I think we should visit a market:
Country markets contain treasures and are perpetual invitation to sit at the table. The foie gras and duck course, not forgetting the eternal and so delicious duck. Fruits and vegetables from conscious productions to offer consumers products that taste good! We would not be complete unless we were talking about black Bigorre pig whose deli has an eternal taste of "back-y", ceps, chestnuts and Tarbes beans that can be said without harm they are ultimate bean. Finally, do not forget to wash it all down with Madiran or Pacherenc, in moderation of course.  
Market day is Tuesday from 7:30 to 1:30 p.m.

Specialities : Wines from Madiran, Pacherenc and Saint-Mont, the Mulard duck and its derivatives (foie gras, confits, whole duck), beans, garbure (French stew/soup), Gascon pastis, honey, Bigorre black pork.

Our finishing town is Bergerac. On the main square of the common, a statue of Cyrano is displayed, although the hero who inspired Edmond Rostand's theatre play never put a foot in the city.
Maybe it is time for a regional recipe? Given that peaches are in season, maybe duck roasted with peaches?
Specialities : wine, strawberries, ceps, duck, cabécou soft goats cheese, four michelin starred chefs, a world champion pastry chef

Le Tour preview: Time to take a breather! This 208 km stage is completely devoid of any real difficulties and, on paper at least, should smile upon the sprinters. However, I am betting on a lone rider to take it, a brave one who has still got something in the tank and manages to sneak away from a mammoth breakaway. Think of Rui Costa last year. He hit the bullseye twice in the final week. With the time trial and the Champs-Élysées, two specialist affairs where surprises are few and far between, looming on the horizon, this stage is last chance saloon for breakaway specialists.

The race: Our probably doomed break of the day: Slagter, Gérard, Gautier, Taaramae and Elmiger. After 75 kilometres, their gap was 2:32.Lousy weather may be the big story of the day:

Besides the weather, the main story of the day was lots and lots of flat tires. 

Some well done car field art:

Oh, and there was an elephant:

Fifty seven kilometers to go and the gap was still around 2:30. On the road: more rain. Ahead, Slagter attacked his break mates. 
More field art:

Twenty-five kilometers to go and Slagter's gap was under one minute. From the field, an attack by Bakelants, but he was quickly caught. As they got closer to town, there was a split in the peloton. Among those dropped, Kittel. Garmin was working hard for a stage win today, covering every attack. Also near the front: Sagan. He has been frustrated so many times this race, could he finally win the stage? Ahead on his own, Navardauskas. Ten kilometers to go and he had eleven seconds. Seven kilometers to go and twenty seconds. Behind though, the chase seemed to be organizing. Crash behind, just inside the three kilometer point so the riders would all get the same time as the main pack. Included in the pile up, Sagan, Greipel and Bardet. Ahead, Ramunas Navardauskas held on for the win. Tomorrow: the time trial.

Stage: Ramunas Navardauskas

Yellow: Vincenzo Nibali

Wine: Cazottes Reine-Claude (Eau de vie)
From Frankly Wines

Here is what Christy says: "Authenticity Mercenary" Laurent Cazottes is on a mission - he revived vineyards planted in the 1970s, returned to specific cultivation and distilling techniques traditional to French master practices and set about a life among the orchards and vines in the tiny village of Albi.

Using fruit from his organic orchard in the Albi area of Languedoc, Laurent distils eaux-de-vie and liqueurs with an unparalleled elegance and aroma. These elixirs have caught the attention of New Yorkers and some of the world's great chefs. Until Nicolas Palazzi started importing these lovely bottles, they could really only be found at the world’s top restaurants.  Pierre Gagnaire, the renowned Grand Vefour and a host of others have honored his unwavering dedication to each "noble" essence. Surrounded by greengages, quince, cherries plums and a host of flowers, Laurent monitors all from his home and garden at the center of the domaine's orchards. It’s basically his garden in these bottles. And we’re happy it’s no longer a secret.

Producer website.  
I say:  You might remember that I had a wild cherry wine from this producer last year. I liked it so much that I was eager to try something else from him this year.
Greengage, or Reine-Claude, are wild plums with a delicious, tart character. Much like the cherry from last year, this is highly perfumed and equally fascinating.