Tasting the 2011 Tour de France

My kind of Tour de France... (from brealhappy.blogspot.com)

If last year served as the Tour de France of wine regions for dummies (‘Oh yeah! I’ve heard of Champagne and Bordeaux!’), then this year may be a bit more exciting for the connoisseur (and the pocketbook) as the legendary cycling race speeds past the lesser talked of regions in France. It is a race that that will take you deep into the Alps and Pyrenees, along the Mediterranean coastline and Loire River. You will taste wines that reflect the dry hot summers of Languedoc and the crisp cool nights in Savoie.

Sipping through the Tour is a great way to experience each of the regions, without the expense of a physical trip there. So here are my picks that brush the route of this year’s epic race:

1) Cognac—July 2nd

Only the French. What would otherwise be nasty wine, they found a way to turn into high-end brandy. Cognac has a long and enticing story. Per usual, it begins with drunken sailors and an accident, but ends with sophisticated, sought-after genius. This twice-distilled, barrel-aged eau-de-vie (made from fruit) has varying levels. All indicate the time in oak. Cognac must be aged at least 2 yrs (indicated by VS on the label), though many are aged longer. VSOP indicates at least 4 years in barrel, while the highest level of XO sees at least 6 years (though most see nearly 20 years!). We have made it easy for you to explore this region. You can either try regular old white wine made from the same grape—Ugni Blanc (but from another nearby region that actually makes it drinkable). Or, you can really throw yourself into the experience and try one of our several Cognacs. Here are some to keep an eye out for:

  • Pierre Ferrand
  • Normandin-Mercier
  • Paul Beau
  • Prunier
  • Maison Surrenne
  • Ragnaud Gaston Briand (if you have about $1k to spend on a bottle)
  • Planat
  • La Lieutenance Liqueur d’Orange (comparable to Grand Marnier…but better and only $17)
  • Courvoisier

2) Loire (Nantais)—July 4th

Surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and rivers Loire, Sevre and Maine, Muscadet is made to pair with the ‘fruit de mer’: think oysters, clams, mussels and scallops. These wines compare to Chablis with their razorlike acidity and fresh notes of tart apple and pear. Thankfully, they typically wear half the price tag. Here are some awesome examples:

  • 2009 Domaine Chauviniere Muscadet ($14)
  • 2005 Chauviniere Granit Chateau-Thebaud ($21)
  • 2009 Domaine Luneau Papin Muscadet-sur-Lie Pierre de la Grange ($12)

That's teamwork.

3) Touraine—July 8th

This is where all the ageworthy action happens in the Loire. Here, the climate gets considerably continental as we head inland. Though Touraine still sees a bit of the Maritime influence, continental Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume have fully warm summers and cold winters. This makes for very different varietals than the Nantais coast. Here, Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc are kings (or queens, if you prefer). If you desire red, try a Chinon made of the Cab Franc variety.

  • 2009 Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray Sec ($21)
  • 2009 Champalou Vouvray Sec ($22)
  • 2009 Roger Champault Sancerre ($21)
  • 2009 Crochet La Croix du Roy Sancerre ($34)
  • 2009 Laporte Sauvignon Blanc ($20)
  • 2009 Delaunay Le Grand Ballon Sauvignon Blanc ($13—killer for the price)
  • 2010 Delaunay Rose ($13—ever tasted a red Chenin?)
  • 2008 Baumard Chinon ($18)

4) Gascogne—July 14th

If you are a brandy lover, you would revel in the fact that this year’s tour not only hits up big daddy Cognac, but also the more artisanal, earthy Armagnac region of Gascogne. For those who aren’t such sippers, good news. They make much more here besides the strong stuff. In fact, red, white and rose is known to come from this Southwest French region in the Pyrenees. Most popular is the blanc, however. These wines tend to carry a certain, well, ‘je ne sais qua’, so to speak. Terroir may be simplest way to describe this singular quality. They are often simple, country wines, but they have charm made of beloved local grapes Ugni Blanc, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Colombard, Malbec, and Tannat.

  • 2009 Domaine de Pouy ($11)
  • 2009 Domaine de la Dourbie Rouge AND Blanc ($11)
  • 2007 Chateau Laffitte-Teston ‘Ericka’ Petit/Gros Manseng ($25)

5) Languedoc—July 17th

The largest wine producing region in the world, comprised mostly of cooperatives, the Languedoc offers just about every kind of wine for every palate at often very affordable prices. Thankfully the ‘Vin de Pays’ system of regulations have made this southern Mediterranean region really up their standards of quality, making it now one of the most sought after places if you are desiring the rare combo of value and character in a bottle. The Mediterranean tempers what would otherwise be a very hot, unmanageable climate—it is, in fact the hottest and most arid parcel in all of France! Picking up just about where Gascogne left off, the Languedoc is pretty large, stretching the length of the coast to Provence and the Rhone. They have a nice long growing season and benefit from large scale production. We have a bunch of wines from the Languedoc to choose from. Here’s a sample of some…

  • 2010 HB Picpoul de Pinet ($12)
  • 2009 Les Jamelles Syrah ($11)
  • 2005 Le Galantin Bandol ($24)
  • 2010 Domaine du Grand Chemin Rose ($11)
  • 2010 Chateau Fontanes Rose ($15)

6) Minervois/Corbieres—July 17th

Yes, it’s true. Minervois and Corbieres are technically within the Languedoc, but their quality and status really warrants them to have their own category for exploration independent of the rest of this region. To overlook them would be a shame, for they give the Languedoc complexity and prestige in a way that perhaps some simpler country wines do not. Excellence does not always equate to price. The following will demonstrate that.

  • 2008 Saine Eulalie Rouge AND Rose Minervois: ($14)
  • 2008 Chateau d’Oupia Minervois ($12)
  • 2009 Les Heretiques ($10)
  • 2007 Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie Corbieres ($19)
  • 2008 Domaine Fontsainte ($16, On sale: $13)

7) Provence—July 19th

At the edge of the Languedoc there lies a little region that does not boast the most age-worthy of wines, but possibly the most poetic and…pink. Rose wine is famous here. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone sipping anything but pink wine on a hot summer day at a local cafe. This region is also famous for its incredible herbs and vast fields of grapes and sunflowers. It is a stunning piece of France, if you ever get the chance to take a holiday here. This summer, if you can’t, you can at least sip it into existence in those late afternoons on the porch, just before the sun sets. That’s when it tastes best! Here are a few we recommend (plus a couple that are white and red as well):

  • 2010 Bieler Pere et Fils Rose ($12)
  • 2010 Andrieux & Fils Cotes de Provence Rose ($14)
  • 2010 Triennes Rose & Viognier ($17)
  • 2009 Chateau Miraval Clara Lua Blanc ($20)
  • 2007 Chateau du Rouet Esterelle ugni Blanc ($14)
  • 2008 Le Pigeoulet en Provence Rouge ($19)
from: http://skvots.net/

(from: http://skvots.net/)

8 ) Savoie—July 21st

We were there once last year, and we are back in those mountains once again! Think alpine skiing and yummy fondue. That’s what comes to mind when I sip on Savoie. Ironically, it is almost better in summertime, though, than it is when it’s snowing, unless you truly are making a big, warm, melty vat of gruyere. These are crisp, acidic, delightful wines that would be perfect if you’re firing up the grill and throwing on seafood!

  • 2010 Vullien Vin de Savoie ($12)
  • 2008 Perrier Mondeuse de Savoie ($16)
  • 2009 Perrier Vin de Savoie Apremont ($14)
  • 2009 Giachino Savoie ($13–tastes like Chablis at a fraction of the cost)

9) Northern Rhone—July 22nd

So often, customers stop by the shop wanting wines from Cotes du Rhone, but it’s much less so that they ask upon the great region just 50 miles to the north. As opposed to its Grenache-driven counterpart to the South, the cooler Northern Rhone is fond of Syrah. In fact, most appellations within this ageworthy region require their wines be almost entirely Syrah, with the occasional dollop of white Viognier to give their reds a pretty color. That said, they are also famous for their whites of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. These wines fetch a pretty penny, so they aren’t daily sippers for most. That said, phenomenal bargains can be found in Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph.

  • 2004 Betts & Scholl Hermitage ($80, on sale: $60!)
  • 2006 Gaillard Saint Joseph ($47, on sale for $44!)
  • 2010 Cuilleron Syrah ($20)
  • 2006 Domaine Courbis Saint Joseph Blanc ($17)
  • 2008 Etienne Pochon Crozes-Hermitage ($23)

10) Southern Rhone—July 23rd

We finish our tour in a region of variety and intrigue. It is a rare person who cannot be satisfied and mystified by the Southern Rhone. Their styles, grapes and prices range so greatly, the novice and connoisseur are equally enraptured with this hot, rural region. Their vineyards are a patchwork of pudding stones—large smooth rocks instead of dark soil are what you will find at the base of the knobby, bushy Grenache ‘trees’, if you will. Some of the most endearing, soul-warming dishes are made in the Rhone, dishes that reflect hard work, patience, fiscal conservatism and pride. If I could describe the people and wines of this region, those would be the descriptors that first come to mind. Push yourself to try something new from this region. The options are many!

  • 2006 Chateau Correnson Lirac ($20)
  • 2009 Domaine des Rozets Coteaux du Tricastin ($10)
  • 2008 Chateau des Tours Cotes du Rhone ($34)
  • 2008 Domaine du Gour de Chaule
  • (de-classified) Gigondas ($21)
  • 2010 Domaine de Lanzac Tavel Rose ($16)
  • 2007 Domaine la Boutiniere Chateauneuf du Pape ($30)
  • 2007 Chateau les Quatre Filles Cotes du Rhone ($13)
  • 2009 Cassan Ventoux ($14)
  • 2007 Raspail-Ay Gigondas ($34)
  • 2006 Chateau de Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone ($68)


***If you happen to be in the Denver area, stop by Little’s Wine & Spirits and sip through the Tour. You will get a yellow card with 10 regions to taste at 10% off a bottle. If you finish, you get 50% off any bottle of your choice from qualified regions.***

Enjoy this year’s Tour… and go Garmin-Cervelo!!

(Image courtesy of theworldwidewine.com)



About Ashley Hausman

Originally from Wisconsin, Ashley moved to Colorado to hike and climb mountains as soon as she had a B.A. in hand. Quickly she learned, she needed to find a career. So she went back to grad school to get her PhD in English & American Literature, beginning with a Masters at New York University. A few long papers, a thesis and a masters degree later, she found wine was not only an incredible way to enhance Derridean studies, but it had its own story to tell: of regions, soils, cultures and farming. While Woolf still had her heart, Burgundy was creeping in… She decided to postpone the PhD and go for the plunge. Now, she manages Little’s Wine & Spirits near the University of Denver. She orders by day, sips and tells all in her blog by night, and runs private wine parties in between in addition to giving advice on cellar building, wine vacations and food pairing. It’s a passion that grows only more complex with every passing vintage.