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TDF 2010 Stage 9 Revisited: Bonus Shots from Le Grand Bornand

Date: Wed, Jul 14, 2010 Wine Tasting

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on Stage 9 through the Haute Savoie, Brett "The Wine Maestro" Jones sent along some more photos that he snapped as the race passed through Le Grand Bornand Le Chinaillon.

Panoramic view of Le Chinaillon

Just a couple of the crazy vehicles that form the immense publicity caravan that leads the way around the course of Le Tour every day.

Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) in hot pursuit of the early breakaway.

The unmistakable riding style of Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), on his own in no man's land between the peloton and the breakaway.

Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Transitions), the only rider from South Africa in this year's Tour, braking hard in preparation for a downhill hairpin turn.

One of the many splinter groups formed within the main peloton, on a very tough stage of this year's Tour.

Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 9: Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne

Date: Tue, Jul 13, 2010 Wine Tasting

Owner of Wine Travel Guides, wine writer Wink Lorch lives part-time in a chalet in Chinaillon-Le Grand Bornand in Haute Savoie, just off the Tour de France route down from the Col de la Colombière. In summer the self-contained apartment in her chalet is available for short-term or weekly holiday rentals, or if you fancy a whole ski season in the Alps, in the winter it’s available on a seasonal basis. Most if not all of the photos in today's post come to us courtesy of Wink's partner, Brett Jones, who blogs as Brett the Wine Maestro.

Today’s mountain stage goes through Savoie, this year marking the 150th anniversary of its ‘attachment’ to France, following a plebiscite in April 1860. The stage starts in the ski resort of Morzine/Avoriaz in the department of Haute Savoie and crosses over into the department of Savoie at the Col des Aravis above La Clusaz.

As far as food and wine goes, the theme is cheese, cheese and more cheese, but a little wine too.

The narrow road up to the Col de la Colombière goes through the sleepy village of Le Reposoir below the Aravis chain of mountains, home to an impressive Chartreuse, now occupied by a Carmelite order. I’ve never knowingly eaten one of the large pike that live in the lake in front of the magnificent building, but they must sell them somewhere. It’s after Le Reposoir that the really steep climb up to the Col starts and it’s also the beginning of the real ‘Pays du Reblochon’ – Reblochon cheese country.

Chartreuse du Reposoir

The so-called berceau (cradle) of Reblochon is in the Aravis mountains, in the villages of Le Grand Bornand (a slightly stronger claim to be the first to have made it) and La Clusaz, both successful winter ski resorts. Le Grand Bornand has a population of around 2,000 people and a slightly higher population of cows (one of the highest for a village of this size in France). To attract summer tourists it styles itself as Capitale de l’Art Vache (The Cow Art Capital) and since a big festival in 2,000 when over 2,000 model cows appeared all over the village, it is full of cow art and sculptures.

Le Grand Bornand: Capitale de l'Art Vache
An appellation controllé cheese since 1958 (one of only 48 cheeses), Reblochon is made mainly in Haute Savoie with a small part of Savoie, from the milk of three breeds of cows – Abondance being the principal one. The milk must be unpasteurized. The best Reblochon made at individual farms has a Fermier designation, shown by a green casein stamp on the skin – a cheese like this sells for around 6 euros direct from my local village farm in Chinaillon-Le Grand Bornand (eat your heart out if you buy it in a shop in New York or London).

Abondance cows.

The cheese is only around 450 grams (a pound in weight) with a yellowish skin and is usually matured before sale for just 3 – 4 weeks. Because of this, in summer when the cows eat grass and flowers rather than hay, the cheese is richer, creamier and nuttier than in winter. In winter it is best eaten in cooked dishes such as Tartiflette - an invented recipe from the 1950s made to appeal to winter tourists - consisting usually of lardons (bacon pieces), onions, potatoes, crème fraiche with Reblochon on top, baked in the oven. The traditional Aravis dish that Tartiflette is based on is named Péla from the Savoyard patois for frying pan – it consists usually simply of potatoes, onions and Reblochon cooked on the stove. Suffice it to say that this is a cheese that melts well, so can be used for a myriad of inventive dishes.

On the evening before the Tour, we enjoyed a sublime match with Reblochon from our local farm, a Marestel, Roussette de Savoie 2007 from Edmond Jacquin et Fils from the Altesse grape variety – with floral and yellow fruit aromas and a very slight sweetness on the palate, it worked a treat. White is definitely best for Reblochon. With cooked Reblochon dishes, I prefer to match with the lighter wines from the Jacquère grape such as Apremont, Chignin or Jongieux.

Once the Tour passes into Savoie down from the Col des Aravis and up again and over the Col des Saisies, we are in the Beaufortain area, home to the majestic Beaufort cheese which can be produced in a large area of Savoie, the length of the rest of today’s stage to the finish at St-Jean-de-Maurienne. AOC since 1968, it is made from the milk of Abondance cows together with the smaller Tarine breed.

Tarine cow.

This huge wheel of hard cheese, weighing 20-70kg (45-154 pounds) is made in a Gruyère style and must be matured for minimum 5 months; from milk produced in June – October the even tastier version is designated as Beaufort d’Été (summer Beaufort). It has a lovely, smooth texture and nutty, sometimes savory taste – there are plenty of recipes for cooking with it, but on a cheeseboard it is a treat. I enjoy it with the dryer, even occasionally lightly oaked Roussette de Savoie wines from the Combe de Savoie between Chambéry and Albertville. Locally, they suggest a red, but I don’t think a Mondeuse works at all well; a Savoie Gamay (particularly good in 2009) is better.

The closest vineyards to today’s stage were, firstly in the tiny Savoie cru of Ayze in Haute Savoie, around 15km to the west of Cluses where they passed through before the climb to the Col de la Colombière. It’s actually my closest vineyard, but these days there is only one good producer flying the flag with the local Gringet grape – namely, Domaine Belluard. Their fantastic dry, aromatic Le Feu, only made in top years is really excellent, and the standard Gringet is well worth trying too. They make exemplary sparkling Ayze too. These wines are hard to get hold of wherever you are, though a little is exported to the USA and the UK.

Domaine Belluard, Ayze

Down from the Col de Saisies, the riders went through Albertville, home to the Winter Olympics of 1992. Just over 20km to the west begins one of the most planted vineyard areas of the scattered Savoie wine region on the southern slopes of the Bauges mountains stretching towards Chambéry in the valley known as the Combe de Savoie. Here you will find the villages of Fréterive, St-Jean-de-la-Porte, St-Pierre d’Albigny, Cruet, Arbin, Montmélian and eventually Chignin. This valley produces the best Mondeuse, and potentially good whites too, especially once you reach Chignin, growing Roussanne (called Bergeron here) as well as Altesse and the ubiquitous Jacquère.

Chignin vineyards in Fall

However, I doubt many people, least of all the Tour competitors realized that they were actually going right past a vineyard village today on the sprint, that of Cevins. Home to Domaine des Ardoisières, the domaine consists of a spectacular, steep vineyard slope above the village that having fell into decline after phylloxera and then complete disuse after the 2nd World War, was revived by a huge effort to unite no less than 400 landowners for an area of less than 10 hectares (25 acres). The effort was spearheaded by Michel Grisard of Domaine Prieuré St-Christophe in Frétervie, who was later joined by young vigneron Brice Omont, who today runs the estate. Run along biodynamic lines the wines are sold as Vin de Pays des Allobrogies and are all from local Savoie varieties. The first vintage was 2003, though with tiny quantities, and the quality has gone from strength to strength particularly with the two dry whites – Schiste (around 2/3rds Jacquère and the rest a myriad of varieties) and Quartz from 100% Altesse.

Domaine des Ardoisières, Cevins

So, Stage 9 was won by a Frenchman with two further Frenchmen in the top 10 list – will they indulge in some great Savoie cheese and wine tonight, I wonder?


Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 8: Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz

Date: Mon, Jul 12, 2010 Wine Tasting

So it turned out the Tour organizers were having a little fun at my expense. I got a call early Sunday morning from the chief commissaire telling me my services as lead car driver wouldn’t be necessary. Rather, they’d decided my presence at the arrive was of the utmost importance, therefore suggesting that I head straight to the city, without delay, to prepare for the finish line festivities.

Just as I was putting the wetlands of North Jersey behind me and about to take the plunge into the darkness that precedes the reemergence into Manhattan, the second call came. This time the commissaire had deputized the job. "Monsieur McDuff, of course the race this year is not really coming to New York. We sincerely hope, though, that you'll still continue with your planned celebrations. Bon courage!"

Damn straight I wasn't turning back. There was a ride through the Jura, where Saturday's stage took place and Sunday's started, to commemorate. So, even with the lure of an appearance by the peloton off the docket, I headed to 67 Wine, where natural wine buyer Ben Wood had invited me to show off a few goodies symbolic of the weekend's stages.

For openers, we poured "L'Uva Arbosiana" from Pascal and Evelyne Clairet's Domaine de la Tournelle, brought into the US by Jenny & François. The non-vintage "L'Uva Arbosiana" (this batch is entirely from 2008 fruit) is a completely unsulfured cuvée of Ploussard that undergoes a 30-day-long carbonic maceration. A real eye-opener for the crowd in attendance, light and bright in color, crisp, firm and snappy in texture, ever fresh and just a tad smoky on the palate. Kind of like the first stiff climb after many days of riding the flat lands. Something bracing to open up the legs, lungs and mind.

A little downhill relief — cool breeze and easy rolling — came next, via a taste of the 2007 Arbois Chardonnay from Gérard Villet, part of the Savio Soares portfolio. Its telltale sponti, wild yeast aromas were followed up by fresh, crunch fruit and a cascade of minerality not unlike what you might expect to emerge from the springs flowing beneath Les Monts Jura, through which Sunday's stage traversed.

The 2004 L'Étoile Savagnin from Domaine de Montbourgeau (Rosenthal) rounded things out, a real sting in the tail, the final hors catégorie climb that no one quite knew was coming. All afternoon, it had people raising eyebrows and scratching their heads, trying to put a finger on what it reminded them of and, even more so, trying to decide just how they felt about it. Definitely polarizing juice, with its Manzanilla-like nose, piercing acidity, and stony, spicy, pungent palate attack.

Three delicious wines in honor of the first attack on the high mountains in this year's Tour.

Given that the day's events kept me from posting according to previously planned schedule, I'm going to break form and give a shout out to Sunday's winner. At this point, I'm guessing everyone that's following the race has seen it, read it or heard it. If I'm wrong, though, and you're the one that still doesn't know, then quick, close your eyes.

Frank Schleck, crossing the line victorious on the mountaintop finish into Morzine-Avoriaz, his first ever stage win in the Tour de France.
(Photo courtesty of Fotoreporter Sirotti.)

While the field sprints of the flat stages may provide adrenalin-pumping excitement and there's certainly been no shortage of drama in the first week of this year's Tour, it's always the mountains, at least for this fan of La Grande Boucle, that bring the fireworks. And we're just getting started....

Up next: A rest day recap perhaps, then it's into the high Alps of the Haute-Savoie we go.

Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 5 Revisited: On the Avenue de Champagne

Date: Sun, Jul 11, 2010 Wine Tasting

On a well guided lark, I asked Benoit Tarlant of Champagne Tarlant if he'd like to cover Thursday's Stage 5 of the Tour de France, from Épernay to Montargis. Knowing what a savvy, energetic guy he is, I had the feeling he'd sink his hands into the day's proceedings in some way. Sure enough, he and some other growers/friends of his were headed to the Avenue de Champagne to pour their wines as the Tour caravan rolled through.

It proved too crazy a day for "real time" reporting but Benoit was good enough to send me the following shots and commentary of the action. He went to the trouble of writing in English, so I'm not going to mess much with his words.... Merci beaucoup, mon ami!

Thursday morning, to be able to drive into Épernay, you had to know the vineyards roads to escape the police, and finally to get into Épernay. I finished the last meters by bicycling as well.

So at 11:00AM, was driving la Caravane du Tour.

It was also the hours meeting for us at Brittle Wine Shop.

You could find Peter Liem, Essi Avellan, Amanda Regan, and some growers: Olivier Paulet, Jérome Dehours, Christophe Constant.

We opened the day with a Mag of Zero Brut Nature. I didn't want the racers to be jealous, so we did a big tasting direct to them when they passed through. Because it was Brut Nature, it didn't stick to them like glue. They just had to open their mouths to get some.... Well, I feel like the French racers were quite happy, and some others were not so happy to get Champagne sprayed into their brand new glasses ;) I received a "gourde" back ;)

Le pot Champenois.

We finished the full day tasting Champagne under a very warm sun, 'til night.


Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 7: Tournus to Station des Rousses

Date: Sat, Jul 10, 2010 Wine Tasting

I received the following cryptic memo, penned in blood, last night. How the author managed to attach digital photographs I'm still not sure. Through exhaustive research, I was able to attribute this text to none other than Cory Cartwright (Signor Saignée), and the seemingly mystical photographs to Guilhaume Gerard (The Wine Digger). A hearty thank you to them both. Don't forget to follow Cory's 32 Days of Natural Wine (now with even more stages than Le Tour!).

From this chart it appears the riders have a series of impossible 50% and higher grade climbs, followed by whiplash roller coaster style drops. If anyone makes it through this gauntlet alive i would put good money on them winning this whole thing.

i feel sorry for the riders during this stage. Not because there's hills or whatever, i figure they signed up for this act of masochism themselves not out of some desire to win or having to atone for the sins of a past life, but because they won't be able to sample the cuisine of the Jura.

To the south of the course you can clearly see Bourg-en-Bresse, the home of the famed poulet that has its own AOC, and to the north you have the home of comte, the giant cheesewheels that are worth the trip on their own, not to mention the other varieties of sausages and cheeses and so on and so forth. Basically if you like to eat (and i mean serious meat/potatoes/cheese eating, not flavored pop rocks or what the hell ever) this is your kind of place.

And then there is the wine.

The Jura is Terroir Country™. And not the small scale "this hill is turned .000001 degree this way so we charge 400 more dollars than that terroir and if you don't like it talk to that critic or look at this pricing sheet did we mention we're a first growth? thanks again for your business" terroir (although they have some prime sites). This is the all-encompassing terroir of food/wine/people/culture. Sure they grow some pinot noir and chardonnay, which the world knows about, but the grapes most grown are savagnin, trousseau and poulsard, rather extreme examples of "local" grapes. While the world has slowly woken to the oxidized savagnins, the ultralight poulsards, and the more serious trousseaus, and the legendary Vin Jaunes, the local market still rules, with the fortified macvin du Jura and sparkling crémant du Jura.

High on Pupillin.

It's a place where both the beautifully baroque modernism of the French natural wine movement (perhaps exemplified best by Pierre Overnoy and Emmanuel Houillon who make wines of stunning purity from methods partly adopted from Jules Chauvet through his disciple Jacques Neauport) stand side by side with staunch traditionalists such as Michel Gahier and Jacques Puffeney who are getting back to the continuity of Jura winemaking.

Jacques Puffeney

Emmanuel Houillon

When i visited we went to meet a young naturalist vigneron who perhaps exemplifies this push and pull that is making the Jura what i believe to be the most interesting wine region in the world. When we went he was brimming with ideas about wine, he had experiments going of all sorts, and more ideas of experiments he wanted to do than his small winery could possibly hold. But back in one corner was his pride and joy. It wasn't some carbonically macerated poulsard brimming with VA and barely distinguishable from a badly made gamay or grenache that represents the genre for so many these days. It was his first Château-Chalon, that staid, once great vin jaune (it was once listed with Meursault, Coulée de Serrant, Château Grillet and Château d'Yquem as one of the five great wine wine terroirs of France). Its reputation has since slipped, partly due to a change in tastes and partly due to, well, there just aren't any good producers anymore but there are a tiny number of producers trying to take it back. But here he was, in the midst of all this chaos, showing off his connection to hundreds of years of winemaking tradition and beaming over it.

Note: All that was a metaphor for bicycling.

Next up: Into the mountains and up to New York.

Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 8 Preview: Philadelphia to New York

Date: Sat, Jul 10, 2010 Wine Tasting

Breaking News: There's been talk over the last few years of eventually having the Tour de France take its Grand Départ on American shores. As fun as it sounds, prevailing thought has dictated that the Trans-Atlantic junket would put too much wear and tear on the already highly stressed physical condition of the pro peloton. Throwing such cares aside, the organizers of Le Tour have decided to make a last-minute, unannounced (until now!) detour to the Mid-Atlantic States, bringing half the peloton across the pond for a flat, fast stage from Philadelphia to New York on Sunday, July 11, while the other half of the field will toil through the first day in the high alpine regions of Jura and Savoie.

In recognition of my undying efforts (to do what, I'm not sure), the Tour organizers have invited me to drive the lead vehicle for the day.... The real surprise, though, is that once through the Lincoln Tunnel the advance caravan, lead official cars and support motos will pull off and the racers will be on their own. No set course, no marshals or gendarmes pointing the way. First man to the corner of 68th and Columbus Avenue wins.

I'll have ridden off the front by that point, so that I can get a tasting set up at the finish line before the riders arrive. You're invited, too. Here's the scoop:

In honor of the route traveled for the French version of the day's stage, I'll be pouring wines from the Jura at a shop called 67 Wine, which just happens to be located at the corner of 68th (don't ask me why it's not called 68 Wine) and Columbus Avenue. The tasting runs from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM (not from 3:00 to 7:00) on Sunday, July 11, 2010. You'll find the full details at the 67 Wine website.

Come on out and join me for some fine Chardonnay, Ploussard and Savagnin from the Jura and Arbois. World Cup finals be damned! You can DVR the game and Le Tour, but not me and the wines.

67 Wine
179 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10023
(212) 724-6767


Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 6: Montargis to Gueugnon

Date: Fri, Jul 9, 2010 Wine Tasting

Today's stage coverage and photos come to us courtesy of Jim Budd, a freelance drinks journalist, regular contributor to both "Decanter" and Hugh Johnson's "Pocket Wine Guides," and author of the aptly titled Loire-centric wine blog, Jim's Loire. Jim splits his time between London and the Touraine. Like me, he's a big cycling fan; you'll find his daily thoughts on Le Tour at Jim's Loire.

The longest stage of this year’s Tour (227.5 km) takes the riders deep into the heart of rural France. The route skirts some of the Central Loire vineyards and the hilly Morvan before ending near the famous Charolais beef country.

Pouilly-sur-Loire marks the halfway point of La Loire. Sign on the bridge over the river.

Officially described as flat this stage will be much more undulating than the previous two stages and includes four 4th category climbs – nothing difficult but less obviously a sprinters’ stage. It may also be a stage where a breakaway manages to stay away as the peloton conserves its energy for the Alpine stages that start on Saturday, especially given the current heat.

The stage starts in Montargis, which is about 70 miles south of Paris. Known in part for the production of saffron but also for its waterways in the centre of the old town. It is sometimes called the Venice of the Gatinais, a region of forests and flat agricultural land.

Unlike last year the 2010 Tour will not traverse any of the Loire’s vineyards apart from a brief and flying glimpse of some of Vouvray’s vineyards as the riders hurtle north to Paris on the TGV (high speed train) after the time trial through the Médoc vineyards. Otherwise Stage 6 is the only one that passes relatively close to any of the Loire’s vineyards. Today’s route runs parallel to the Loire.

Pouilly and La Loire.

Firstly it travels a little to the east of the small appellation of Coteaux du Giennois, whose whites are made from Sauvignon and whose best reds by rights ought to be made from 100% Pinot Noir. Unfortunately, due to an unfathomable and insane doctrine, minor Loire appellations around here have to blend some Gamay with their Pinot Noir. Who's ever heard of a really good wine made from a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir? The appellation takes it name from the town of Gien on the Loire, more famous for its porcelain than the wine.

The route also passes fairly close (about 12 miles to the east) to the Coteaux Charitois, a vin de pays based around the two hamlets of Chasnay and Saint-Lay. This was a quite important vineyard before the arrival of phylloxera just before the First World War. Then it virtually disappeared until being revived some 30 years ago. Serge Dagueneau, the well-known producer in Pouilly, has long had some vines here including Pinot Noir, so he is able to make some red. Alphonse Mellot is now the largest producer here with a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir branded Les Pénitents having bought some 18 hectares here in 2005.

Alphonse Mellot.

Their Chardonnay is a reminder that Sancerre and Pouilly are actually considerably closer to Chablis and the vineyards of the Yonne than they are to those of Touraine. Indeed Pouilly is administratively part of Burgundy. When the race passes through Saint-Fargeau, one of the stages Mark Cavendish won last year, the riders will be just 40 miles west of Chablis.

I have to admit that I don’t know the area that much of today’s route passes through and I suspect that this may well be equally true for many French people. I have briefly visited the Morvan but that must be some 30 years ago It tends to be a forgotten region. Although he wasn’t born here the late French President, François Mitterrand, put the area of the map as he was the Mayor of Château-Chinon for many years. Incidentally there is no connection here with AC Chinon. As far as I know there aren’t any vines in the Morvan as the climate is too harsh.

There's beauty to be found in the little known Brionnais countryside...

Gueugnon, where the stage finishes, is on the River Arroux, a tributary of the Loire, which is around 10 miles away. It is also only some 25 miles from Charolles home of France’s Charolais beef. Unfortunately the riders won’t have time to tarry but the area around Charolles and the associated Brionnais region has much rural charm, is well worth exploring and is little known.

...and fantastic beef.

Those not intending to race up into the Alps on Saturday should enjoy a juicy Charolais steak along with a bottle of 2005 Sancerre Rouge from a top producer such as Alphonse Mellot, the Vacherons, Vincent Pinard or Lucien Crochet. Santé et bon appétit!

Up next: Into the Jura.

Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 5: Épernay to Montargis

Date: Thu, Jul 8, 2010 Wine Tasting

I'm getting a rather late start on today's Tour report, just having watched the prime time coverage of today's stage. Continuing the inevitable march southward toward the Alps, the riders departed from the heart of Champagne this morning, riding roughly parallel to the Côte de Sézanne on a SSW path toward the stage finish in Montargis, birthplace of the praline as I learned tonight, in the Loiret Department. Today's relatively flat stage profile seemed tailor made for another field sprint finish, which indeed turned out to be the case.

The beginning kilometers of today's race saw the peloton roll down the beautiful Avenue de Champagne in the heart of Épernay. If we're lucky, we may just have a bit more detail on that leg of today's stage in the days to come. For now, though, just a pretty photo (below, courtesy of communes.com.)

As obviously adrenalin pumping and exciting as a sprint finish can be to watch, there are many other aspects of Tour spectating that I'm sure prove befuddling to many. Six hours spent in the saddle, sometimes seemingly just riding along in a pack until that final 5k throw down, is only part of it. There's a ton of strategy and teamwork that's quite difficult to understand until you've actually participated in the sport. Then, there are also certain unwritten rules of conduct that can be unique to cycling. Take the entire pack's agreement not to contest the finish at the end of the crash-riddled Stage 2 — not something you're likely to witness in too many other sports, at least not that I can think of.

Another such gesture of sportsmanship occurred on today's stage, one of a simpler nature and one that will continue to occur throughout the race, as Épernay resident John Gadret, riding for the French Ag2r squad, was given the freedom to roll ahead of the pack on the way out of town to stop and visit his family, who were out spectating along the race route. It's always a touching moment, one that shows there's still an old-school, gentlemanly side to the sport.

As I alluded to yesterday and in my race preview, there's really no such thing as too much Champagne. Perhaps Gadret's family celebrated the passage of the race with bottle or two of something like this.

Champagne Brut Réserve, Bérèche et Fils NV
$45. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
I must agree with Peter, at least within my somewhat limited experience with the range of Champagnes produced by Raphael Bérèche, that it's the Extra Brut Réserve that is the most expressive, complex and complete. That said, it's Bérèche's regular Brut Réserve in which I take easier and more regular pleasure. Part of that is price point, of course, but it also has more than a little to do with the enchanting, engaging fruit richness combined with a clear sense of soil expression that bursts forth from this wine. An unmistakable streak of red fruit, backed by notes of brioche and crunchy minerality, all of it in a fresh, very easy to drink style.

The current release is based primarily on fruit from the 2007 vintage: a blend of 25% Pinot Meunier, 25% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, along with 30% reserve wines from 2006 and 2005. About 20% of the wine is barrel fermented, with the balance done in enamel lined tanks, all of it undergoing its primary fermentation on native yeasts. There's plenty more information to be found on Bérèche's newly redesigned website, should you desire it.

I noticed for the first time in several years of enjoying this wine that a recent shipment included disgorgement data on the rear label. Actually, that's the bottom portion of the rear label used in France, allowed to show beneath the American importer's label that was pasted over the remaining body of the French rear étiquette. The stamped style is a little tough to read — you may have to click on the above pic for an enlarged view in order to see it clearly — but I make this batch out to be L71209, which I take to mean disgorged on the 7th of December, 2009.

Tough to decipher or not, I hope it's a trend in the making as I'd love to see this info appear on all of Raphael's wines, on all Champagne for that matter. Is that really too much to ask?

Up next: today Champagne, tomorrow the Loire... or is it Burgundy?


Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 4: Cambrai to Reims

Date: Wed, Jul 7, 2010 Wine Tasting

After three straight days of utter chaos on the roads of Holland, Belgium and Northern France, would Stage 4, from Cambrai in the Nord Pas de Calais to Reims in the Marne, finally prove safe passage for the riders of the professional peloton?

I don't want to break my own rule, to divulge the name of the winner to anyone who's not yet had the chance to watch today's race coverage, so I'll only answer my own question. Yes. One or two men hit the deck, of course. I wonder if there's ever been an entirely crash-free stage of Le Tour...? But it was overall a day of clear sailing, in spite of a tricky run in to the city center of Reims, a day that finished in a classic bunch gallop to the line and proved the resurgence of the old guard is no joke.

I could devote today's post to the coronation of kings, to Jeanne d'Arc, to brioche and game tarts, to the history of gothic architecture and stained glass. But I'm guessing you all know what's coming, for Reims is home to more than just one of France's most impressive cathedrals; it's the mercantile capital of the Champagne region.

I'm also guessing that today's stage victor celebrated on the podium by taking a swig and then spraying the crowd with something from one of the Reims-based négoce houses or co-ops. I celebrated for him with Champagne of a different ilk, paired with that most untraditional of Champenoise delicacies: veggie pizza.

Champagne Brut Nature "Les Béguines," La Closerie (Jérôme Prévost) (2005)
$80. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
As is often the case with unusual and/or profound wines (and, in this case), the last few drops in the glass were the most aromatic, the most compelling, the most revealing. Caramel dipped apples, marzipan, Lopez de Heredia blanco, golden wheat, peach compote, coffee crumb cake.... I kind of hate to go on like that but this is the kind of wine that easily compels one to conjure such lists. There was just a ton going on, constantly shifting and morphing from beginning to end.

Like the wines of his friend and mentor, Anselme Selosse, Prévost's Champagnes are fermented and aged in small- to medium-sized oak barrels. Though the wood combined and the intense physiological ripeness of Prévost's fruit add unmistakable roundness, color and vinosity to the wine, the wood itself seemed otherwise transparent. Right down to the last sip, that is, when my nose picked up an aroma reminiscent of walking into the barrel aging room at a winery, a soulful smell if ever there was one.

By the way, "Les Béguines," though not vintage dated, is always a single vintage wine, in this case from the 2005 harvest as indicated by the "LC05" lot number that appears on the lower part of the front label. It's also produced almost entirely from Pinot Meunier, as all but two-tenths of a hectare of Prévost's 2.2 hectares are planted exclusively to 40 year-old Meunier vines.

Deliciously different stuff. And yes, it was a good match.

Tomorrow: would anyone refuse another visit to Champagne?


Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 3: Wanze, Belgium to Arenberg, France

Date: Tue, Jul 6, 2010 Wine Tasting

Stage 3 of the 2010 Tour de France saw the peloton depart, for the first time in the history of the race, from Wanze, Belgium. Finally, the race made its way into its namesake country, crossing the border from Belgium into France, destined for the forest of Arenberg in the Nord Pas de Calais. The field will travel some of the same ferociously cobbled farm roads traversed in the spring classic, Paris-Roubaix, aka "L'Enfer du Nord."

Today's post comes courtesy of Dan Shelton, one of the two frères behind Shelton Brothers, the US's preeminent importer of French farmhouse beers. From this rough country, as Dan will tell you, come the most distinctive beers of France. Lead on, Mr. Shelton.

The Nord-Pas-de-Calais – which is about the size of Connecticut – is almost surely the most ethnically scuffed-up region in France. You can tell by the names of the towns you pass through when you're lost somewhere in the web of little roads that wind through the countryside – places like Volckerinckhove, Le Steent'je, Godewaersvelde, Spreuwkoot, Zermezeele, Socx.... Most visitors just assume that these words are randomly chosen letters perversely arranged to be unpronounceable, and refuse to give their French tormentors any satisfaction by even trying to pronounce them. Actually, these names are Flemish, a variant of Dutch, reflecting heavy immigration from West Flanders, in Belgium. Those immigrants have left the clearest cultural mark here, but countless other groups have passed through or stayed over the years: Irish and Welsh, Poles, Czechs, Italians, Portuguese, North Africans, Greeks, Slovaks, and most recently Chinese and Vietnamese. To make things more confusing, the region has proved to be a major military crossroads, and has seen invasion from all directions for centuries, beginning with the Romans and ending, one hopes, with the Germans in the 20th Century.

Today's stage ends in Arenberg, within the Parc Naturel Régional Nord-Pas-de-Calais, where the fiercest skirmishes of the day will be fought on cobbled roads like those above.

The Nord Pas is in most parts perfectly rural, with beautiful rolling fields broken up by small forests and countless stone or brick farmhouses. (Other, admittedly less beautiful, parts of the Nord-Pas have been given over to industry, especially mining in the southwest.) The region is mostly flat, with just a few striking hills here and there. The big city in this part of France is Lille, a sprawling, bustling city with a charming historic center to rival any in Europe. But at its edges, the city turns instantly to countryside. It is the farming country that truly gives the Nord-Pas its dominant feel and spirit.

Unlike nearly every other region in France, there is no wine to speak of made in the Nord-Pas. The local drink here is the beverage of choice of serious bikers everywhere: beer. Much of the barley and hops used in the brewing are grown locally, and the history of brewing in the region is long and distinguished, beginning with the Gauls, whose love of beer is documented at least as far back as the 4th century B.C. Somewhat more recently, the people of the Nord-Pas, in rustic conditions on farms across the countryside, were busy creating France's only indigenous beer style – Bière de Garde, or "beer for keeping."

Brasserie Thiriez, located in the Nord Pas de Calais, is one of the many producers of traditional French Bières de Gardes .

Bière de Garde is probably better described as a family of beers rather than a style. In the 18th and 19th centuries, certainly, all sorts of beers were made under that general name. The common element was the method of their production. In the farmhouses of the Nord-Pas, brewing was an essential aspect of farm life, carried out in rhythm with the seasons. Working in primitive conditions, and, initially, without any knowledge of yeast (until Louis Pasteur, a Frenchman, identified and cultured yeast in the mid-1800's), farmer-brewers only made beer in the cold months, when wild yeasts that could easily infect a beer were naturally subdued. Hearty beers were cooked up in the late winter and early spring, and siphoned unfiltered into heavy champagne bottles, which were stored in the cellar, to be drunk in the warmer months when brewing was impossible. With live yeast in the bottles, this "beer for keeping" continued to ferment in the cellar for months. When it was finally brought out and opened up as refreshment for the workers in the field, it was refreshing indeed: spritzy as champagne, very dry (highly "attenuated," as brewers say), and pleasingly, but not overly, alcoholic.

This bucolic life of farming and beer-drinking should rightly have gone on forever, but for the unfortunate strategic location of the Nord-Pas. There were slightly more than 2000 breweries in this region in 1900. Two world wars, and German invasion nearly put an end to it. The First World War reduced the number of breweries by half. At the end of the Second, there were only twenty breweries left. Stories abound of beautiful copper brewing installations being taken by German soldiers and melted down to make munitions. And these few remaining breweries had almost nothing to work with – no malt, no hops. Beers made with anything that would ferment were usually struggling to exceed 1% alcohol. Soon, the tradition, and the taste, of Bière de Garde were forgotten.

An old postcard featuring a scene in the village of Jenlain.
(Image courtesy of Cartes et Patrimoine.)

The good news is that one of the survivors – the Brasserie Duyck, in the little town Jenlain, not far from Lille – undertook in the 1970's to reinvent Bière de Garde. Their Jenlain Ambrée has become the benchmark for the modern Bière de Garde, but the brewery has been happy to lend its famous local yeast to other small breweries, and it is possible to find many variants around the region. A renaissance of sorts is happening now. Small breweries, many of them with connections to old, extinct breweries in their towns, and an appreciation of their own brewing history, are popping up. The number has climbed over fifty, on its way to a hundred no doubt. Not the good old days, of course, but a good start.

No one really knows what a Bière de Garde tasted like one hundred years ago, sadly, but sitting with a big corked bottle of beer from the Nord Pas, catching the complex, champagne-like yeast aroma, and drinking in the local flavors of sweet, wholesome malt, offset by a tinge of hop bitterness, it is easy to feel a part of the long trail of brewing history.

Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 1 Revisited: Le Tour de Crash

Date: Tue, Jul 6, 2010 Wine Tasting

The following post, a look back at Sunday's Stage 1 from Rotterdam to Brussels, comes to us much better late than never from guest blogger Jeff Appeltans. Jeff is co-owner of GoCycling and is one of the top masters category road and cyclocross racers in the Mid-Atlantic region. As you may figure out while reading, he's also a huge fan of Belgian beer. Take it away, Jeff....

It was nice of David to offer me a chance to blog about the first stage of this year’s Tour. Of course I promptly lost what I had written prior to the start but had to get to bed since I was racing my bike on Sunday morning. So here’s my recap of Stage 1 - Le Tour de Crash.

This stage in particular is close to my heart since my mom’s from Rotterdam and my father is from the small village of Kerkom Belgium, located about an hour east of Brussels and home to the small artisan Brewery Kerkom, makers of Bink beer . Marc’s Bloesem Bink is a favorite of mine that uses local honey and pear syrup and is made during spring and summer.

Obviously, bikes and beer are in my blood.

One of the most lasting memories I have of Rotterdam is visiting Zadkine’s sculpture, The Destroyed City, when I was a child. It stands as a symbolic memorial to the city when it’s heart was destroyed just over 70 years ago during WWII . Perhaps that anniversary had some influence on why the Tour started here this year.

I'm actually glad I didn't get to watch the stage as it would have been painful to witness all the carnage. Early on it must have been beautiful as they crossed the Deltaworks, a series of dams and operational barriers littered with huge windmills that protect the delta lowlands from North Sea storms. Well worth the trip if you ever get the chance to travel over this engineering marvel. [You can view an image of the peloton racing through the area here.]

Good thing it was a nice day as this section is usually subject to bad weather with stiff crosswinds. But as you may know, even on the nicest days, le Tour can still be treacherous and this first stage confirmed that with crashes too numerous to count.

After they cut inland the stage went through the town of Hoogerheide where they have a longstanding tradition of hosting cyclocross World Cups as well as the recent 2009 World Cyclocross Championships. I’m sure several riders would have preferred an hour on that course over what awaited them on their ride into Brussels, Lars Boom being one in particular.

Once inside Belgium there’s no doubt the majority of folks watching were enjoying lots of Belgian beer especially as the peloton passed through Antwerp, home of the Kulminator, a great bar with an extensive selection of vintage beers. Sign their guest book and they’ll send you a card on your birthday, which is good for a free beer. You only have a few months to use it though, so unless you already have a trip planned it’s a bit of a tease.

If I had to pick a place to watch the race, I would have headed down the road to Mechelen where the crowds were just a bit smaller. Brewery Het Anker would be my destination, to enjoy a couple Gouden Carolus beers or a Lucifer. Their Noel is a great Christmas beer but a bit too rich and heavy for this time of year at 10.5%. If you get to drinking more than a couple of their higher gravity beers you don’t have to go far since they have a restaurant and hotel on the premises.

After seeing the prologue results I had high hopes that Tyler Farrar would win the sprint into Brussels, bringing him closer to the yellow jersey, but it was not to be thanks to a bad move in the final 100 meters by Lloyd Mondory of AG2R that left Farrar with a broken rear derailleur. He couldn’t help but create some controversy in a post race interview when he used the Flemish word kikker (translation “frog”) to describe Mondory’s ridng style; not a word the French take kindly to.

With three crashes in the final 3K, the first of which was caused by the erratic maneuvers of Cavendish (not unlike what he did a few weeks ago in the Tour de Suisse), Petacchi once again showed his skill by staying upright and avoiding the ensuing chaos to win. These opening sprints are always hairy no matter how strong the lead-out team.

Nerves must be frayed but that always seems to be the case during the first couple stages which are made more difficult each year by increasing traffic furniture (circles & islands) throughout Europe.

If I had been there to watch the nerve racking finish I would have made a trip to Mort Subite to wind down. As it’s name implies a glass of “silent death” only seems right after today’s finale. I haven’t been there in many years but from looking at the website they’ve added a larger selection of beers in addition to the six standards: Gueuze, Faro, Kriek, Peche, Framboise and Cassis. The crisp, sour gueuze is a personal favorite of mine.

Unfortunately the riders will get no such relief, no wasted calories on beer which is too bad considering they’re in one of the best beer cities in the world. Of course a select few will enjoy a little Champagne along the way but when in Belgium how can one resist some liquid bread. With the majority of the peloton hitting the deck at some point, most everyone endured a stinging shower from all the scrapes and cuts. A good meal prepared by the team chef and a massage is as much relief as they’ll get before a restless nights sleep.

My heart goes out to these guys as they each struggle to complete yet another epic Tour. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it is to ride just one stage with all its mayhem let alone 20 of them without the reward of a beer or two.

Now that I think about it, it’s good to be an amateur, weekend warrior if only to gain a better understanding of the suffering involved. It makes those creature comforts we all enjoy that much more appreciated.

No matter who did what in previous Tours, I can only hope this edition does not get any uglier then it has been so far.

So enjoy what is undoubtedly the hardest physical challenge in sport over the next three weeks and raise a glass to these incredible athletes. May the best man win!


Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 2: Brussels to Spa, Belgium

Date: Mon, Jul 5, 2010 Wine Tasting

Today's post comes to us courtesy of Greg Gaughan, a cycling, beer and wine lover, a new reader here at MFWT, and a recent returnee to the Philly area after a three-year stint as an expatriate living in working in Luxembourg. Check out his site, Blogging Luxembourg, for tales of his travels in and around the Benelux countries.

Stage 1 of the 2010 Tour de France ended in Brussels and Stage 2 picks up in Brussels on the way down to Spa, Belgium. Although the Tour often passes through Belgium during the month of July due to the wonderful rolling hills of Flanders and the Ardennes, some were probably surprised when it was announced that the Tour would pass through Brussels and the surrounding area as it is almost completely flat. After watching Stage 1 pass through Belgium on Sunday and seeing the great passion that Belgians have for cycling, plus taking into consideration that Brussels is the home town of the greatest cyclist of all time, Eddy Merckx, it was a no-brainer to involve Brussels and the surrounding area in the Tour.

Brussels is the capital, both politically and culturally of Belgium, a country I have come to know very well and love over the past three years. My wife and I recently returned from a three-year period of living and working in Luxembourg and during this time we spent a good amount of time in Belgium and more specifically we made around a dozen trips to Brussels to soak up the culture… mainly the food and beer.

Beer is to Belgium as wine is to France and Brussels is the heart of beer culture in Belgium but it is often overlooked by travelers as some consider it too touristy and not worthy of a visit on a trip to Belgium but I could not disagree more. How can you not love a city that has as a symbol the Manneken Pis, a little statue of a boy peeing just off the Grand Place.

There are many great cafes and restaurants in Brussels at which to enjoy some typical Belgian food and to sip some of the finest ales that Belgium has to offer. If you happen to be lucky enough to be visiting Brussels during the Tour de France, or at any other time, here are some of my favorite places to enjoy while in this fine city:

Brasserie Cantillon – When it comes to Belgian beer, the oldest and most interesting style has to be lambic, a beer that is very unique in that it goes through a period of spontaneous fermentation by being exposed to the micoflora in the air at night. Many years ago there were several traditional lambic brewers within the city limits of Brussels and several more in the surrounding countryside but today Brasserie Cantillon is the only lambic brewery remaining in the city of Brussels and is a must visit for any beer lover, history lover and even some wine lovers as these beers are as close to wine as beer can get. Lambic beers are aged in old wine and spirits barrels and Cantillon has a massive amount of barrels filled with lambic aging throughout the brewery that can be seen up close on a visit.

It is often hard to visit craft breweries in Belgium without advanced notice or a large group as these breweries are often small and family run but Cantillon is open to the public 6 days a week for self guided tours and tastings. Cantillon has been run by the same family for about 110 years and is world renowned for their top notch lambics that include the addition of fruits such as raspberries, cherries, apricots and even several different varieties of red and white wine grapes.

After working up an appetite learning more about lambic at Cantillon, I often head back into the heart of Brussels for a lunch of traditional Belgian food which usually consists of pomme frites (not French fries please) and mussels (moules) or some other seafood that may be fresh at the time of year. On almost any corner of Brussels you can get a cone or little container of frites to go with a sauce of your choice, although mayo is usually the sauce of choice.

After lunch in Brussels it is always a good idea to take in the sites of the Grand Place in the center of town as it is great for people watching and there is usually something going on here like a TV show being filmed, a beer festival, a market or many other interesting events or performances. Every other year the Grand Place is turned into a huge flower carpet for a week in the month of August. My wife and I were lucky enough to be in Brussels in August 2008 when the carpet was up and got some great views of this beautiful display. The Grand Place also has a nice selection of museums that are worth a visit. Although we have not visited all of the museums, we have enjoyed the Brussels city museum for their cool collection of outfits that the Manneken Pis statue has worn over the years. There is also a cool little comic strip museum just off the Grand Place that serves beer.

To continue on in your Belgian cultural immersion, there are several bars that I would suggest visiting that are all within a 5 minute walk of the Grand Place. My favorite bar in Brussels is Chez Moeder Lambic (Fontainas). The Fontainas location of Moeder Lambic opened in October 2009 and is the second Moeder Lambic in Brussels but the easiest to get to without having to get on a Metro train. Although both Moeder Lambic locations feature a great selection of bottled and draft beers and a selection of fine cheeses, the Fontainas location has a massive setup of 40+ beers on tap which is unusual for Belgium as most bars stock a large number of bottled beers but a limited number of draft beers. Moeder Lambic Fontainas always features at least 4 traditional lambic beers on tap from Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen and other lambic producers and so many other Belgian beers on tap that anyone that wanders through the front door is sure to find something they will like. Each month they also feature a few special beers from a different country. On my visits I have been there to see Italian, Swiss and German beers featured.

Although you could spend all day at Moeder Lambic, there are many other nice bars that are worth a visit including Poechenellekelder which is right next to the Manneken Pis statue. Although the name is hard to pronounce, it is not hard to find a beer to try on their menu that lists well over 100 bottled beers and also a nice menu of snacks and light food that can help extend your stay. In the warmer weather they have a nice patio at the front of the bar that puts you in a great position to watch all the tourists snapping pictures in front of the Manneken Pis statue.

A few other bars that we enjoyed from time to time include La Becasse that features lambic beers served from ceramic jugs; Toone which has a decent selection of beers but the main drawn is the puppet theatre upstairs; and Morte Subite which has the feel of a grand Parisian café.

After a long day of visiting the best bars in Brussels, there are many great restaurants to have dinner at. You can get lost in the center of Brussels with all the restaurant options you have, many of which are geared towards tourists so they focus on low prices rather than quality. If you do just a little bit of research and don’t mind walking a few minutes out of the center of town, you will find it worth the effort. One of the best restaurants we have visited for dinner is the Bier Circus. This restaurant features a beer menu of over 200 bottled beers and a food menu that is just as impressive for its quality. Most of the food is prepared with beer and they can suggest the right beer to go with each course you order.

If you still have time left on your visit and you want to get out of the hustle and bustle of downtown Brussels, then it is worth a day trip to the area surrounding Brussels as there is much more to discover. Just a few miles outside of Brussels you will find an area referred to as the Payottenland which is home to the remaining traditional lambic brewers in Belgium.

In the town appropriately named Beersel you will find another fine lambic brewer and blender, Drie Fonteinen (the 3 fountains). Drie Fonteinen up until recently brewed their own lambics that are highly regarded but more than one year ago they had a tragic thermostat failure that ruined tens of thousands of lambic bottles that were aging in a storage facility. Today Drie Fonteinen only blends lambic they purchase from other lambic brewers in the Payottenland but they do it very well. There is also a lambic tasting café at Drie Fonteinen that is a must if you happen to be in the area on a weekend. Drie Fonteinen is also known for their restaurant that is highly regarded in Belgium as one of the best.

Another standout food and beer destination for me is De Heeren Van Liederkercke in Denderleeuw, a restaurant that would be worth a visit even if they did not serve an ounce of beer but the fact that they have one of the best vintage beer cellars in Belgium and the rest of the world makes it a must visit. De Heeren is a family run restaurant that takes pride in offering fine Belgian cuisine such as stoemp, waterzooi, Flemish beef stew, frites and several other dishes worthy of a try. My wife and I have often driven the 2 and ½ hours or so from Luxembourg just to have lunch at De Heeren before returning back home in the evening.

No visit to Brussels is complete without having a Belgian waffle to end the evening. There are two main waffle varieties: Brussels and Liege. The Brussels style remind me of Eggo waffles so I prefer to stick with the sweeter Liege waffle with no toppings but you can put nearly every topping imaginable on top of your waffle if you choose to.

In De Verzekering Tegen De Grote Dorst in Eizeringen is a little café that could only exist in Belgium. They feature lambic beers almost exclusively, including several hard to find vintage lambic and gueuze beers. Although this café is well known in the beer world for their lambic beer selection and beer festivals, I think the most unique thing is that they are only open on Sundays from about 10 am to 1pm for the church crowd and after funerals.

These are just a few of the places I have visited in Brussels but there are many more spots to have a fine Belgian ale or some traditional Belgian food. You will have to come to Brussels yourself to see how wonderful of a city it is.

Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Stage 1: Rotterdam to Brussels

Date: Sun, Jul 4, 2010 Wine Tasting

Two countries in as many days, and the race is just getting started. One of the great spectacles of Le Tour is seeing it run through neighboring countries, seeing the huge crowds that come out to embrace the race as if it were their own. The riders who happen to hail from those guest countries often take particular pride in giving it a go on the day, whether it's riding ahead of the field to stop and greet friends and family, or whether it's taking a flier from the starting gun and taking a chance on the start-to-finish breakaway.

Dutchman Lars Boom did just that today, displayed his nerve, attacking from the drop of the starter's flag and staying out front, with just a couple of breakaway companions, for nearly the entirety of today's 223km Stage 1. Displays of nerve defined today's stage in other ways as well, with crashes -- an omnipresent risk in bike racing but especially prevalent in the early days of a big race -- peppering what theoretically should have been one of the more straightforward stages of this year's Tour. Three crashes in the last 2k of the race, one of them among the largest mass pileups I've ever seen, made for an unpredictable (and rather scary) finale.

As much as I'd prefer to have seen a clean finish, I'd love to have been there to witness the mayhem in person. Had I been, as I've said here before, there's little doubt where I would have headed after the finish....


Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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TDF 2010 Prologue: Rotterdam

Date: Sat, Jul 3, 2010 Wine Tasting

It's 9:00 PM here on the East Coast. It's tomorrow in France. I'm just now sitting down to watch the prime time coverage of today's Tour de France prologue. Don't tell me who won, please. I still don't know. For years now, I've struggled not to learn the results until I've had a chance to sit down and actually watch the race. Such is my situation at the moment.

So, for tonight you'll just get a teaser of a post. It's actually rather fitting, as the prologue essentially serves as the amuse bouche of the Tour, the appetizer before the twenty course meal to follow.

This year's course, through inner-city Rotterdam (click on the map above for an enlarged view of the course), is long by prologue standards at just under 9km. It's rare that the prologue has proved to be a meaningful stage in the overall picture but it's still an incredibly prestigious stage. It's a chance for the fast men, the bike handlers, the powerhouses and the anaerobic performers to stencil their names into the list of stage winners. More importantly, it's a chance, in just a few minutes, to stake an early claim to the leader's yellow jersey. The maillot jaune. The symbol, almost universally recogized now, of Tour leadership.

I don't know the results yet, but I have watched enough to know that the conditions for a fast, technical stage like this are far from ideal. Rain. Inner city streets. Oil. Painted stripes and sharp corners. A recipe for road rash and disappointing finishing times. All of that said, my call for the stage still goes out to Fabian Cancellara, one of the true strong men of the professional peloton who's made a specialty of stages like this over the last several years. Time has already told, but I will see over the course of the next hour or so....

In the coming days, I hope to provide content that covers both the Tour and the wine and food culture of the areas through which it passes. For today, not so much. Remember, this is just a teaser stage. I could tell you that Rotterdam is one of the ten largest cities in Europe. But I've never been there....

So I'd rather tell you that I celebrated the opening of the race with friends over dinner tonight at an excellent little Japanese restaurant, Masamoto, in the strip mall suburbs of the Brandywine Valley. A pair of 2007's - Keller's Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Spatlese "R" and Francois Chidaine's Montlouis "Les Tuffeaux" - provided most excellent pairing experiences.

And I'll tell you that in the days to come there will be much, much more action. So, thanks as always for reading, for watching, and for not telling me who won.


Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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