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16 Grapes for Stage 16: Bikes and Wine, Le Tour de France

Written by: Tom Gilbey

One of our favourite games is finding an excuse to talk about and drink our wines. What better excuse is there than to find a “bike ride” (as Hamish describes it) that goes through one of our favourite and most diverse wine regions. Of course, we’re talking about Le Tour de France, with stage 16 starting tomorrow from Carcassonne.

The medieval city of Carcassonne is widely regarded as the jewel in Languedoc’s crown.  It’s a city steeped in history with rich culture, numerous medieval, awe inspiring buildings and streets and a walled citadel. It’s very impressive and set right in the heart of this great vineyard clad area. The sun shines brightly here and there’s a cool breeze blowing through many of the vineyards, making vine disease a rarity and allowing for a safe, early harvest.  In short, it’s France’s most diverse wine region and we thought we’d celebrate stage 16 of this great “bike ride” by shining a light on 16 of the region’s most prominent grape varietals. 

It’s a hugely important region for fresh, dry white wines and you’ll find great examples of Sauvignon and Picpoul planted in the cooler vineyards.  Picpoul, along with Mauzac, is used to produce some of the best sparkling wines of the region, which are made in the same method as Champagne.  For the richer, more Rhone-esq dry whites, there’s plenty of very good Marsanne and Roussanne grown around Carcassonne and you’ll even find the more adventurous wine makers making very good Albariño and Viognier - two wonderfully aromatic and juicy whites (the best of which are like diving headfirst in to a tin of ripe peaches). And who could forget about good old Chardonnay? Gone are the days of heavily oaked, flabby and flat Chardonnay. Say, “bonjour” to the mineral, fresh and precisely oaked replacement.

These delicious whites are all highly recommended by us, but don’t stop there as the reds and rosés are just as excellent.

 

A summer lunch on the restaurant terraces in Carcassonne isn’t complete without a bottle (or two) of ice cold, coral pink rosé, made from either Cinsault, Syrah, and/or Grenache. Forget the premium prices you expect from Provence; these much more affordable roses are just as delicious with a little extra juiciness that makes them more joyful.

Rosé aside, Cinsault, Syrah, and Grenache make some of the biggest and boldest reds of the region, along with Mourvedre and Carignan, which you’ll often find blended together resulting in smooth, spicy and rich reds with ripe, juicy tannins. We suggest enjoying these wines slightly chilled as the locals do. One puzzling varietal you’ll find plenty of down here is Pinot Noir. Normally a grape variety that enjoys a cool climate (to preserve freshness and vitality), Pinot Noir flourishes here, producing a wonderfully ripe and fresh, light red. It shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise considering you also find great Sauvignon Blanc here, too.

So that’s 16 wonderful grape varieties that produce very good quality and great value wines from the sunshine basin of France.  Our Tour de France riders might not be appreciating all these treasured wines on their ‘bike ride’ today, but that won’t stop us.

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