TdF Stage 5: The Hell of the North

Yesterday’s stage was overwhelmingly flat and showcased, once again, the amazing sprinting skills of Marcel Kittel. Other than the thrilling photo finish, the drama came from speculation about Chris Froome’s fall early in the day. Does the fall — and a resulting wrist injury — lessen his chances of winning the Tour? A few cobbles on Stage 4 hinted at what’s to come today: “The Hell of the North.” The cyclists will take on the nine of the pavé sectors used in the notorious Paris-Roubaix race, and it is likely to rain, making the uneven surfaces even more treacherous.

via @albertocontador

via @albertocontador

Jens Vogt posted this photo of his first Paris-Roubaix, when there was also rain.

via @thejensie

via @thejensie

Today’s stage also travels through a host of First World War battlefields, and the riders are scheduled to start the day at the Grote Markt in Ypres in Belgium and remember the fallen in front of the Flanders Field Museum.

It should be a dramatic day of racing.

This is the second time the Tour has ventured outside France so far, if you don’t count the few yards into Belgium the route took yesterday. Out of curiosity, we decided to see if there was any significant wine-making in Belgium, as we’d only ever really associated it with beer. And possibly also those annoying Stella Artois “Cidre” adverts on television.

Actually, vines were first cultivated in Belgium around the 9th century, once the climate became more suitable and the area was not so heavily forested. By the 14th century, every Belgian city had it’s own vineyard, but again, climatic conditions changed and during the “Little Ice Age” in the 15th century, viticulture began to lose out to hop-growing and beer production as a cheap, safe alternative to possibly tainted water.

Belgium now has five official AOCs, four in Flanders and one in Wallonia. The first was Hageland, created in 1997. AOC Heuvelland, created in 2005, is of particular interest as the Tour passes within a few kilometres. Different wine styles are produced, although as you might expect, production is overwhelming white (90%), including oaked and unoaked Chardonnays similar to Chablis and Côte de Beaune.

entre-deux-monts pinot grisWe looked at a few wines from the region, and one that caught our eye was the Entre-Deux-Monts Pinot Gris 2013. This wine comes from the Heuvelland AOC and is aged in steel tanks with a short time spent in oak barrels. It has 12% alcohol and keeps for 2-3 years. It sounds quite nice as an accompaniment for the local moules and frites (mussels and chips/fries), but the Google translation of one merchant site we looked at did make us chuckle:

“Remember in the nose of stone fruit such as apricot or peach. On the palate, a game of acid, which is reminiscent of gooseberries and candy-like tones that taste like banana and honey. As a Belgian, an Exotic sure who will arrange for an aha experience with your guests!”

How can you miss with a wine like that? An aha experience, no less (an Alan Partridge moment? or even better?).

moules frites, By LittleGun (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

moules frites, By LittleGun (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Entre-Deux-Monts Chardonnay 2011 also sounds appealing, although our tastes lean more to Pinot Gris. The Google-translated description here promises

“A crisp white wine with a pale golden yellow robe and slight tears. A complex nose of ripe exotic fruits and a floral impression elderflower intertwined with a dot of vanilla and a slight spiciness. The Chardonnay has a rich, creamy, toasty on. A powerful structure of butter, ripe stone fruit and a huge fraîcheur in the final.”

It’s 12.5% alcohol and keeps for 2-3 years.

Both are award-winners, and the Pinot Gris is apparently served on Brussels Airlines flights, as well as in Michelin-starred restaurants. There’s a good profile of the winemaker, Martin Bacquaert, with a bit about the vineyard as well, on the Popsss! Blog, which features the best of Belgian Winemakers.  The bit of information that delighted us was about the mostly natural approach taken in the vineyard. The producers use minimal herbicides and pesticides, grass is planted in the rows and kestrels kept on hand to “take on the task of hunting down the little birds that feast on the juicy flesh of the grapes.”

Mrs. Winetuned: “I want kestrels defending my garden.”

If you are on the Tour de France route for this stage, look out for the vineyard, or if you’re in the start city of Ypres, you can find the Entre-Deux-Monts wines at Hemelryck. If you figure out what “quality peccadillos” are, do let us know.


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