TdF Stage 9: All Downhill after the Grand Ballon

Yesterday’s stage did little to change the Tour de France leader board except for weeding out some non-GC people at the top of the table. And well done to French cyclist Blel Kadri on his first Grand Tour stage win! It was a tough climb to the summit for cyclists and spectators alike, but yesterday’s crowds were rewarded with a French winner for their efforts. Vincenzo Nibali still looks very comfortable in the yellow jersey, allowing Alberto Contador to cut only 3 seconds off the time difference between them.

stage 9

Stage 9 takes place chiefly in the Vosges Mountains, beginning in Gérardmer in Lorraine, where yesterday’s stage ended, to Mulhouse in Alsace. After racing up and down the Vosges for most of the stage, riders will top the final climb (the charmingly named “Grand Ballon” to finish on a plain. Nibali was quoted (and this must be in translation because he doesn’t give interviews in English) as saying, “It’s more of a stage for a breakaway rather than the overall classification riders. I won’t say nothing can happen; something can always happen, but after the final climb there’s a long way to the finish, so I don’t know… We’ll see during the stage.”

stage 9 profile

We are delighted to arrive in an important wine region, and one of our favourites. Because Alsace and Lorraine were sometimes French and sometimes German throughout history, passing back and forth several times, many white grape varieties grown more widely in Germany than France are also main varieties in Alsace. Almost all Alsatian wines are white, although a small amount of Pinot Noir is grown and used in rosé. The most popular white varieties are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Auxerrois Blanc.

Are you wondering why we used “Gewurztraminer” there instead of “Gewürztraminer,” with an umlaut? In France, Gewurztraminer is spelled without an umlaut, which isn’t used in the French language, whereas the same variety in Germany is always spelled Gewürztraminer. Feel free to use that bit of Alsatian wine trivia to impress your friends.

Alsace is a spectacular region for wine-lovers and cyclists, and we ran across a fantastic cycling and wine map of Alsace. Click the small image below to go to the website, where a much larger version is avaiable as well as downloadable .pdf version.

Alsace Wine Route

If you’d like more information about the wines of Alsace, we’d recommend looking at the information and resources on alsacewine.com. Thye’re also active on Twitter as @AlsaceWines.

The list of wines from Alsace that we love and drink regularly is very, very long. They are incredibly food-friendly and so elegant and balanced on their own that they are a pleasure to drink for almost any occasion. We’ve chosen three we recently tried and really liked to profile here.

Gewurztraminer Mambourg 2011 Vendanges Tardives Alsace Gran Cru Domaine Weinbach

When Laurence Faller of Domaine Weinbach died of an apparent heart attack in May at the very young age of 47, the wine industry mourned the loss of a talented and innovative wine-maker. She lead Domaine Weinbach’s move to biodynamic farming and travelled widely, introducing Alsatian wines in general and the subtle, precise, and elegant wines of Domaine Weinbach in particular. Domaine Weinbach is one of the few French wineries run by women, in this case, “Colette Faller et ses filles,” as is proudly displayed on every page of the Domaine Weinbach website.

Domaine Weinbach was named after a little stream that flows through the estate and was founded by the Capucin monks in 1612. The house is surrounded by the original 9th Century monastic vineyard, the Clos du Capucin and all of the estate’s wines are now labelled with its name. During the French Revolution, the Domaine was sold as a national property, and in 1898 it was acquired by the Faller brothers. Their descendant, Théo Faller, died in 1979, leaving the Domaine Weinbach in the capable hands of his wife, Colette, and daughters Cathy and Laurence. A virtual tour of the vineyards is available on the Domaine’s website.

domaine weinbach

The Grand Cru Mambourg sits at lower altitude than Domaine Weinbach’s Grand Cru Furstentum, which means that it often sees an even greater spread of botrytis early on. In 2011, the entire harvest was done on a single day on the 15th October, relatively early, giving rise to a stunningly elegant and sweet Gewurtzraminer with incredible balance and texture. It is described as tasting of fresh and dried apricots, rose petal and caramelised orange, quince and grapefruit, resulting in a luxurious, though in no way heavy wine. It has 94g/l residual sugar and 12% abv.

Even just on the nose, it’s a pleasure to experience this wine. The aromas alone are almost worth the price. The taste of it is just sublime, with a sweetness that is never cloying. It stays lively and fresh, with the sweetness balanced by a light fruitiness. For anyone who likes sweet wines, this is definitely a one to try.

Rolly Gassmann 2012 Brandhurst de Bergheim Pinot Gris

Rolly Gassmann is located in Alsace’s Haut-Rhin village of Rorschwihr, near Ribeauvillé, with roots dating back to 1661. The 51-hectare estate (40ha in Rorschwihr, 10ha in Bergheim) is owned and run by Louis and Marie-Therese Gassmann and their son, Pierre. They ascribe generally to biodynamic principles and only export 20% of their annual production.

The commune of Rorschwihr, lies on one of Alsace’s many faultlines, giving it 21 different soil types, particularly limestone, sandstone, granite and silt. When in the 1970s/1980s the authorities wanted to combine vineyards into larger plots as part of the new Grand Cru system, the villagers, who understood the immense differences this complex soil structure creates within very small areas, objected. They insisted there should be 12 Rorschwihr Grand Crus or none at all. And so today there are none, despite the obvious excellence of some of the sites.

This is also a sweet wine, but we find hints of spice, lychee, orange peel, and even a touch of minerality. It has a very long finish. To us, it seems a good match for a curry or other spicy dishes.

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Gran Cru Saering 2011

Domaine Schlumberger is Alsace’s largest estate with some 140ha, half of them on Grand Cru sites. The Domaine was founded by Nicholas Schlumberger in 1810, and because of the steepness of the vineyards, Schlumberger uses horses rather than machinery to tend the vines on the terraces. Within the last ten years Séverine Schlumberger and winemaker Alain Freyburger have transformed Domaine Schlumberger, bringing in stainless steel casks and a new consistency and quality.

Domaine Schlumberger

This Riesling is dominated by citrus and lemon flavours with a bit of spice and minerality in the long finish. Saering’s soil, made of marl, limestone and sandstone, brings out the best in this dry, delicate, fragrant Riesling. It’s 13% abv, drinking from now to 2023.

We found it incredibly balanced and food friendly. We hadn’t necessarily planned to try it with Mexican food, but somehow did and it was suprisingly good, and you’ll see food pairing suggestions for this delicious, versatile wine that range from Chinese dim sum to charcuterie to kedgeree.

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