Thursday, July 10, 2008


Wines and Punches

Today's sixth stage of the Tour de France runs from the southern borders of the Loire Valley along a sweeping southeast arc to the resort of Super-Besse. The little community of A-frame style houses sits in the hills near the extinct Puy-de-Dôme volcano, just outside the regional center of Clermont-Ferrand. The Puy-de-Dôme is famous in cycling circles for being the spot where, in the 1975 Tour, a French spectator punched Eddy Merckx in the stomach hard enough to do some real damage. He continued, of course, only to crash three days later and fracture his cheekbone. He continued again, but eventually lost that Tour to Bernard Thevenet, which was probably the intent of the punch in the first place.

So the Puy-de-Dôme is a famous place to punch people in the gut, but apparently, that’s not all they do there. They also make wine – reds, whites, and pinks as it turns out, mostly from Gamay grapes grown on the plains outside Clermont-Ferrand. Gamay is mostly renowned for its use in the region’s Beaujolais, a young, light red wine made famous and extremely available in the United States by Georges Duboeuf (Google it, the results are overwhelming). So ambitious is old Georges’ distribution scheme that his wines are available in most normal, non-uppity supermarkets (or liquor stores, if you live in one of those states) and it’s inexpensive, about $8-12 a bottle. Look for the bottles with the distinctive flowery labels. Most people like Beaujolais slightly chilled, which is good for people who like red wine but don’t relish the thought of downing a glass of lukewarm grape syrup on a hot summer’s day.

The region makes plenty of other wines as well, various iterations of Côte d’Auvergne being the most visible. But for pure affordability and accessibility, it’s hard to beat old Georges. And spending more than $10 on a Tour-viewing bottle of wine just wouldn’t be as spiritually consistent with our table-wine swilling frères on the French roadside today, would it? But even they wouldn't drink on an empty stomach - the Unholy Rouleur has a few suggestions for snacks as the race rolls into the Massif Central.

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