23 Days of Wine, Beer, Cider and Aperitifs
The Unofficial Tour de France Drinking Guide
If we’re examining the route of the Tour de France with an eye toward wine, last year’s race was a greatest hits of sorts: the peloton made its way through Champagne, Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, and France’s AOC boards laughed all the way to the cellars. Not so in 2015; this year, it seems the underdogs will be getting their due. The first leg of the race took us through the Northern hinterlands of Brittany and Normandy, where the chilly climate has lent its influence to the favor of cider and beer production for hundreds of years. When the route does turn south, it’s first to the rugged wilds of Southwest France in the foothills of the Pyrenees — through the overlooked regions of Jurançon, Gaillac and Irouleguy — before it heads east through the Massif Central and into the gauntlet provided by the cliffs of the Ardèche, Savoie, and Haut-Alps.
While it’s true that most of us are likely unfamiliar with these far-flung sub-appellations and rustic terroir, following this year’s route from your glass is perhaps a more authentic experience of French culture and history than the years past, when the regions represented were the usual suspects. This year, you might have to work a little harder to find some of the bottles we’ve paired with the route, but when it comes to the winner of the Tour, the best things never come easy.
Thanks to Chamber Street Wines, Union Square Wines and Zev Rovine Selections for lending GP some of the bottles featured in this story.
Beer and Cider
La Choulette Blonde, Cambrai
This year, the tour drops down over the Belgian border directly into the town of Cambrai, a medieval-era village once known for its excellence in all things beer. In particular, the uniquely French style known as Bière de Garde hails from these northeastern throes of Gallic culture, and Brasserie La Choulette is one of the few remaining breweries still crafting the saison-esque suds. The brewery produces a revival-style beer called Blanche de Cambrai in honor of a long-forgotten local recipe, and if you’re Tour-side this year, be sure to seek it out — it’s not imported to the States. Choulette’s Blonde is a worthy substitute for its namesake sibling, though: Rustic and aromatic, it’s complex but refreshing. Be careful not to overindulge, gentlemen. This is a race.
Castelain Ambrée, Arras
Traveling northwest, we’re keeping the energy up with another bière de garde. This time it’s an amber from the century-old Brasserie Castelain in the Pas de Calais region. Fuel up for the trek to Normandy with some boudin noir and this perfect balance of malt and hops. A leader in its category.
Le Pére Jules Cidre de Normandie, Pays d’Auge, Normandy
In Normandy, cider reigns supreme (and calvados — but we want to finish the race). Once France’s second-most-popular beverage (runner up only to wine, of course), we’re rooting for cider’s revival as more producers’ bottles make their way stateside. The four generations of Desfrièches men behind Père Jules have worked hard to preserve the classically dry, rustic expression of this regional hard stuff, and we’re happy to watch it edge Magner’s off the cider track any day.
Cyril Zang’s Sparkling Cider, Glos, Calvados
Made from a blend of over 15 different varieties of apple, this is true French cidre brut — dry, crisp and slightly funky. If ever there was a pairing for fromage de tête, this is it.
Bordelet Poiré de Normandie, Domfrontais, Normandy
The classic calvados style is of the apple persuasion, but Eric Bordelet dives deep into his hometown’s historic production of poiré (effectively pear cider) for his biodynamically produced Poiré Authentique. Bordelet’s former gig as sommelier at Paris’ Arpège might have something to do with the endless complexity in this perfect summer sipper. It’s elegant, sure, but it stays true to its country origins with rustic wildflower and fresh hay in the glass. Pour out a tumbler’s worth and send your domestique back for the ripest wheel of Camembert he can find.