When I started this blog, I had every intention to write about the intersection between wine and cycling. For years now, I have noticed that many people at all levels of the wine business are avid cyclists. I thought I would periodically interview other “drunken cyclists” and it would become a recurring theme on this blog.
Well, in case you have not noticed, it hasn’t.
There are a whole host of reasons for that (some might call them excuses), not the least of which that transcribing an interview gives me hives as it reminds me of writing my dissertation.
[Just the mere mention of the “D-word” nearly sends me in to convulsions.]
Even though it has not been a primary focus of this blog, I encounter the cycling/wine connection often. One such case was in January when I was invited to lunch at Zuma on Madison Avenue in New York city with Christophe Bristiel, the export manager at Château La Nerthe, the famed producer in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
We were joined by Susan-Anne Cosgrove and Shaun Prissert of Pasternak Wine Imports , the former of whom organized the meeting since she felt that Christophe and I would “hit it off.”
Well, she was right.
From the moment I sat down, Christophe and instantly started chatting about one of our shared passions: cycling. It turns out that Christophe is a bit of a nut when it comes to cycling: he has ridden up the “tallest” mountain in the world (Mauna Kea in Hawaii starts at sea level and goes to just about 14,000 feet), has biked up some of the tallest mountains in the Andes, and has ridden a 60 pound city bike from the Vieux Port in Marseilles to the top of Mount Ventoux.
That last item should not be quickly glanced over. He rode a single speed, rented city bike 120 kilometers (about seventy miles) and then climbed the Ventoux (another 15 miles at 10% grade). That is insane. I spent one of my worst days on a bike climbing the Ventoux, but I did not ride seventy miles first, and I at least had gears (although my bike weighed close to 40 pounds). And I thought I was going to die.
Of course, we also talked and drank a bit of wine.
Château La Nerthe is one of the storied producers of wine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with the winery starting at the latest in 1560 (that is the first recorded mention of the estate, but there is evidence that grapes had been planted there as early as the 12th Century). The estate now has 225 acres under vine, which have been certified organic since 1998. After switching hands several times over the past five centuries, in 1986, the Richard family acquired Château La Nerthe, also owners of the Prieuré de Montézargues in Tavel.
2014 Prieuré de Montézargues Tavel Rosé: Retail $24. 55% Grenaches (red & white), 30% Cinsault, 13% Clairette, 2% Others (Syrah, Mourvédre, Carignan, Bourboulenc). Oh Tavel. It is one of the wine towns in France that I have actually never visited, but I need to go. Along with Bouzy (Champagne) and perhaps Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais), if I see “Tavel” on the label, I have no qualms about buying it–I am sure it is going to be tasty. This is a case in point: strawberry and watermelon followed by papaya and a hint of banana, this is a tasty fruit salad of a wine, backed up by a tingling tartness that holds it all together. Bravo. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Les Cassagnes de La Nerthe Côtes-du-Rhône Villages: Retail $24. 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Cinsault, 5% Mourvedre, 5% Carignan. The term “Côtes-du-Rhône” is a mixed bag for me. Actually, it is a bit of a turn off. Many of the wines that I have tried from the region (and I have tried a ton) fall into one of two camps. The first is the mass-produced, over-extracted bunch that seem to be made to please the masses at the lowest cost possible. At the other end are super-austere wines that are both overly acidic and overly tannic–the kind of wine you need to hold onto for half a decade before you can even think about drinking it. Well, this wine is neither of those. And it is fantastic. Dark ruby-red with a purple rim, subtle fruit up front that becomes more and more effusive as the bottle empties out. Tart black cherry is dominant with a bit of spicy cinnamon on the lengthy finish. No matter how you feel about C-d-R, this will forever alter your view of the wines. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc: Retail $63. 35% Grenache Blanc, 33% Roussanne, 18% Bourboulenc, 14% Claudette. I have recently given up on white Burgundy for numerous reasons. OK, really only one reason: premature oxidation. I have had far too many bottles that have gone bad far before they should have. I need to find a different white over which I can obsess. Well, Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc might be the ticket. Only 5% of the vineyards in the appellation are planted to white varieties, but La Nerthe, with its long history of making wonderful CdP Blanc has closer to 12%. While CdP might not be quite as tart as its compatriot to the north, they are certainly every bit as complex. Peach, pear, and lemon are abundant with just a hint of vanilla. On the palate, there is certainly some verve, but plenty of roundness and depth. Over the course of the bottle, this even got better, which is hard to believe, as it was great from the jump. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2012 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Retail $63. 44% Grenache Noir, 37% Syrah, 14% Mourvedre, 5% Cinsault. I have had many red CdP, but by no means have I had the legendary producers. As I mentioned above, La Nerthe has been around a while, but I doubt it is the first producer that comes to mind when one talks about the appellation. Well, it should be. I could just sniff this wine for the better part of what remains of my meager life: notes of black raspberry, vanilla, and an earthy note that is hard to classify, but I am pretty sure that I want to roll around in it naked. The palate is a shade behind the nose, but only a shade. I hesitate to make grandiose statements, but this is gangbusters, albeit just a baby. I will give it a Whoa. Nay. Two Whoas. In a decade or so? I might run out of Whoas. Outstanding+ 93-95 Points.
Despite all the time I have spent in France, I have visited Châteauneuf-du-Pape exactly one time in my life but it was memorable. I had to drive a van, loaded with bikes 700 kilometers (about 450 miles) from Sablet to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, but I stopped in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for a quick lunch in the center of town, since I did not know when I would get another chance to visit the fabled town.
Well, it seems that I will get that chance again this summer as Christophe has invited me to visit and go for a bike ride. Although I have already told him that I want nothing to do with a city bike.
Or the Ventoux.