Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cooking from the Books with K: A Chocolate Cake for Matilda

If you have been reading here, you may notice that I have been a bit focused on the Tour de France. Someone asked one day if K watches with me. The answer, sadly, is no. For many of the stages she is asleep (hello, 3 am wakeups) and for others at her father's house. But when she is awake and I am watching she tends to do one of two things: read or bake. Thus, a special post-Tour Cooking from the Books.

In this edition we present: Roald Dahl's Matilda. Although K read most of the Dahl books years ago, I never thought that she was a big fan. She says "I liked and read them in second grade." But this summer, she had two weeks of Musical Theater summer camp. In their end of camp recital they performed songs and skits from two musicals: Pippin and Matilda. Thus, I have spent the past month or so listening to the songs of Matilda. Working on the songs, K was inspired to re-read the book.

As always, K's thoughts: "Matilda is about a girl named Matilda Wormwood, whose parents ignore her and love tv more than anything. At 5 years old she can read collage level books and is excellent at math. Her school's headmistress, Miss Trunchbull is a cruel, twisted person who believes strongly that children are maggots; that is the school motto. 
Matilda's teacher though, is a kind quiet woman named Miss Honey, who sees Matilda's brilliance and tries to talk to her parents. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood however laugh at the idea of Matilda being smart, kind, and the thought of her ever going to collage. 

Later, we see that the Trunchbull will do almost anything, including throwing children by their hair or ears. When a boy named Bruce Bogtrotter sneaks a slice of her chocolate cake, she makes him eat the whole thing in front of the whole school. When she comes to check on the class, Matilda's best friend Lavender puts a newt into her water jug. The Trunchbull believes it is a crocodile and freaks out. Somehow, Matilda uses a power she never knew she had and knocks the glass over. She later tries to show Miss Honey what she can do. 

Miss Honey invites Matilda over to visit. We see that Miss Honey lives in a tiny house, having her house and money stolen by her evil aunt, Miss Trunchbull. Matilda asks some pointless seeming questions, and goes home to practice her power. 

The next day at school, Miss Trunchbull visits them again, and Matilda levitates a piece of chalk and writes; "Agatha, This is Magnus. Give my little bumblebee her house and her money. Then get out of town. If you don't, I will get you. I will get you like you got me. That is a promise." Miss Trunchbull runs away, never to be seen again.

 Then Matilda finds out her family is moving to Spain and begs Miss Honey to adopt her. She does and they all live happily ever after.
 There is also a musical of this, that we did parts of at camp, that has very good songs. I like the cake and blackboard parts."

K was pretty clear on what she wanted to make from Matilda "the richest most chocolatey cake we can find, like Bruce had to eat." She then spent far too much time searching through the cookbooks in our house, unable to find a recipe that made her happy. After some crowd sourcing on Twitter, we ended up with this recipe from Epicurious. You can use the chocolate cake recipe of your choice. 

However, K was not happy with the suggested frosting, so we ended up with a more traditional ganache, from Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum. That recipe is below, edited to reflect the way K made it. A more detailed recipe is in the book, which K says "is one of her favorite cake books."

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
1 bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup whipping cream, warm
5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla 

In a microwave-safe container, melt chocolate chips, stirring occasionally. 
Once the chocolate is fully melted, gradually stir in the cream until it is uniform in color. Allow to cool, until no longer warm to the touch. Whisk in the softened butter one tablespoon at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Use at once or allow to sit for a few hours. The ganache will continue to thicken at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wines of the Tour de France 2013: A Recap

Hard to believe, but another Tour de France is in the books. Congratulations to Chris Froome and his Sky team for a race well done, even if they did not have Bernie Eisel on their Tour roster. Congratulations also for Nairo Quintana and Joaquim (J-Rod, Purito) Rodriguez for their podium spots. Quintana also won both the polka dot (King of the Mountain) and white (Best Young Rider) jerseys, a pretty remarkable accomplishment. Congratulations as well to Peter Sagan for his green jersey. You'll get them next year Cav!

Final GC:
1. GBRFROOME Christopher 1 SKY PROCYCLING 83h 56' 40''
2. COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander 128 MOVISTAR TEAM 84h 01' 00'' + 04' 20''
3. ESPRODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin 101 KATUSHA TEAM 84h 01' 44'' + 05' 04''
4. ESPCONTADOR Alberto 91 TEAM SAXO-TINKOFF 84h 03' 07'' + 06' 27''
5. CZEKREUZIGER Roman 94 TEAM SAXO-TINKOFF 84h 04' 07'' + 07' 27''
6. NEDMOLLEMA Bauke 164 BELKIN PRO CYCLING 84h 08' 22'' + 11' 42''
7. DENFUGLSANG Jakob 63 ASTANA PRO TEAM 84h 08' 57'' + 12' 17''
8. ESPVALVERDE Alejandro 121 MOVISTAR TEAM 84h 12' 06'' + 15' 26''
9. ESPNAVARRO Daniel 139 COFIDIS, SOLUTIONS CREDITS 84h 12' 32'' + 15' 52''
10. USATALANSKY Andrew 178 GARMIN - SHARP 84h 14' 19'' + 17' 39''

For me, that means another Wines of the Tour is done.  A special thanks this year goes to Christy Frank at FranklyWines for her help in sourcing wines (11 this year!), plus the folks at Podium Cafe for giving me a place to chat at 3am. I couldn't have done it without you!

Below, links to each stage write-up with race action and wine details.
Stage 1 Domaine de Marquiliani Rosé de Sciaccarellu
Stage 2 Domaine de Gioielli Cap Corse Blanc
Stage 3 Abbatucci "Cuvée Faustine"
Stage 4 Chateau de Bellet Baron G Blanc
Stage 5 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Rosé
Stage 6 Chateau Simone Rosé
Stage 7 Laurent Cazottes Wild Cherry
Stage 8 Clos Centeilles C de Centeilles
Stage 9 Domaine Bru-Bache 2010 Jurancon
Stage 10 Luneau Papin 1999 L d'Or Muscadet
Stage 11 Cyril Zangs Cidre
Stage 12 2003 Les Roches Chinon
Stage 13 Domaine de la Folie “Petite Fugue”
Stage 14 Sunier Fleurie
Stage 15 Souhaut La Souteronne
Stage 16 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1995
Stage 17 Clos St Jospeh Villars-sur-Var 2011 White
Stage 18 Pierre Gonon Chasselas
Stage 19 Danilo Thomain Enfer d'Arvier
Stage 20 Domaine Dupasquier Mondeuse
Stage 21 George Laval’s Brut Nature (375)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Paris! Wines of the Tour de France Stage 21: George Laval’s Brut Nature & Kittel

118 kilometers from  Versailles to Paris Champs-Élysées

From LeTour: Jean François Pescheux's view

Around the Arc-de-Triomphe: "It's the final day, and it's going to be incomparable in the strictest sense because we really wanted to pay full tribute at the end of this 100th edition. From the sporting perspective, there shouldn't be too many surprises: it's difficult to imagine the sprinters missing out! And if that sprinter happens, for the fifth consecutive occasion, to be called Mark Cavendish, then that really would be an extraordinary exploit. From the celebratory point of view, we have an unforgettable route, which will start in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, pass the monument to Jacques Anquetil, then go through the courtyard of the Louvre, before turning not in front of but around the Arc de Triomphe. The finish will be at dusk, at around 9.45pm. It will be magical..."

I've said it before, but at this point in the race, I'll repeat myself. I first fell in love with cycling wen I was unexpectedly in Paris for the final stage of the Tour years ago. We watched some of the final stage, essentially from the Louvre. It was completely magical. 

A day for celebration in the peloton: Paris, nighttime, sequins. No, really, sequins.  For the first time ever, today's "parade" into Paris will be held at night. Well, I suppose that I have always said that Paris is the best lit city I have ever visited. 
The stage will be relaxed, there may even be Champagne on bikes. Until, of course, the Champs-Élysées when the pressure will be on Mark Cavendish for what could be a record fifth consecutive stage win at one of the most famous finishes in the cycling world. 
Adam Hansen, looking forward to next month's Vuelta, has made me laugh again on twitter. 
HansenAdam 1:22am via Twitter for Android
Today's the last day of my 21 day holiday in France. Back to work monday morning to save up some cash. Holiday in Spain next would be nice!

Still hoping for a top 20 finish in the Podium Cafe Stage Predictor game. My picks: Cavendish, Kittle, Sagan and Greipel.  

In case my allegiances are not clear: Go Cav!  As always, fingers crossed that he can win again on the Champs-Élysées. But first, a parade. Sagan, by the way, has done a rather bad job dyeing his goatee green. Rather than bleaching and coloring, he seems to have just covered the hair in something green. 
170 of 198 riders will finish the race today, with seven complete teams. Meanwhile, Purito Rodriguez is having trouble lighting a cigar.
Flag down and the "race" begins. Not that they speed up at all. 
Cats for Cavendish!
My conclusion one that I seem to reach every year: today's coverage is like the longest "One Shining Moment" ever. One Shining Moment is, of course, the segment shown of dramatic moments at the end of each year's NCAA basketball tournament. 
Finally, Champagne for Froome. It is tradition after all.
  inrng 10:32am via Web
After the champagne we need the ritual "fake attack with exaggerated body language" and the classic "tall rider on small bike" routine

On tv, a Jens! highlight feature. He has said that this will be his last Tour, so I expect him to lead the peloton onto the Champs. This year the riders will go around the Arc de Triomphe for the first time in race history. Happy 100th, Tour de France. Planes with red, white and blue smoke. Late afternoon light. Well done Tour organizers. Time for the laps around Paris. 60 kilometers to go now!
In contrast to the earlier hours, they are moving very quickly right now, as the usual attempt to form a breakaway takes place. Flat tire for Cavendish. Early still, but if OPQS has to waste energy chasing, it could matter later. 50 kilometers to go. Cav back in the pack quickly, Millar and Flecha in a break up front. Six laps to go and Argos-Shimano and OPQS lead the peloton.

Very sad to see Westra abandon. Apparently he is ill and was lapped so was forced to abandon. Another flat for OPQS, Chavanel this time. And another, Steegmans this time. Note that as wide as the road is, the cobbles make it far from a smooth ride.
David Millar alone in front with 30 km to go. Gap of 21 seconds. 20 kilometers to go 16 seconds for Millar with a second attack from Roy. More attacks to come. Hey, Valverde! 16.2km to go, Tankink, Valverde, Quinziato with a 16" gap. 12 kilometers to go and a 20 second gap. 10 kilometers and 15 seconds. 
Last lap and boy is that bell loud! All together now.
3 kilometers to go and Chris Froome has won the Tour.
Photo finish: Kittel

Stage: Marcel Kittel

Yellow: Chris Froome

K wanted a photo with her cake in it.
Not a pairing suggestion. 

Wine: George Laval’s Brut Nature (375)
From Frankly Wines

From the producer, with help from Google translate:  The village Cumires lies five kilometers from Epernay, in the heart of Champagne, on the right bank of the Marne. The slopes facing south, the typicality of the soil and sub-soil and microclimate, helped classify Premier Cru terroir of Cumires.

George and Nicole in 1971, Vincent since 1996, decided to work in organic viticulture and wine to raise the natural and traditional way.
Organic farming respects our quality of life, preserves original aromas and flavors of our land and helps produce great wines of Champagne. Any technical or product that could pose a risk to the environment and public or affect the quality of wine health is excluded. The independent body Ecocert SAS controls and certifies organic production according to UNECE Regulation No. 2092/91.
The health of the vine, the right balance between the quantity and quality of grapes, even the aromatic expression of the soil depend on the soil. We therefore maintain it carefully.Organic fertilization is natural (compost), manufactured in compliance "organic" and reasoned to meet the needs of the vine.We work to aerate the soil, burying the amendments. The weed is also controlled by mowing. These cultural practices prevent erosion, maintain an intense activity of the fauna and flora of the soil and encourage deep rooting of the vines.We grow three grape varieties, Pinot Black, Pinot Meunier (black grapes) and Chardonnay (white grapes). Half of the vineyard has over thirty years and some vines are over seventy years old vines produce better quality grapes.Observation and prophylactic control are essential in organic farming. The wine works are kept and performed manually. To combat noise, we employ only herbal preparations, powdered rock or trace elements, and organic insecticides harmless to the environment. Treatments are reasoned by the risk of infestation and the health status of each parcel.
At maturity, the grapes are harvested by hand and pressed in our traditional Champagne press.Afterwords settling, the must is sung in the pantry or natural indigenous yeasts transform white wine without sugaring. Ageing lasts ten months. The quality of the grapes, the long period of vinification, low volume tanks and barrels, allow natural clarification of wines, without any bleaching product, without fining and without filtration. The wine is well built slowly and naturally retains its organoleptic properties.The harvest to bottling, the barrels are topped up regularly and the wines are tasted and analyzed frequently. During the winemaking cellar, the only product used is exogenous sulfur, but at very low doses (less than 30 milligrams per liter of total S02), it is essential for us to prevent oxidation of the wine in the state our present knowledge. The different varieties and places known until vinified separately, are assembled before the draw. Stored on racks in a vaulted cellar, champagne bottles and takes foam aging on lees two to four years depending on the vintage. The stirring is then performed manually on console.

This blend of three grape varieties, Chardonnay (50%), Pinot Black (30%) and Pinot Meunier (20%), local Cumariot is Brut Nature, ie no sugar added after disgorging. Rigorous care of vines, the requirement of maturity and natural breeding in oak barrels used to obtain the necessary harmonious balance to the creation of champagne Brut Nature. Half-bottles are from the 2008 harvest, the bottles of 2010 vintage (90%) and 2009 (10%)

I say: How could I resist this note from FranklyWines: "I have 375mls of George Laval’s Brut Nature in 375ml format. It’s 2008 base and while the 750mls don’t see much dosage, these baby bottles see NONE. Really focused, almost saline. Only 22 cases of these little guys for the world… and I snagged 2 b/c I couldn’t resist. "

Aren't we interesting?  Firm. Golden in color. Yeast, chalk, the salinity Christy mentioned above. Green apple, pears, orange peel. This is a fascinating wine.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wines of the Tour de France Stage 20: Domaine Dupasquier Mondeuse & Quintana
125km Annecy to Le Semnoz

From LeTour: Jean François Pescheux's view

A rider from the top rank: "There is one last chance of glory? This was what we wanted to offer in putting together this stage, which is going to surprise many. It's only 125km, but what a parcours! There is barely any chance to rest. The riders will have to be on their mettle from the start to the finish at the "nearly new" summit of Semnoz. Although the yellow jersey may be safe, the podium places could well be decided on this climb, which measures 10.7km in length with an average gradient of 8.5%. We could end up with the same winner we had on Alpe-d'Huez... Rodríguez, for example. Or Froome? Or Contador. Whoever it is, it will be a rider from the top rank who will finish things off in style."

More tired legs today after yesterday's stage. Barring any accidents, Chris Froome should be the winner of the Tour de France as they ride into Paris tomorrow. But the other podium spots are still close, so we should see some attacks from the men behind to secure or gain podium spots. Rodriguez in fift h place is only 47 seconds behind Contador in second!, with Quintana and Kreuziger in between.

Plus Rolland will make every possible effort to gain King of the Mountain points. He has no gc hopes, so the polka dot jersey means much more to him than time. That competition is also oh so close: Froome 104. Rolland 103, Nieve 98, Quintana 97 and Riblon 93.
Meanwhile, as I have said all week, spare a thought for the grupetto. Their job is simply to survive the climbs today, so they can sprint tomorrow in Paris.
MarkCavendish 1:40am via Twitter for iPhone
How can Paris, with just 125km today, seem so far away....?
PhilippeGilbert 3:05am via Twitter for iPhone
Annecy-annecy. Aso can I wait here? I promise to finish in the last group!
My Podium Cafe Stage Predictor Picks of the day: Rodriguez, Quintana, Valverde and Contador.

Off they go in the bright sunshine and Rolland attacks immediately. He is followed by Jens!, quickly joined by Burghardt and Flecha. Next to go, Brutt, Gautier, Riblon, Clarke, Anton and Astarloza. The start of our break of the day, or a false alarm? 
Rolland gets what he wants from the move, taking the points at the top of the first climb and moving into first in the King of the Mountain/Polka-dot jersey competition. But there are more hills to climb.
Indeed, the climbs of the day:
Km 12.5 - Côte du Puget5.4 kilometre-long climb at 5.9% - category 2
Km 17.5 - Col de Leschaux3.6 kilometre-long climb at 6.1% - category 3
Km 43.0 - Côte d'Aillon-le-Vieux6 kilometre-long climb at 4% - category 3
Km 51.0 - Col des Prés (1 142 m)3.4 kilometre-long climb at 6.9% - category 3
Km 78.5 - Mont Revard15.9 kilometre-long climb at 5.6% - category 1
Km 125.0 - Annecy-Semnoz10.7 kilometre-long climb at 8.5% - category H

With just over 109 kilometers to go, the two lead groups merge. The nine riders in the lead have a 1:27 gap on the peloton, with Movistar leading the chase. 96 kilometers to go and the gap is stable. Short leash for the break today. 
85 kilometers to go and Rolland grabs a few more kom points. The gap to the peloton is around one minute. 75 kilometers to go and still around a minute advantage for the breakaway group. 
Pretty shady move by Rolland to grab a few more points ahead of Anton on the climb. Will they relegate a Frenchman so close to the polka dot jersey? 
63 kilometers to go and Jens! attacks and splits the break. Say it with the announcers "Shut up legs" 60 kilometers left and he is in the lead alone with 1:30 over the peloton. There is no response from that group as Tejay and Gilbert attack. Gilbert has really had an invisible Tour.

50 kilometers to go and Jens! is still out ahead. The Rolland/VanGarderen is two minutes back and the peloton three minutes behind Jens! 
At the top of the climb, 30 seconds for Jens! over Anton. 2 minutes back to the Rolland group. Rolland grabs some more points there, but will not know until after the stage to know if he has done enough to win the polka-dot jersey. Current standings in that competition:Rolland 119, Froome 104, Nieve 98, Riblon 98, Quintana 9. 50 points go to the first rider at the finish today.
Kreuziger  mechanical, but with 20 kilometers until the final climb, he should make it back to the bunch. 
Heading to the foot of the last climb with 23km to go, Jens! has about 1.45 on Burghardt, Gilbert, van Garderen, Rolland, Gautier, Riblon, Brutt , Clarke, Vuillermoz, and Anton with 3.11 on the yellow jersey group. 20 kilometers to go and the gaps are 1.21 and 2.54. Time for the Semnoz climb.
Here comes the Sky train! 
Sky has decimated the peloton as they reach the bottom of the climb. Very small main group now. 10 kilometers to go. Porte continues to ride behind Froome. Stage win for him today? Tejay and Rolland caught by that group. Jens! still ahead, up about 50 seconds. A very small yellow jersey group remains: Porte, Froome, Valverde, J-Rod, Contador, Quintana and Kreuziger. First to crack, Kreuziger. 8.5 kilometers to go and they catch Jens! J-Rod attacks, followed by Quintana. Froome follows, passes them but then they catch back on. Contador behind with Porte, 10 seconds back.
Continuing up the hill. Kreuziger catches Porte and Contador.  At the moment, Contador is losing his podium position.
inrng 8:03am via Web
5km to go and Rodriguez, Quintana and Froome lead. Valverde chasing behind at 38 seconds. Not far back Contador, Kreuziger + Porte

J-Rod continue to set the pace at the front. As expected, large gaps behind. Contador now 1:20 back. 4 kilometers to go. Behind, Talansky catches Contador. Really nice riding from him today. 2 kilometers to go and the top three finishers on the day will be our podium in Paris. Polka dots will go to either Quintana or Froome, depending upon which rider finishes first today. One kilometer to go and Froome attacks. Quintana latches on to him. There goes Quintana, as J-Rod catches Froome. Quintana! Second on the stage, plus the white jersey and polka dots!

Stage: Nairo Quintana

Yellow: Froome
2 Quintana
3 Rodriguez   

Wine: 2008 Domaine Dupasquier Mondeuse
From Selection Massale:
For serious winedrinkers one of the biggest problems has always been to find those increasingly rare bottles to set down in their their cellars without paying a fortune.  So many of the world's classic ageworthy wines have either been priced out of reach for most people or they have been so manipulated that they are no longer the same wines that brought them to such prominence in the first price.  People have started looking elsewhere, finding the best producers in Beaujolais, Muscadet, Touraine, or the Languedoc doing serious work and making wines that not many people would think of sitting on.  To that list we are adding David Dupasquier's Mondeuse.

Mondeuse is a Savoyarde grape that is little grown anymore and one that many people write off as "rustic" (generally my ears perk up at this word).  In 2000, after years of decline, there were estimated to be only 200 hectares grown.  Like many grapes in the region it is often overcropped, leading to a watery, simple wine where the rusticity becomes an ephithet, rather than a promise of character.  At its best, however, it produces a high acid, nicely tannic wine that still has a bit of that rusticity that set it apart.When we visited the domaine of David Dupasquier we found many of the things we were looking for in the Savoie.  Light mineral driven reds and whites, wonderfully rocks and water Rousette, structured Marestel, things read about in Madeline Kammann's terrific Savoie: The Land, People, and Food of the French Alps.  What we didn't expect was to be so leave so utterly in love by the back-vintages and current release of Mondeuse that David generously pulled out from his cellar near the end of our visit.  We opened several bottles from the early 2000s and late 1990s and they were all singing.  Dupasquier's Mondeuse blew us away because while they're real, slightly tannic, almost rustic in a sense, there's a sense of freshness, drinkability that isn't always found in other wines that have these characteristics.  The highlight was an aged 1997 that still had plenty of secondary aromas and quite a lot of life left in it.  It didn't merely taste like an old wine, it tasted like a wine that had plenty left to go.  Sadly we couldn't pry any of these out of David's hands, so instead we bought the recent vintages so when you open them in 2020 (or beyond) you'll know what we are talking about.  The current releases are drinking well right now due to their high acid content and fruit that gives them some freshness and the tannins are under control, not extracted like so many other wines that claim to age well.  The elevage on Dupasquier's Mondeuse is traditional Burgundian elevage, there is no carbonic done to soften the wine as many (some excellent) producers are doing right now. 

I say:  Another easy to drink wine from Selection Massale. Lots of acid on the finish to go with the flowers, plums, raspberries and meaty-savory notes. Day two: more savory with musky and earthy notes

Friday, July 19, 2013

Wines of the Tour de France Stage 19: Two for Costa & Danilo Thomain Enfer d'Arvier

204.5 km Bourg-d'Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand

From LeTour: Jean François Pescheux's view

A day for the bold: "What was true in the Pyrenees is also true in the Alps: although the Tour de France is coming to its end, we wanted to offer bold riders the kind of terrain that will allow them to have an impact on the outcome. The first name that comes to me when I think of a rider of this type is Pierre Rolland: he loves the Alps and this run of consecutive cols, notably the Glandon and the Madeleine, seems likely to suit him. It remains to be seen if he will have any room for manoeuvre or if it will come down to a question of who is the strongest if the overall classification is very tight? I would like to see the former scenario. I don't like to think of us already knowing the name of the final winner on the summit of Alpe-d'Huez."

The Alpe was fun, wasn't it? The French finally had a stage winner, Tejay Van Garderen showed why a lot of people see great things in is future and Froome showed his first real moments of weakness in the race. Also, the grupetto made it in. Adam Hansen even had a beer. Also, video of a crazy fan chasing Tejay and tripping.

Today, up we go again, almost from the very start of today's stage. And with a lot of tired legs from yesterday's struggles, it will be a hard day.
 I recommend this detailed look at the route from WillJ at Podium Cafe. He knows a lot more about the route than I do and thinks there is the potential for a very exciting day of racing.  I'll post his "final words" on the stage here: "This is a stage with the potential for excitement throughout, from the very early steep slopes of Col du Glandon, until the hair-raising descent to Le Grand Bornand. It's impossible not to expect compelling story lines throughout in a stage that will be far harder for Sky to control than at the Alpe or Le Semnoz. And don't forget the Grupetto. This is the stage to keep an eye on time cut-offs. 
The Lanterne Rouge will earn his stripes."
My Podium Cafe Stage Predictor Picks: Quintana, J-Rod, Valverde and Talansky. 

3 a.m. again and tv coverage kicks in a bit after the race start. The situation on the road:  after 21 km: Izaguirre and Hesjedal have 40" on group of 41 chasers, peloton follows at 3'08. After a Tour dominated by good weather, in contrast to this year's Giro, some rain.
Hairpins again today. 
Also again today, Sky at the front of the peloton, controlling the favorites group. 171 kilometers remaining and Hesjedal and Izaguirre continue to have about 3 minutes over that very large chasing group and 6 minutes over the yellow jersey group. 
At the top of the first climb, Hesjedal takes the points over Izaguirre. The first chaser over at 3 minutes back is yesterday's stage winner, Riblon, from that 41-man group.  The peloton behind is over 7 minutes back, but as we saw yesterday, time can be made up quickly. Word that Jack Bauer has fallen and abandoned the race. Yikes, apparently a barbed wire fence was involved. I always hate hearing about riders who get this far into the race and have to abandon so close to Paris. 

I love Straw Dog's handy status update screencaps
Group 4, by the way, contains Mark Cavendish. Startling to see him up ahead of the yellow jersey on a day like today. Perhaps he is looking for a headstart on the next climb. As mentioned above, on a day like this, time cuts can be a real concern.  Word of a second abandonment, Tom Veelers, the race's Lanterne Rouge, as Hesjedal drops Izaguirre ahead. Sounds like Svein Tuft at the back of the race is in trouble and may soon abandon. Still over 132 kilometers to go.

Christian VandeVelde in studio for some thoughts on NBCSN. Nice timing, with Ryder, his teammate, up the road. Perhaps he has a future as a commentator?
Meanwhile, the Cav group has been passed by the peloton and Cadel Evans has once again been dropped. I think his great Giro performance took too much out of him to thrive in this last week of the Tour. He is now in the grupetto with Cav, Kittel and others.
121 kilometers to go and Rolland and Hesjedal have almost 12 minutes over the peloton. Rolland takes the king of the mountain points and is close to regaining the polka dot jersey. That competition has gotten tight in the last few days:
1 Froome (Sky) 104 points
2 Quintana (MOV) 97
3 Riblon (ALM) 93
4 Nieve (EUS) 89
5 Rolland (EUC) 88
6 Moser (CAN) 72 

Gorgeous scenery as the peloton are descending off the Col de la Madeleine now. No attacks yet from any of the gc contenders. Vichot crashes into a shallow ditch, but is quickly up with lots of hand waving, trying to walk it off. He gets back on and starts riding again. 

With 95.5 kilometers to go, the gap is 11'30" to the peloton and  4'13" to the chasers. Amazing to read that one of the race moto guys, descending at 105 km/h just got passed by Gilbert. Word of another abandonment,Marcel Sieberg, who apparently crashed somewhere off camera and broken his collarbone. 

84 kilometers to go and Saxo-Tinkoff has come to the front. Another Contador attack on tap? Either that or they are hungry and in a hurry to get to the feed zone. Or, less fun, the tv commentators suggest that they are defending their lead in the team competition. Ahead a flat tire for Rolland, but Hesjedal waits for him. 70 kilometers to go and they have 2 minutes over the closest chase group and 11 minutes over the peloton. As soon as I typed that, Rolland drops Hesjedal. Saxo still leads the peloton.

Still to come today: Cat 2 Col de Tamie (8.6km, 6.2%), Cat 1 Col de l'Epine (6.1km, 7.3%), Cat 1 Col de la Croix Fry (11.3km, 7%). Two more abandons:
Christophe le Mevel and Kris Boeckmans.  As Rolland continues alone in his quest for kom points, the lead chase group just 1'47" behind with 59.7km to go.

That group apparently contains: De Marchi (CAN), De Clercq (LTB), Burghardt, Moinard (BMC), Bakelants, Didier, Kloden (RLT), Geniez (FDJ), Bardet (ALM), Hernandez (TST), Izaguirre, Nieve, Perez, Sicard (EUS), Costa, Plaza, Rojas (MOV), Coppel, Navarro (COF), Cunego (LAM), Gesink, Nordhaug (BEL), Dumoulin, Geschke (ARG), Flecha, Hoogerland (VCD), Feillu (SOJ). 
Soon though, word that Hesjedal, Cunego, Rojas, Izaguirre, Didier, and Hoogerland have been dropped from that group.  Weather alert: It has apparently begun pouring at the top of the Col de La Croix Fry climb. 

Rolland is starting to look tired, but he pushes on.

History, culture and some really cool roadside art along the route. Even Willow is impressed. 
Kennaugh and Thomas from Sky drop off the bunch behind, but still no attacks in the yellow jersey group. 
30 kilometers to go and Rolland has almost 2 minutes over the chase group. 9 minutes back to the peloton.
It looked unlikely a few minutes ago, but Rolland may have a chance. 
Behind, Siustou and Stannard are also dropped for Sky. The peloton is getting smaller, but will we see any action from them today? Lots more climbing on tomorrow's stage, plus they must be tired from yesterday.

More of a weather update: Thunder. Heavy storms predicted in the next 40 minutes with 30km left. 23 kilometres to go and Rolland has only one minute over the chasers now. The peloton is 8 minutes back. The chase members are attacking each other now, sensing the possibility of a catch of Rolland and stage victory. 
22 kilometers remaining and here comes the rain. Heavy rain and picture break up on the chase group and peloton. Just under 20 kilometers left and Rui Costa catches and passes Rolland.Can Rolland hang on for the kom points? No. He is caught by more of the chasers. Costa still ahead. 16 kilometers to go and Costa has around 30 seconds over a chasing group og Kloden, Bakelants, DeClerq and Navarro. Still very wet. Valverde attacks the yellow jersey group, Gadret bridges to him. No other response.

Costa goes over the top with about 1 minute over the chasers, probably wondering what could have been if he did not stop for the Valverde mechanical last week. Just about 14 kilometers to go and the gap to the yellow jersey group is still 9 minutes. 10 kilometers for Costa, 15 for the group.
inrng 7:52am via Web

Costa is going downhill too fast for the TV cameras. He leads by one minute. He's got this as long as he can stay upright

J-Rod attacks. Quintana, Contador, Froome go with him. They catch Valverde and Gadret. Porte dropped. Small group of most of the top riders, minus Kreuziger. 3 km to go for Costa ahead and he still has 1 minute over Kloden. He does it! Second stage win of the Tour for Rui Costa. 
5 kilometers still to go for the yellow jersey group. Rejoining at the back, Richie Porte. Froome 104 on king of the mountain points, Rolland 103.

Stage: Rui Costa
2 A. Klöden RadioShack +48
3 J. Bakelants RadioShack +1:44
4 A. Geniez +1:52
5  D. Navarro Cofidis +1:55
6 B. De Clercq Lotto +1:58
7  R. Gesink Belkin +2:03
8  A. De Marchi Cannondale +2:05
9  M. Nieve Euskaltel +2:16
10  R. Plaza Movistar +2:44

Yellow: Chris Froome 
2. Contador +5:11
3. Quintana +5:32
4. Kreuziger +5:44
5. Rodriguez +5:58

6 Mollema +8'58
7 Fuglsang +9'33

8 Navarro +12'33"
9 Valverde + 14'56"
10 Kwiatkowski + 16'08"

Wine:  Danilo Thomain Enfer d'Arvier 2011
From FranklyWines

Description from the importer, Neal Rosenthal:

The vineyards of the Enfer d’Arvier appellation are situated in an amphitheater-shaped site on steep slopes in a high-altitude valley, which receives ample sun.  The shape of this “bowl” of vineyards effectively concentrates the heat of the sun, thus giving birth to the “hell of Arvier” moniker.  Danilo Thomain is the only independent vigneron working this tiny appellation only five hectares in size.  The Thomain family works one hectare of vineyards here in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
A traditional wine made from the Petit Rouge grape and vinified in cuve, it has a compelling rusticity with a wild berry impression and a lively freshness on the palate.  Production at the Thomain estate is approximately 2500 bottles per year, approximately two-thirds of which is shipped to us for the US markett! 

From the Frankly Wines website: A great wine for wine geeks and non-wine geeks, alike. Open this bottle and enjoy a nose that boasts of fruit leather and black pepper... first sips give you round dark red, plummy flavors, and earthiness...let it linger a bit for some jammy, rounder fruit and a finish that leaves you wanting more! But wait - dare we say it...? DON'T FINISH THE BOTTLE! (unless, of course, you are not looking to "geek-out", then by all means, drink away.) Save some for tomorrow, and savor the evolution that this wine shows: that plummyness of yesterday gives way to a surprising tingle of wild strawberries (those tiny french ones, s'il vous plait), and the earthiness is brightened by some sagey notes. Black pepper and leather, too. The devil will keep you coming back for more. - JEANNA

You can learn a lot more about the wines of the region from this Eric Asimov article in the New York Times. A teaser: "The Valle d’Aosta is a winding network of vineyards, some on dizzyingly steep slopes at the highest elevations of any in Europe. The wines are by both tiny producers and bigger cooperatives, coming from a few familiar grapes (pinot noir, nebbiolo, gamay) and a whole host you rarely see anywhere else, like fumin and cornalin, petit rouge and prié. . ."

I say: I've skipped across the border to the Val d'Aoste. The importer's description includes the phrase “hell of Arvier”. Seemed like a good fit for another day of climbing. I'll dedicate a glass to the grupetto.  

Very deep color. Earthy with black pepper and black currants. As ordered, I did not finish the bottle on night one. I don't know if I would agree with wild strawberries, but certainly brighter fruit and less earthiness. Very glad that I read and planned ahead.