Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wines of La Vuelta Stage 2: Ouled Thaleb Syrah

As I said, I'm not blogging every stage. But geography made this one impossible to skip. And by geography, I don't mean the designed for the sprinters, flat stage. Instead, I mean the proximity to Morocco and the chance to drink a Moroccan wine. 

That said, I'm having trouble focusing on the coverage, as pictures from this morning's Napa earthquake are dominating local news. The extent of damage will take quite some time to determine, but the early pictures show significant property damage and there are reports of at least 87 injured, three in critical condition. It was the largest Bay Area quake in 25 years.

Today is a rare chance for the sprinters at this year's race, so one would expect a breakaway that is eventually chased down. Indeed, on the road, there was an early break consisting of Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka), Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida) and Romain Hardy (Cofidis). Their gap got as high as almost five minutes early in the stage. With forty kilometers to go, it had dropped to around two minutes. Thirty five kilometers left to ride and it had dropped to 1:19. It appeared the catch would come earlier than expected, as there was the possibility of crosswinds and echelons ahead. 
Seventeen kilometers to go and the group was all together. Sadly, no echelons. But to the front, the sprint trains were beginning to form as they neared the finish. A very technical finish awaited them. At the end, Bouhanni, with ease.

Stage: Nacer Bouhanni
Race leader: 

The wine: Ouled Thaleb Syrah 2010
 From Frankly Wines

 From Nomadic Distribution
Domaine Ouled Thaleb was established in 1923.  Located in the Zenata coastal appellations between Casablanca and Rabat, Ouled Thaleb led the renewal of the Moroccan wine industry in the 1990’s.  While most of their fruit is Estate grown, Ouled Thaleb partners with neighboring growers in order to produce classic style wines under the direction of winemaker, Stephane Marriot. Grapes are grown organically.

100% Syrah
 Fermented in concrete tanks aged in French oak for 12 months

I say: As I said above, how could I resist a Moroccan wine? Blackberries, spice, and some smoke. Fresh and as a friend said "supple." An excellent burrito pairing, but also very nice on night two. I'm a fan.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

La Vuelta: We Begin with Sherry

So here we are, or really, they are, in Spain for the 69th edition of La Vuelta. As I said earlier, I won't be drinking wines for every stage, but for a selected few during the race.
But first, the race. La Vuelta is the third of the season's grand tours, following the Giro and the Tour de France. The year's route map is below:
What do we have?
Running from Saturday August 23rd to Sunday September 14th 2014, the Vuelta will be made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of 3239,9 kilometres.
5 flat stages
13 hill and mountain stages
1 team time trial stage
2 individual time trial stages

Distinctive aspects of the race
12,6 kilometres team time trial stage
44,5 individual time trial stages
40 summits

I'm going with "the gang's all here" as my theme for this year. Because, Vincenzo Nibali aside, essentially all of the top GC riders are here from Nairo Quintana to Alberto Contador to Chris Froome and many more. Not here, with a last minute withdrawal is defending champion Chris Horner, due to low cortisol levels apparently resulting from a Bronchitis treatment. You can check out the complete startlist here. I'll also suggest checking out Viewers' Guide to the 2014 Vuelta a España! For Indifferent Spanish Cycling Fans on Podium Cafe. Because, really, Chris is funnier than I am.

For our opening stage we have an oddly shaped 12.6 kilometer team time trial.  Within those kilometers, 22 roundabouts!
If you are new here, I like team time trials, but not everyone agrees with me. I've explained team time trials before, here and here, in brief, in a TTT, each team rides together with the time taken as the fifth rider crosses the line. As they ride the course they take turns pulling on the front and then return to a place in line with their teammates. As I've also said before, a TTT rarely wins a Grand Tour for a rider, but a loss of time to rivals can be significant, though with a course this short, perhaps not as much as in other races.
Off they went, with MTN, the first team on course coming in at 14:42. Orica sets an early leading time of 14:19. Next in the lead, Cannondale, by less than one second. Coming in 3 seconds down, Trek. Perhaps their reported crash this morning slowed them down? Slow times for many teams today, with bigger gaps than expected. Sky in at provisional 8th. OPQS in at fourth. It was looking good for Cannondale. But at the end, Movistar, by six seconds.
Stage: Movistar

The wines: Hidalgo Napoleon Amontillado 
San Leon Manzanilla 

Both from Frankly Wines

Since they are riding in Jerez, Sherry was the clear choice. And why not two to compare styles? After all, I am still searching for the Sherry that makes me say "Yes, I get it now."

About those styles:
Manzanilla is a variety of fino sherry. It is generally pale, delicate and salty.
In contrastamontillado begins as a fino Sherry which contains around 13.5% alcohol. The cap of yeast though that makes a fino is the key to amontillado as well, however it is the inadequacy of such layer that makes the wine. Without this layer, the amontillado Sherry has to be fortified until it contains 17.5% alcohol, after which the Sherry is allowed to slowly oxidize in porous oak casks. The resulting Sherry is therefore darker in color and richer in flavor than a fino.

So what did I think?
As you can see on the left, as expected. the Sherries were very different in appearance. 

The Manzanilla was a very pale yellow. It tasted both slightly bitter and salty. It was mild and easy to sip.
In contrast, the Amontillado was a much deeper, brown color. It was dry but full bodied with what we decided were non-sweet caramel notes. It also paired really well with the shrimp burrito I tried it with. As I said to a friend, it may very well prove to be my "gateway sherry." Which would be great, because I have felt for a long time now that I was missing out by not having developed a Sherry love. Thanks for encouraging me to keep trying Christy!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Coming Soon: The Wines of La Vuelta

Each year I make the same Adam Hansen joke and fail to drink the wines of the Vuelta. This year, because of a decision made while suffering from Tour induced sleep deprivation,  I am drinking what we could call a "half-Vuelta." I'll not have a wine for every stage. but thanks to the help of Christy at Frankly Wines, I have ten bottles lined up for stages during the race. Which is more than the seven I originally intended, but I sometimes get carried away.

For those not as obsessed with professional cycling as I am, the Vuelta is the third and final three week Grand Tour of the season. I admit that in my mind it has always been third : I love the (usual) excitement of the Giro and the Tour is, well, the grandest of the three. The Vuelta is poorly televised in the US (Dear Comcast: Why can I not have Universal Sports again?) and hits right at that back to school rush time of year. So I have watched, but with far less intensity than the other two races.
It may also be that I know far less about Spain and the Spanish wine than I do about Italy and France. So I am looking forward to learning something during this project.

About this year's race:
Running from Saturday August 23rd to Sunday September 14th 2014, the Vuelta will be made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of 3181,5 kilometres (before ratification).

5 flat stages
13 hill and mountain stages
1 team time trial stage
2 individual time trial stages

Distinctive aspects of the race

12,6 kilometres team time trial stage
44,5 individual time trial stages
40 summits

The route: