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Bicycle road race's course creates an impressive tasting tour

| Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Early July means showtime for the world's best cyclists in the 100th edition of Le Tour de France. With contestants pedaling over hill and dale in every corner of France, wine drinkers have the opportunity to enjoy a parallel tour of the fruits of France's vast, eclectic vineyards.

During Stage 5 on July 3, the cyclists depart from the village of Cagnes-Sur-Mer in the heart of the Côte d'Azur, between Nice and Cannes. The area enjoys pristine Mediterranean beaches and bewitching landscapes.

Cyclists pressing westward towards the seaport of Marseille pass rocky, arid vineyards cultivated continuously since the Roman era. Winegrowers produce crisp whites, robust reds, and most importantly, irresistible, deliciously dry rosés.

Try the 2012 Jean-Luc Colombo, Cape Bleue Rosé Vin de Pays de Méditerranée, France (Luxury 31612; $10.99). The energetic Monsieur Colombo, who now resides in the northern Rhône Valley, spent his youth near Marseille in these vineyards overlooking the sea.

Colombo uses a classic blend of syrah and mourvèdre fermented in stainless-steel tanks to preserve fruity freshness. The wine rests on the lees for several months to add pleasant creamy notes.

The bright salmon color unfolds strawberry and floral aromas. Berry and grapefruit flavors balance with refreshing acidity and mouthwatering mineral traces. The fruity, yet dry, finish makes a perfect match with pissaladière, Provencal thin-crust pizza topped with confit tomatoes, olive oil, green olives, onions and anchovy filets. Highly recommended.

On July 12, the intrepid riders depart from Tours in the Loire Valley and pedal to Saint-Amand-Montrond. The region's mixed Maritime and Continental climates envelope surrounding vineyards of slate, limestone and sand over clay to create outstanding terroir for cultivating white-skinned grapes such as sauvignon blanc.

Try the delicious 2012 Domaine des Corbillières Touraine Blanc, France (Luxury 46594; $16.99). Fourth-generation winegrowers Véronique and Dominique Barbou cultivate low-yielding sauvignon blanc vines without chemical fertilizers. Slow, temperature-controlled fermentation preserves pure fruitiness, while aging on the lees adds complexity.

The wine's exuberant grapefruit and quince aromas open to quince, grapefruit and subtle honey flavors. Zesty, lip-smacking acidity balances the fruity, yet dry, finish. Pair it with grilled asparagus wrapped with bacon. Recommended.

On July 14, the French observe Bastille Day to commemorate the French Revolution's first victory. Meanwhile the relentless riders depart Givers and tackle the arduous slopes of Mont Ventoux.

The following day offers well-earned rest in the lovely Vaucluse region. The ancient landscape of wild lavender, thyme and rosemary toiling in rocky, wind-whipped rolling hills provides terrific terroir for growing grenache, syrah and mourvèdre among other red-skinned grapes.

Do not miss the tremendous 2009 Le Pigeoulet en Provence Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France (Luxury 39350; $16.99). The Brunier family produces renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds at the estate, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. But, in this case, they use purchased fruit grown in Côtes du Rhône vineyards and other grapes from nearby Côtes du Ventoux vineyards.

Fermentation in temperature-controlled cement vats frames the grapes' impressive fruity complexity and ripeness. Aging for six months in large, previously used, wooden foudre barrels adds subtle structure and amplitude.

The wine opens with ripe red- and black-fruit aromas with notes of liquorices and smoky hints. Juicy black-fruit flavors balance with fresh acidity and supple tannins. Pair with grilled flank steak. Highly recommended.

After several more stages, the cyclists finish July 21 by starting at Versailles and then gliding into Paris. They pass through the Louvre Museum's courtyard, around the Arc de Triomphe and then down Paris' most famous boulevard, Champs-Élysées.

Celebration with Champagne will be in order for the winner. Here at home, try the NV Champagne Le Mesnil Brut, France (Luxury 39622; $32.99). The wine comes from the local cooperative in Mesnil and offers a reasonable taste of authentic bubbly from the world's most famous sparkling wine vineyards. Recommended.

Follow each Stage of Le Tour de France at www.letour.fr/

Dave DeSimone is the wine columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

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