A man in a cafe looks out of the window at a pack of riders making their way through the 230-km (143-mile) sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race. © Vincent Kessler/Reuters/Corbis.


LONDON - Wine and Cycling are two passions that have taken me to some of the most beautiful countries and regions of Europe. Granted, few vines are to be found at 2200m above sea level on barren mountain passes, but I feel it is well within the scope of this blog to mention the two in the same breath.

I started cycling well before I was legally allowed to drink, captivated by the Tour de France in the early 1980s with the likes of Bernard Hinault, Pedro Delgado and Stephen Roche battling it out in ‘La Grande Boucle.’ The vibrant colours of the jerseys, the sunflowers and mountains, not to mention the crazy fans were like no sport I’d witnessed in the UK. Subsequent holidays to Provence introduced me further to the sights, smells and tastes of Southern France and lay the groundwork for a journey of discovery that I am still enjoying to this day.

I have just returned from competing in the Maratona dles Dolomites, a 138km bike race across seven awe-inspiring mountain passes in North East Italy, three hours drive northeast of Verona, through the vineyards and orchards of the Trentino and Alto Adige regions. Red, white and sparkling wines are produced here, largely by modern cooperative wineries but with numerous smaller producers as well. The majority of Alto Adige wines are exported to Germany and Austria (perhaps unsurprisingly as the dominant language of the region is German). This does result in bilingual denominations and labels which can make reading a wine list a little challenging!

One of the highlights of this visit was a Blauburgunder ‘Mazzon’ 2010 from Bruno Gottardi, an excellent Pinot Noir from the South Tyrol – powerful without being dense, ripe cherry fruit but developing that lovely ‘sous bois’ character. Burgundian in style, fleshy and ripe but with a lively freshness retained, no doubt, by the cool nights and elevated situation of the south-facing vineyard. Great refreshment following seven hours on the bike! Seriously well made, I shall be on the hunt for some in the UK.

Next, I’ll be settling down to three weeks of sporting mayhem that is the Tour de France.