I originally got drawn into following the Tour de France every July because of Lance Armstrong's string of victories, but I remain entranced by the event because of its drama, its sweep, and even its scenery. This year's Tour should be particularly enjoyable, as most of the usual dominating favorites are out of the running. I'm looking forward to following the early leader's progress, and whether he'll be able to hang on in the mountain stages. I'm looking forward to seeing which teams will put on the best show, regardless of standing. And I'm looking forward to the vicarious trip through France itself. As usual, there's no shortage of famous wine regions along the way as the Tour progresses through Burgundy and into the Alps, then Provençe, Coteaux du Languedoc, the Southwest, and Cognac—and this year, two stages kick off in famous wine villages. Sounds to me like the pretext for a drinking game, so leave the quarters and shot glasses behind and grab a corkscrew. . . .
Stage Five, Chablis to Autun, Thursday July 12:I'm not aware of anything hugely famous about the ending point, but the kick-off village is another matter entirely. Chablis is home to stunning, glinting Chardonnay that is the antithesis of most California examples—sleek, cool, racy, chalky Chardonnays that impress not with volume but with finesse. Consider sitting down to a grilled rockfish fillet with the William Fèvre Chablis "Champs Royaux" 2005($25, Henry Wine Group). A good example from a classic vintage, it has all of the light citrus notes, zingy acidity, and stony minerality that make Chablis such a great friend of seafood.
Stage 18, Cahors to Angoulême, Friday July 27: The appellation of Cahors plays host to inky, brooding, lusty reds made from the Malbec grape. Often blended with Merlot or even Tannat, these wines beg for earthy flavors or grilled meats. A longtime favorite, Clos la Coutale Cahors 2005 ($15, Chesapeake Beverage Group) manages to be heady and rustic, but charming and approachable at the same time. It is a versatile wine that will mate as well with New York Strip as it will with marinated and grilled portabellas. Its hefty acidity makes fast friends with tomatoes, too.
Stage 20, Marcoussis to Paris, Champs-Élysées, Sunday July 29: No wine of any consequence made here, I can tell you. But what better way to enjoy a Sunday morning than to soak up the celebratory mood of this final stage (and maybe some last-minute fireworks from the sprinters) with a little Champagne brunch? While the winsome lasses kiss-kiss the podium finishers, consider uncorking a bottle of the delicious Charton-Taillet Brut "Fiacre" (Bacchus Importers, Ltd. $40). This very dry example of delicious Champagne is the perfect foil to the buttery richness of croissants, brioche, and poached eggs.
Of course, feel free to drink along as the Tour snakes through other delicious stops throughout France. Heck, have a gin and tonic to celebrate the London prologue, or a delectable Chimay ale in honor of the brief detour to Belgium. And if you do miss your college drinking-game days badly, you could line up a bunch of bottles; every time announcer Phil Liggett mentions the Liquigas team, take a drink.