Wine and Biking

I love wine, a challenge and a hearty adventure. Wine is a big topic and developing a better sense of smell and taste is about more than raising a glass, it’s a challenge of sorts. Racing and cycling require true effort and sweat to develop lung, heart and muscle strength and endurance. I never planned on either devoting myself to wine or biking, but here I am in the thick of two seemingly disparate passions.

I enrolled in wine classes for fun when my children were young and became totally engrossed. It’s vast and complex. Here’s a truth about wine: the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. Yes you have to learn how to taste wines but then there are factors like geography, climate, weather, soil, grapes, viticulture, vinification, famous wines and producers, marketing and sales trends, technological advances, historical, economic and sociological issues that go into understanding wines. Truly I do love the sensory detective work – recognizing scents, where they come from, when and how wines they were made, how long they’ll last.

I love enjoying a glass of wine while I cook and listen to music — jazz, classic rock, chamber music. I don’t cook gourmet meals often, but when I do, I go all out. I grew up listening to jazz because my father used to play on Sidney Bechet, Miles Davis and Billie Holiday records every weekend. I also grew up listening to classic rock and Motown and still enjoy the associations of my youth when I hear the familiar songs. And, I like to listen to chamber music, especially pieces that I’ve played, because they’re like lifelong friends. Between the music and wine, I’m in a great mood as I pull out all sorts of bowls, spoons, pots and ingredients and cook up a storm.

I fell into cycling in an odd way. I had a high-risk pregnancy, did not exercise or travel, and basically just went to work and to sleep. Along the way, I managed to lose all my muscle strength. When my daughter was one month old, I started to work out with a personal trainer. Unbeknownst to me, it turned out that I was a pretty good runner. Surprise to me because as a child, I was known as a serious girl who played string instruments. Somehow, the middle-aged muscles in me work up and before long I started to do 5Ks, graduated to 10Ks, then with some additional training, triathlons. I like the intense training of my lungs, heart and muscles and being fit. I love to race. I’m exhilarated when I cross the finish line.

I tried my first triathlon as a team, got hooked, and then prepared to do the whole thing myself. I didn’t know how to swim properly, took lessons, and by the time I reached 18 laps in the pool, I understood the rhythmic breathing and was able to swim a mile. At first, I used the bike portion of the triathlon to rest between the swim and run. So, this was where I had the greatest potential to improve. I got a coach, and he suggested that I train for a century ride (100 miles) in Tucson. At first I was convinced that this was way beyond my scope, but with consistent training, built up the mileage, and have done El Tour de Tucscon four times. Last year, I did the Tour d’Etape, which is one stage of the Tour de France that’s open to amateurs prior to the arrival of the pros. I didn’t complete the climb up Mt. Ventoux at the end of the 109-mile ride, so I have unfinished business to attend to this year in the French mountains. Here I am at middle age, in the best shape of my life, surprising myself, and excited about new bike adventures.

Here’s my real challenge. My love of wine is in utter conflict with my cycling. I cannot bike after drinking a glass of wine because it makes me less alert. I’m pretty intense, and don’t just meander through the park. I focus on my watts, cadence, fuel intake, the mileage, the upcoming hills and turns. Granted, there’s a place for wine after biking but given my extreme devotion to the sport, I really shouldn’t be drinking wine at all because of the extra calories. I should be as slim as possible to get up the mountains faster. So how to reconcile my love of wine and my love of biking?

Next month, I’ll be in both wine and biking heaven. My husband and I are going to France to do the Tour d’Etape again in the Pyrénées, which ends at Tourmalet, another epic climb. I’ll be devoted to finishing the ride. Biking over 200 miles a week up and down hills, I’m in prime shape to achieve this, but the French mountains are twice as steep as Rockland County where I train, and Long Island, where I also train, is as flat as a pancake. And while I’m ostensibly going there to ride, I think I’ll find time to enjoy a sparkler made by the méthode gaillacoise, a glass of Gaillac Perlé, and a sip of Jurançon.

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