Cokie Ponikvar appears on my computer screen, her smile radiant as she sits in a hotel lobby adorned with dark wood and expansive glass windows, welcoming the warm summer sun. As she joins the call, she informs me that she is currently visiting Ribera del Duero in northern Spain, with plans to move on to Rioja. “They produce some great wines that your teeth have a hard time forgetting,” she chuckles.
Currently based in Toronto, where she is studying English and history, Ponikvar has ventured to Europe for the summer to delve deeper into the world of wine, documenting her experiences on her Instagram account, @cokiesworldofwine. “I write about wine whenever I can while at university, but my ultimate goal is to become a Master Sommelier one day,” she reveals.
The Court of Master Sommeliers represents the pinnacle of achievement in the field, and since its establishment in 1969, only 271 individuals have passed the arduous examination to attain this globally recognised status, with only a small percentage being women. To accomplish this remarkable feat, Ponikvar will need to dedicate countless hours to study and preparation. Currently sitting on the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers in Ontario, she is delighted to represent young people in an industry that can often appear outdated.
However, championing young people is not limited to the wine industry for Ponikvar. Cycling also holds a significant place in her life. She took up cycling during the Covid-19 pandemic and is now part of the Ka.dre cycling team, supported by CHPT3's David Millar.
“It's sort of David Millar's passion project,” she explains. “Technically, he's a member of our team. We take part in loads of events together, particularly community focused ones. It's not just about hardcore racing. We have members who race, as well as others who promote cycling within the community and strive to break down the barriers of intimidation, making it a more inclusive and welcoming environment.”
Breaking down barriers is the driving force behind Ponikvar's wine-related Instagram posts, and she has discovered that the majority of her followers are between 20 and 30 years old, highlighting the younger generation's thirst for knowledge. “When you're dealing with such a complex subject, it can be daunting,” she acknowledges. “That's why it's truly thrilling to have young people follow and engage with my content. We see the same enthusiasm within the Ka.dre team, with young individuals eager to get involved.”
Ponikvar relishes discussing wine and frequently finds herself engrossed in conversations about it with her fellow riders. She remarks that many people often respond to her by saying, “Oh, I don't know much about wine,” but she sees it as part of her role to guide them. “When someone comes to fix your sink, you don't feel the need to mention your lack of plumbing expertise; you simply let them handle it. Similarly, as a sommelier, my goal is to find a wine that you will love.”
When asked about her favourite wines, the 22-year-old wine enthusiast wastes no time in responding. France holds a special place in Ponikvar's heart, and she is delighted to share her favourite wines for wine enthusiasts to savour throughout the eight days of the Tour de France Femmes.
Stage one: Clermont-Ferrand to Clermont-Ferrand
“The women are starting fresh today, and so are the wines. Freshness is the name of the game in Chablis, where the climate is relatively cooler than the rest of France and so grapes can retain fresh acidity. Chardonnay is the grape, but it rarely sees oak, meaning it stays lean and crisp. The main benefit of wines with high acidity is how they can cut through the richness of food and really hold their own. It is one of my favourites and believe it or not, can age in your cellar for a few years to gain complexity.”
Stage two: Clermont-Ferrand to Mauriac
Château de Monbazillac
“Monbazillac – pronounced, mohn-baz-ee-yak – is a sweet wine-producing region in southwest France. Sweet wine is definitely underappreciated in my opinion. While I think nothing beats a glass of milk with dessert, sweet wines come in at a close second. They can also be incredible with a strong hard cheese.”
Stage three: Collonges-la-Rouge to Montignac-la-Scaux
Crémant de Bordeaux
“The first three days are behind us, so let’s celebrate. Crémant is a sparkling wine made in the same way as champagne, but because it is not made in Champagne, it often costs a fraction of the price. It can come from many places in France, and Bordeaux is one of them. These wines are some of my favourite choices for small or budget-friendly celebrations, especially because I don’t feel like I am sacrificing on quality.”
Stage four: Cahors to Rodez
Château de Lagrazette
“The Malbecs of Cahors are some of the most underrated wines in all of France. Here, you will find richness in your glass but also in history. During the Middle Ages, Cahors was producing Malbec and exporting it by river to Bordeaux. Eventually, Bordeaux began to favour their own wines by imposing taxes and regulations on Cahors, and sales began to suffer. While the production is still relatively small, winemaking traditions remain and Cahors wines are very valuable. This is a full-bodied red that can age for years in your cellar, but also drinks beautifully smooth today. If you like Malbec, this one's for you. And if the idea of red wine in the heat feels unbearable, give it a chill in the fridge for a while before serving.”
Stage five: Onet-Le-Château to Albi
Cotes des Roses
“It’s stage five and everyone is enjoying the race through France in the bright sunshine, so I think it’s time for a refreshing summer bombshell of a wine to keep things vibrant and energetic. This wine features Grenache Noir and Cinsaut as primary grapes and achieves its signature peachy colour from a short time of soaking in dark skins with the clear juice from inside. This wine pairs perfectly with fish tacos, prawn cocktail, scallops, or even with small sandwiches you might take with you to watch the women’s peloton fly past. Provence Rosé is not just a wine, it is a mood.”
Stage six: Albi to Blagnac
“In Bandol, we find reds from the intense dark grape called Mourvèdre. This red wine would pair mind blowingly with a tomahawk steak and peppercorn sauce. Why? Well, it has this gorgeous character of herbs, dried flowers and earthy complexity and often gamey taste, with enough freshness to counteract the richness. I also recommend serving this one with a slight chill to balance the heat of the summer sun.”
Stage seven: Lannemezan - Tourmalet
Picpoul de Pinet-Domaine La Grangette
“The penultimate day of the Tour calls for some freshness, especially after climbing the mighty Col du Tourmalet. Picpoul de Pinet wine is made from 100% Piquepoul Blanc grape. It has a magical ability to retain acidity in a warm climate. Citrus and a subtle floralness will fill your glass when you taste this wine which is another great value option. Fun fact: the UK is the destination for more than all Picpoul de Pinet.”
Stage eight: Pau to Pau
“It’s time to celebrate! While Crémant will always be there for us, understanding the history of the Champagne region makes enjoying a glass a visceral experience. You will never regret reading Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times if you enjoy this wine. The passion for this goes back generations and harvesting in an active warzone with fallen soldiers all around was the only way to make a living. To me, Champagne is unlike any other wine in that by opening a bottle, you are becoming part of a historical tradition. Champagne is associated with lust for life, love, and joy, so there is no better way to celebrate the end of the Tour de France Femmes than to pop a bottle.”