The small village of Saint-Jean-de-Minervois is home to one of the oldest AOCs of the Languedoc region. AOC stands for Appellation d’Origine Controlee – a geographical quality certification. The wines of the AOC Saint-Jean-de-Minervois are sweet wines, produced from the muscat grape, with a high amount of residual sugar. Fermentation is stopped by adding alcohol, before the yeasts have had time to consume all the sugar. The result is an amazingly fragrant sweet wine, which should be well chilled before drinking. The growers also produce a number of other wines, such as dry muscat (white), rose and red wines, which are not classified under the AOC Saint-Jean-de-Minervois.
On June 7th, 2015 the winegrowers of Saint-Jean-de-Minervois organised their second Balade Gourmande, a gourmet walk; last year (2014) was the first time they had organised this kind of event. A Balade Gourmande is a walk with a number of stops along the way, where you eat and/or drink, allowing you to enjoy the countryside without having to schlep the picnic! Numbers were limited to 300 persons, and for this year’s event, the participants were assigned a time to depart in groups of around 30. A guide or two led each group, to ensure that nobody got lost on the walk through the vineyards. I had booked with a few friends and we had been assigned the first departure at 11am. Somewhat early, I thought, but as it turned out it was perfect!
The reception area for the walk
The reception area was just across the road from the cooperative winery in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, and there were plenty of parking spaces. Upon registration every participant was issued with their walking “kit”: A yellow hat, a glass with a kind harness to hang around the neck (very important :) ), a book of vouchers for the food we were to eat along the way, a pen, a set of cutlery, a napkin, and a booklet giving details of all the food and wine, along with prices of the wine, and contact details of the domaines.
Walking kits at the ready
Walking kit for the gourmet walk
Soon everyone was wearing their hats and getting quite excited!
Getting ready for the walk
Our guides were Anne and Karine, both of them winegrowers with an intimate knowledge of the terroir.
Meeting our guides
The walk was about 6km long, and there were stops approx. each kilometer, either for something to eat or…
So off we went:
The vineyards at the start of the walk
The trail was well signposted, just in case anyone struggled to keep up or had to take a little break.
Signpost along the way
Our first stop was for a welcome drink: a glass of sparkling Muscat sec.
Sparkling muscat sec being poured
First stop: a glass of fizz!
After a brief rest, we followed our guides as they led us down little known tracks – only someone who had spent their entire lives here could be truly familiar with them all!
Walking along the vineyards
I could not resist this lovely clump of poppies along the way:
Poppies along the way
You’ll notice the white rocks surrounding the poppies. The area of the AOC Saint-Jean-de-Minervois is on a limestone plateau, and the sun bleaches the rocks to an almost pure white. It is quite a dazzling sight!
We next came to another dazzling sight – one of the canyons which cross the plateau:
Canyon crossing the limestone plateau
And here is a vineyard with the typical “white” look.
A typical Saint-Jean-de-Minervois vineyard
Before long we reached our first Etape Gourmande, a food stop! This was where we would eat the starter:
First “Etape Groumande” – starter
A tent had been set up, in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, and the chefs from Les Cuisiniers Cavistes in Narbonne were hard a work to prepare our starters:
Starters at the ready
Food prepared by:
The starter was named “Du Causses a la Mediterranee” – a crispy puff pastry base covered with sheep’s cheese (from the Causses), topped with crunchy vegetables and pieces of home-smoked fish (from the Mediterranee). The whole was dressed with a vinaigrette prepared with vinegar made with Muscat. It was a very delicious morsel!!
“Du Causses a la Mediterranee”
Wines from Domaine Montahuc, Domaine de Barroubio, Clos du Gravillas, Domaine Marcon and Cave le Muscat were there to accompany the starter.
Nicely chilled wines
After this very pleasant break we continued on our walk.
Walking through the vineyards
Our next stop was a Halte Artistique, a break to rest and enjoy some art. In this case it was music:
I took a video for you also – e-mail subscribers, please remember to visit the site for the video.
There was chilled water available, both still and fizzy. Suitably refreshed and rested, we headed off to find the next stop! :) On the way we passed a wonderfully fragrant spot – Spanish broom was flowering all around us, almost intoxicating us with its beautiful fragrance.
A wonderfully fragrant spot
Before long we reached the next stop – the second Etape Gourmande, where we were to be served our main course.
2nd “Etape Groumande” – main course
The installation was very impressive – a covered seating area with big kitchen area behind, AND there were toilets!
The title of the main course was “De L’Aubrac au Causse”. The Aubrac region is famous for raising high quality beef and we were served a piece of beef filet with a sauce prepared with Grenache (wine) and veal jus, accompanied by spring vegetables. The beef was perfectly cooked and ever so tender – I’m salivating at the memory of it!!
The main course being served
Looking through my pictures I realised – horror of horrors – that I do not have a picture of the main course!! “Oh no” – I can hear you say – “how could that have happened??” Perhaps I was too distracted by the lady who was singing popular French chansons whilst accompanying herself on the accordion.
Wines were provided by all the wineries previously mentioned, plus in addition, Domaine du Sacre Coeur.
After this wonderful interlude, our guides led us to a marvellous spot. From the top of one of Karine’s vineyards we had the most wonderful view over the whole area covered by the AOC Saint-Jean-de-Minervois.
View towards Saint-Jean-de-Minervois
We were now well past lunchtime, and you can see a bit of a build-up of clouds in the above picture. Over on the far left it started to look a little black, but the sun was still shining!!
Our next stop was another Halte Artistique and there was more music. In a shady copse, benches, deck chairs and even a hammock had been set up, so we could rest our weary legs and relax with some music.
Here is a video for you:
After the rest and relaxation we were ready to walk onwards to our next Etape Gourmande: the cheese course!
3rd “Etape Gourmande” – cheese
A selection of three cheeses were accompanied by Muscat from Domaines Barroubio and Montahuc and Cave Le Muscat.
The two goat’s cheeses were from Combebelle near Villespassans; the blue cheese was a Fourme d’Ambert and served with a muscat jelly. Below is Anne Camelot from Combebelle with a helper.
Cheese course being prepared
It looked as though the storm building in the distance was headed our way, so we needed no encouragement from our guides to get to the next and ultimate Etape Gourmande: Dessert!!
Final “Etape Gourmande” – dessert
The chefs were busy putting the final touches on our desserts.
Desserts being prepared
The title of the dessert was “Quand St Jean devoile son exotisme”. Dessert was an exotic composition of tender sponge cake, mascarpone with passion fruit, and roasted mango and pineapple, served with a mango and passion fruit coulis. With that there were three different muscats to choose from – perfect harmony and sheer bliss!!
Exotic and tasty dessert
All too soon it was time to move on and return to the reception area and the car park. On the way I photographed the remains of the windmill near the Cooperative winery in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois. The light was extraordinary!
Ruined windmill in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois
Back at the reception area there was coffee and a tasting of spirits from the Distillerie du Petit Grain. I was lucky and did not have to drive that day. Their Gin is absolutely exquisite! All of the wines we had tasted throughout our walk could be bought at the end.
The end of our gourmet walk
What a wonderful day!! The storm which brewed in the distance, and which made for such dramatic skies, stayed in the distance, and we didn’t get wet!! :) I came home with some wonderful wines, and I am planning to sign up for next year’s walk!! Why don’t you join me? If you want to stay close by, you can rent L’Ancien Cafe in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois