A perfect match

Here’s to the start of another year – let’s hope that there will be more peace and less hate in the world!

What better way to start a new year, than with a post about wine-tasting!  Before Christmas, a friend asked if I would like to join her at a tutored wine tasting with food pairing – she had won two places for it in a prize draw!  “Of course, with pleasure”, I said without much hesitation.  The event was organised by the Herault Department in collaboration with the Maison des Vins de Saint-Chinian, the official showroom for Saint-Chinian wines.  The Herault Department organised a series of these events between September and January, in order to make the wines and foods of the region better known.

The tasting in Saint-Chinian was presided over by Thierry Boyer, a professional sommelier, who regularly hosts wine tastings in the area.  The food which was to go with the wine was prepared by Frederic Revilla of the restaurant Le Faitout in Berlou.  Here is the menu:

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The evening started in the shop on the ground floor of the Maison des Vins, with a glass of white wine, whilst everyone signed in.  The wine was called Schisteil and came from the Cave Cooperative in Berlou.  It was perfect as an aperitif, a nice fruity wine, without too much acidity.

Once everyone had arrived, we were invited to climb the stairs to the second floor, where we were to spend the next few hours.

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Once everyone had settled down, Thierry Boyer (below, far left) started the evening by introducing his co-hosts: Nellie Belot (far right), the director of the Maison des Vins, and Frederic Revilla (second from left), the chef of the Restaurant Le Faitout.  The lady with the red apron in the picture below was helping Thierry Boyer with pouring the wine.

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Once the introductions were made, Thierry started on the technical part of the evening, explaining the ‘art of tasting’ in some detail.  I’m no expert when it comes to wine tasting, and so this was all very interesting.  Each participant was given a tasting sheet, where notes could/should be made about various aspects of the wine, such as the visual aspect, the smell, taste and overall impression.  On the reverse of this sheet was an explanation of the words to be used in describing the wines.  All in French, of course, AND highly instructive!!

Once Thierry had finished his explanation, Nellie Belot took over to introduce the first wine, Domaine du Landeyran’s Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun 2013.  My notes tell me that the grapes for this wine are grown at Saint-Nazaire de Ladarez, on schist (slate) terroir, which produces relatively small yields of 30 hectolitres per hectare (1 hectolitre equals 100 litres, and a hectare is 10,000 square metres).  The wine is made with 70% Syrah grapes and 30% Grenache grapes, and spends one month in oak barrels.

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Next, Frederic Revilla introduced the food – blinis made with chestnut flour, topped with rillettes de volaille a la sauge, potted chicken with sage.  Somehow the French sounds more elegant, don’t you think? 🙂

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Finally, the wine was poured, and Thierry continued to teach us how to taste!  Take the glass by the base, so that your hand (which might be smelling of onion or garlic??) is as far away from the rim of the glass as possible!  Tilt the glass to the side and examine the colour and the clarity of the wine, as well as the colour of the “edge” of the wine, where the wine touches the glass as you look down into the glass.  Then we came to the “legs”, which are traces left by the wine on the inside of the glass.  Finally we were instructed to smell.  Once everyone had had a good sniff (the first nose), we had to swivel the wine in the glass and smell again – that’s called the second nose.  Agitating the wine causes some oxidation and brings out the smells more strongly.

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As you can see, everybody was doing this very seriously!!  After much sniffing and scribbling, we were allowed to taste the wine.  No, the idea was not to have a good gulp but to aerate the wine again, drawing air through it and making noises almost as if you were slurping noodles or some such.  The air causes still more oxidation, and brings out yet more flavours!  Once we’d had our first mouthful of wine, the blinis were passed around – one piece each.  I was so caught up in the tasting and note writing, that I missed taking a picture of it!  My note on the food says ‘super’!!  My memory of it is that it was very delicious, gone in a flash, and very good with the wine!  About the wine, my notes say very dark, almost black, a nose which was spicy, with red fruits and a hint of caramel.  The taste was a little tannic, and not too heavy.  Overall very nice, but I wasn’t blown away.

The next wine was Vieilles Vignes 2014 from Chateau Cazal Viel, near Cessenon-sur-Orb, was accompanied by a mushroom pate made with soya oil, on a toast which had been lightly brushed with olive oil.

This wine was made with Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre grapes, and looked very dark, with very long legs. On the nose, I discovered red fruit and farmyard smells (those of you who remember the Food & Drink Show on BBC TV in the 1990’s may recall presenter Jilly Goolden talking of “bags of manure” 🙂 ).  Thee are all kinds of funny ways of describing the smells of wine – and manure/farmyard don’t mean that it tastes of that!!  In the mouth, the tannins were still somewhat strong, but the wine was generously fruity.  This is a wine which would be good to keep for a few more years, but which was very nice to drink now.

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The mushroom pate was wonderful with this wine, and as you can see in the picture, the pate was topped with a little piece of mountain ham, as well as some celery and carrot, both lightly steamed.

The third wine on our list was Le Secret des Capitelles 2014, from the Cave Cooperative in Saint-Chinian, made with 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah.  The colour of this wine was lighter than the two previous ones had been, and the edge of the wine was pinky red, indicating that it is relatively young (older wines can have a brown-ish edge).  The nose was fruity, with some toasted aromas.  The taste was very round, very easy to drink!

img_1793This wine was accompanied by a tartar of hake, a white fish, similar to cod, which had been delicately seasoned with peppermint and licorice, and was topped with a leaf of pennywort (umbilicus rupestris).  The pennywort brought out a sweetness in the wine, whist the pairing with the fish worked perfectly!

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During a brief interlude in the tasting, Thierry explained a little about corks, and why it is important to keep a bottle horizontal:  corks have tiny air pockets in their structure, and if left exposed fungi could grow in these pockets and taint the taste of the wine.  I’m simplifying here, there is far more science to it than just that!

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On to our last wine, Domaine Cathala’s Absolue 2013.  With this wine it was a case of keeping the best ’til last!  The wine is made with a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan grapes, which are grown on limestone terroir near Cessenon-sur-Orb.  The colour of this wine was very deep, almost black and the nose had hints of farmyard and something called ‘sweaty saddle’.  I have the ‘sweaty saddle’ on authority – the friend who had invited me to the tasting is an expert!  The wine tasted spicy and fruity, and it was very delicious!!

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To accompany this wine, we had some baby wild boar, cooked in a stew with Sichuan pepper, mandarin and a little chocolate to thicken the sauce.  It was a pairing made in heaven!!

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What a great way to spend an evening – good food and good wine, and I learnt a great deal at the same time!!

Here’s a picture of the happy team at the end of the evening – they all did a wonderful job transmitting their enthusiasm for the food and wines of the region!  From right to left: Gaylord Burguiere, who works at Maison des Vins and has wonderful Instagram feed; Frederic Revilla; Natalie Revilla; Thierry’s helper; Thierry Boyer; Nelly Belot, and two ladies from the Herault Department, who’d organised the evening.

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Thank you to Carole for allowing me to accompany you on this adventure!!

If you are in Saint-Chinian, do go and visit the Maison des Vins.  You’ll be able to taste (and buy!) a good cross-section of wines from the Saint-Chinan area!

Coming up – the festive season

Now that the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder, people everywhere are thinking about preparing for the festive season.  In our area, the marches aux truffes and the foires aux gras – truffle markets and foie gras fairs – are very much part of the run-up to Christmas.

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The truffle markets will be taking place all over the Occitanie region (formerly Languedoc-Roussillon and Pyrenees Orientales) from mid-December to mid-March.  The ones before Christmas will be especially popular with buyers who want a special touch of luxury for their celebration.  You can find a list for the truffle markets in the region via this link.  And if you want to know what it is like to visit a truffle market, have a look at the post I wrote about my visit to one such market a little while ago.

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The foie gras fairs start in mid-October and run until the end of March, and are for those who enjoy eating foie gras and ducks and geese.  At a typical fair you’ll find many different kinds of foie gras for sale, along with the meat of the birds who produced the fattened livers, either as whole birds (minus the livers) or pieces thereof.  The legs can be turned into confit de canard (or confit d’oie if it was a goose), the breasts are grilled and the rendered fat is a great replacement for butter or oil in cooking.  I’ve written about my quest for making confit de canard in a previous post.  If you are interested in any of this, you can find the dates for the foie gras fairs via this link.

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In this part of the world, to prepare for the festive season also means stocking up on good wines.  To make it easier for the buyers to do just that, the Saint-Chinian winemakers’ syndicate has come up with the idea of an open day, a Journee Portes Ouvertes. The idea is that you can go from winery to winery, meet the winemakers, taste what what they have on offer, and buy what you like.  The event will take place on December 10th, 2017 and you can find full details here.

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Once you have your truffles, foie gras and wine, you’ll need to shop for presents.  Where better but at one of the many Christmas markets which are taking place all over the region?  Some are one-day events, whilst in the larger towns they can run for the whole month of December!  Month-long markets can be found in Montpellier (1 to 28 December 2016), Carcassonne (3 – 31 December 2016) and Perpignan (3 to 31 December 2016); dates for the Christmas markets in Narbonne have not been announced at the time of writing this, and in Beziers there will be pop-up Christmas shops all over the town centre, rather than a classic Christmas market.

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The smaller one-day events have already started, and here is just a small selection, to give you an idea of what is coming up!  The first market on my list is at the Chateau Abbaye de Cassan on November 26th and 27th, 2016.  This is a very popular event with many stalls.  On December 3rd, 2016 markets can be found at Agde, Quarante, Serignan and Servian.  The following day, on December 4th, 2016, Christmas markets take place in Saint-Chinian and at Terra Vinea near Portel-des-Corbieres.  On the following weekend, there is a market in Lezignan Corbieres on Saturday, December 10th, 2016, and on the Sunday, December 11, 2016 there are Capestang and Cruzy.  On December 17, 2016 there is a Christmas market in Valras Plage, and Chateau Coupe Roses in La Caunette is hosting a market on December 18, 2016.  The last market on my list takes place in Caunes Minervois on December 20, 2016 – for all those last minute presents!!

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Do you have a favourite Christmas market?  How do you prepare for the festive season?

Trading places

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember my mentioning Domaine La Madura every so often.  Over the years, I have become friends with Nadia and Cyril Bourgne, who own the domaine, and I’ve been able to observe the wine-making process at close quarters.  If you type “la madura” in the search box on the blog website, you’ll find quite a few articles which mention the domaine.

Today’s post isn’t as much about wine making as it is about the winery itself.  When Nadia and Cyril first bought the vineyards in 1998, the winery building was part and parcel of the deal.  It was located in Saint-Chinian, on Avenue Raoul Bayou, and it was very typical of a small winery building dating from the early part of the 20th century: two rows of concrete fermentation vats/tanks facing one another, and a kind of attic space above.  Very little room to manoeuvre  and almost completely dark without the lights switched on or the barn doors open.

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For years, Cyril had been dreaming of working in a modern, newly-built winery, where he would be able to have the best possible working conditions for making his wines.  After many months of wrangling with the planning authorities, Nadia and Cyril finally received permission to build a new winery on one of their former vineyards, just outside of Saint-Chinian.

Getting the new winery built was no mean feat – all the services had to be connected, and the smallest detail had to be thought of.  When he wasn’t working in the vineyards, Cyril spent every moment he could spare at the building site, to make sure that everything was going to plan!  The new winery was ready in time for the 2015 vintage!!

Here now, is an overview of the new winery, in all its gleaming glory.  The new building is off the Route de Salabert, and you’ll see this sign on the side of the road:

IMG_3131 Arrive at the winery and you’ll see that everything has been thought of.  There’s even a car park!

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Here’s what you see when you approach the building:

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Of course by the time of your visit, it won’t look like this any more, the landscaping around the building will be much more advanced!  The colour of the wall render was carefully chosen to harmonise with the surroundings.  If you turn away from the building, looking towards the village, you’ll see the most wonderful view:

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There’s another great view from the terrace outside the tasting room:

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Perhaps I’d better tell you a little more about the layout.  There are several parts to the new winery.  There is an office, where Nadia can be found most days, during office hours.  The office is behind those three windows, as you arrive at the winery.  Next to the office is the laboratory, where Cyril analyses samples of wine and grape juice.  From the laboratory a door leads into the winery proper, where the fermentation vats and storage tanks are:

All of the tanks are fitted with sensors and equipment which allows for temperature control during fermentation.  Stainless steel stairs and a walkway give access to the air locks on top of the tanks.  The air locks ensure that the fermentation gases can escape, but no air can enter the tanks.

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There is ample space for storage:

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… and there is lots of light and air – it must be a pleasure to work here!

From the winery a door leads to the storage area.  At long last, all the bottled wine can be stored under one roof.  Before, it had to be stored in several different locations, in Saint-Chinian and Assignan, because of lack of space.

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From the storage area, another door leads into the barrel cellar, where the wine is ageing in oak barrels:

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From the barrel cellar, a glass door allows access to the tasting room.  The tasting room has lots of space, along with a very zen atmosphere!

The views from the large glass windows are wonderful, especially with a few bottles of wine in front:  🙂

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So you’ve seen pretty much everything – all that is left to do is for you to visit the new winery in person!  And taste the wines, of course! 🙂

If you would like to visit Domaine La Madura, please get in touch with Nadia Bourgne ahead of time, either by e-mail or by phone on +33 (0)4 67 38 17 85.

Running out of time

Life is full of serendipitous moments, and it’s all too easy to let those moments slip by if we don’t grab the opportunities presented by them!  One such serendipitous moment occurred to me very recently.  On Facebook I saw that Domaine La Madura had shared a post about the sale of furniture from O Bontemps, a restaurant I had been to a number of times. This is a screenshot of the post:

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And this is a screenshot of the text, as translated by Fb!!

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As you can see, the translated text was somewhat cryptic – they were selling the furniture and pretty much everything else, including the menu case and door sign, and closing on February 15, but then what?  I had to find out more!! 🙂

Eventually I found an article, on the website of the local newspaper, Midi Libre (see the article here).  In the article, Olivier Bontemps, the chef owner of the restaurant, explained that he was re-locating within the area, with a concept more centred on the lunchtime trade, so that he could spend more time with his family.  While I was in the middle of reading the article, a friend stopped by for coffee, and we started talking about how nice it would be to go to the restaurant once more, before it closed.  “Why don’t we go this week?”, said the friend.  Just what I needed :)!  I picked up the phone and made a reservation for the following evening!

And so it was that I got to eat at O Bontemps in Magalas one more time!!  Here’s the outside of the restaurant:

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And part of the dining room:

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Ever since he opened his restaurant, Olivier Bontemps has been serving mussels, as a little appetizer, while the guests browse the menu.  These mussels were small and plump, and prepared wonderfully with smoked bacon, chopped almonds and cream – they were heavenly!!

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Once we had ordered, we were served an amuse bouche, a small glass of brussels sprout soup, topped with a cream made with smoked paprika.  The soup had a wonderfully clean flavour of brussels sprouts, and was just delicious.  It was also served hot – not tepid – which pleased my friend immensely – she likes her food to be served hot!

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The amuse bouche was followed by the starter – a reimagined club sandwich.  The plate was covered in a carpaccio of courgette, which was dressed with a most wonderful vinaigrette.  There was an elusive flavour in that dressing – the chef told us that it was kaffir lime, a citrus fruit which is a major component of Thai green curry.  The courgette carpaccio was topped with a wonderful salad, beautifully decorated with edible flowers, and of course there was also the sandwich:  slices of crispy bread filled with some very tasty smoked ham and cheddar cheese:

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After that wonderful starter came an even more wonderful main course – rumpsteak, which had been cooked at low temperature for 18 hours!!  I know that if I were to cook a piece of steak for 18 hours it would not look like this!  It was perfectly pink, juicy and tender, and it had great texture and flavour.  The sauce had been prepared with trompette de la mort mushrooms and truffles, and there was a side dish of vegetables, served in a separate bowl. The vegetables were mostly green in colour, but with different textures (crunchy, crispy, soft).  A chewy element was introduced by the rice shaped pasta, which was mixed in with the vegetables.  The broth in which the vegetables had been cooked was spicy, and it complemented the beef beautifully.

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Finally it was time for dessert.  Once more there were contrasting textures and flavours.  On a base of a kind of redcurrant cake was a light cream, topped by Italian meringue, accompanied by home made vanilla ice cream, and a masala tuile biscuit.

 

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Wow, what an end to a great meal!!

Now, there’s a reason why I inserted the video below (e-mail subscribers, you’ll have to visit the website to see the video):  the title is “Get here” and you should get there if you can, before the restaurant closes.  They still have space up until February 11, 2016.

More information on the website at http://www.o-bontemps.com

Saint-Jean distilled

You may recall my post about the gourmet walk in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois – if you missed it you can find it here.  When I returned to the reception area at the end of the walk, there was coffee and a tasting of spirits from the Distillerie du Petit Grain in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois.  I did taste the gin from the distillery that day, which was wonderful, but with the heat, and after all the food and walking, I could not really do it justice.  

The occasion to go for a (proper) tasting presented itself this summer, when I had friends visiting.  My friends are connoisseurs of fine spirits, and so I called Patricia and Laurent Gaspard, the owners of the distillery, to make a date.

Patricia and Laurent are both teachers, and the distillery is a hobby for them.  They are both passionate about what they produce.  To visit the distillery and to discover their products is to share in their passion.  The distillery is installed in a former stable, right next door to their home.  On the ground floor, the old manger is still on wall, joined by the some very up-to-date stainless steel tanks, where the fermentation and maceration take place.  When I first visited in the summer, the apricots were in the process of fermenting!

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The smell was delightful – but unfortunately the picture doesn’t really convey that!  I had expected it to smell of alcoholic fermentation but it was more like apricot jam!

Very steep wooden stairs lead to the first floor, where the boiler and still are located.

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The still was made by Jean-Louis Stupfler from Begles, who is renowned for his unique stills.  The process allows remarkable spirits of great elegance and finesse to be produced by single distillation.  The copper boiler is encased in a stainless steel base, and is heated by a gas burner located directly underneath the copper.  The copper columns to the left of the boiler separate and concentrate the alcohol.

All parts of the still gleam and shine – lovingly (and no doubt laboriously) polished by Laurent!  The wooden crates in the picture below hold glass demijohns or carboys, which are used for storing the spirits between distillation and bottling.

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Patricia and Laurent’s production is 100% artisanal – everything is done by hand.  To them, the quality of their spirits is everything, and they go to great lengths to capture the flavours of the fruits which go into making their eau de vie.  Not long before my visit, they had carefully sorted through 1000 kilos (that’s a ton!!) of apricots, using only the perfectly ripe fruit, from which they removed the stones.  Laurent had to return around 200 kilos to the producer, as the fruits were not ripe enough!  When they prepare the Williams pears they remove the stalk and blossom end from each fruit before cutting it up, and of course only perfectly ripe pears are used.

The results are worth all that work!!

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The apricot eau de vie has an amazing smell and taste of apricots, and the same goes for the pear eau de vie.  The taste of both lingers in the mouth long after you have swallowed the alcohol, and develops and changes with time – just like with a good wine.

Two gins are produced:  one with locally collected herbs and aromatics and the other with citrus fruits.  To my mind, both of them are far too good to mix with tonic water, but then why not?  It would make for an outstanding gin and tonic, no doubt!  The muscat eau de vie was out of stock at the time of my visit 😦  I’m not a great connoisseur of spirits, but these were delicious.  I came away with the very last bottle of apricot eau de vie from the 2014 production :D, and it has been the delight of my dinner guests ever since.

I was very intrigued by what Patricia and Laurent were doing with the distillery, and asked them if I could possibly come along on a day when the still was in operation.  They kindly agreed, and I went to Saint-Jean-de-Minervois again on a beautifully sunny but cold day in October, to watch the distillation of pear eau de vie.

Laurent had already fired up the boiler, but the alcohol had not yet started to flow when I arrived.  It wasn’t long though, before the first stream of clear alcohol started to pour from the spout.

Laurent caught some in a glass and held it out for me.  “Smell this”, he told me.  I had a bit of a cold and my sense of smell was deserting me, but I could detect a distinctive smell of acetone.  “That’s right”, he said, “that’s the poison!”.  He explained to me that this was the “head”, the most volatile of the alcohols, and that it was not to be used in the eau de vie.  Instead, he uses the “head” for rinsing out the demijohns, before rinsing them with filtered water.

Laurent kept sampling the alcohol, and every so often he would hold out the glass for me to sniff.  Sometimes he would instruct me to taste as well.  From time to time he made adjustments to the still, cooling it to increase the purity of the alcohol.  All the while a steady stream of alcohol was running into a large jug.

Here is a video for you – e-mail subscribers, please visit the website to see the video.

I am so sorry that this is not a “scratch-and-sniff” post, the aromas were really wonderful!

After about an hour or so, Laurent detected a change in the alcohol and told me that he had now arrived at the “tail” of the distillation.  Some of the tail gets mixed in with the spirit.  The remainder is not used for the eau de vie, but added to the next batch of fermented pear pulp.  After another 15 minutes or so, Laurent turned off the gas, emptied a valve to drain the contents of the boiler, and started to unscrew the brackets which hold down the top of the boiler.  First, the pipe connecting the boiler to the still was removed and carefully placed on brackets on the wall.

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After that, a kind of clip was fixed to the hole in the lid, and the lid carefully winched up – it was all very hot – think of the boiling contents inside!!  Patricia was holding on to the lid to stop the agitator from hitting the sides.  The agitator is the blue part on the right of the lid.  Think of it as a type of immersion blender, designed to keep the contents of the boiler moving about.

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Once the boiler was empty, it was carefully rinsed clean.  Laurent then added some water, lit the fire once more, and filled the boiler with fermented pear pulp, which Patricia was pumping up from one of the tanks downstairs.

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Here’s another video for you:

And that was the start of another batch – kind of “here’s where we came in earlier”!!

Before I left, Laurent showed me the tanks with the fermenting pears.  I was amazed at the colour of what was in the tank – whenever I prepare pears they go brown almost immediately, and these were beautifully white!  Apparently it’s all to do with the fact that oxygen is excluded during the fermentation.

In one vat, Laurent had to mash the crust which had formed on the top, so that the batch would ferment evenly – afterwards it looked like a lovely pear puree, really yummy!!

There is a lot more technical detail, but I’ll leave it to Patricia and Laurent to explain that to you when you visit them.  Do remember that they both have full-time jobs, so contact them before you go to Saint-Jean-de-Minervois!!  You can find their contact details here.

 

A gourmet walk

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!

reception area for the walk

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.

Soon everyone was wearing their hats and getting quite excited!

Getting ready for the walk

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

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 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

Signpost along the way

Our first stop was for a welcome drink:  a glass of sparkling Muscat sec.

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

Walking along the vineyards

I could not resist this lovely clump of poppies along the way:

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

Canyon crossing the limestone plateau

And here is a vineyard with the typical “white” look.

A typical Saint-Jean-de-Minervois vineyard

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 Gourmande"

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:

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"

“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

Nicely chilled wines

After this very pleasant break we continued on our walk.

Walking through the vineyards

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:

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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

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

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!!

Main course being served

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.

Accordionist

The accordionist

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

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.

relaxing music

Relaxing 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

3rd “Etape Gourmande” – cheese

A selection of three cheeses were accompanied by Muscat from Domaines Barroubio and Montahuc and Cave Le Muscat.

Cheese Course

Cheese course

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

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

Final “Etape Gourmande” – dessert

The chefs were busy putting the final touches on our desserts.

Desserts being prepared

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

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

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.

end of our gourmet walk

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