Full of cheer

I’ve just received a lovely message from Noelle, one of the regular readers of this blog, and resident of Saint-Chinian:

I just wanted to thank you for a suggestion on your blog: “La randonnee de Bacchus” from Berlou.

Lucien and I took the hike on Sunday June 4.
After a week of not knowing if it was going to rain, we woke up to a beautiful day, sunny, just a little breeze.
As per instruction we were at Berlou for 10:30 AM. After registration we were given a glass to hang around our neck, and then we were on our way. Since we were among the last group to depart I never felt crowded on the walk. I was told we were around 350 people but I never saw such a crowd. Actually I thought a lot of the time Lucien and I were the only ones on the trail. At each stop the crowd was only around 50 people. The wines and matching food were excellent. Plenty of time to drink and eat, seating sometimes in the shade of a tree on the ground, on a long table with chairs, or on fallen tree which served as a bench. At each of the 7 stops we tried different wines: a sparkling wine, 2 roses, 1 white, 2 reds and a sweet wine. I thought I would get drunk drinking the mix but with plenty of water it did not happen.
The trail is not an easy one but the views are grandiose on the top of the mountain. With such a day, we were able to see very far, the sleeping Lady, towns, wineries…  We were even able to pick some cherries from a lonesome tree on the side of the trail – just refreshing. We did met a few people, mostly Belgiam English and French, living close by.
We ended the walk through the narrows streets of Berlou, a small and pretty village with many flowers on balconies, and on the bridge. At this time of the year it was a feast for the eyes with all the different colours.
Thank you again for suggesting this “randonnee”!
Have you followed in my footsteps and visited any of the places I have written about?  I’d love to hear about your experiences, feel free to share them!!

Food and wine

Back in January, I attended a tutored wine tasting with food pairing at the Maison des Vins in Saint-Chinian (see post here).  Since then, I seem to have developed a bit of a fancy for this kind of event.  When the Maison des Vins announced a series of food and wine pairing dinners in collaboration with the restaurant Le Village in Saint-Chinian, I did not hesitate to make a reservation for the first one.  There are four more of these dinners – follow this link to see the list of dates!

The formula is simple – three courses and three wines, the whole for 25 Euros.

Menu soiree vigneronne – a food and wine pairing dinner.

The wines were presented by Elisabeth Poux from Domaine Pech Menel.  The meal started with steamed green asparagus and half a grilled artichoke heart, served with mountain ham and a mousseline sauce.   The mousseline sauce was made like a hollandaise sauce, using the Blanc de Pech Menel 2015 wine, which was served with this course.  Whipped cream was added to the hollandaise sauce just before serving it, to give it a mousse-like texture.  Mme Poux explained that the white wine was made with a blend of grenache, rolle (also called vermentino), roussanne and viognier grapes.  It was delightfully dry and crisp, with hints of honey and dried fruits.  This was the first time I had tasted the wines from Domaine Pech Menel, and I was impressed!

A starter of steamed asparagus, mountain ham and grilled artichoke heart, served with mousseline sauce and accompanied by Blanc de Pech Menel white wine.

After a little pause, to allow us to finish our wine, the main course arrived, accompanied by a different wine.  The wine was Chateau Vallouvieres-Pech Menel 2009, a full-bodied, deeply coloured red wine, made from 70% mourvedre grapes; carignan and grenache grapes made up the rest of the blend.  This wine was a wonderful accompaniment to the slow cooked lamb, which was served with home-made fries and a medley of vegetables.  The lamb was tender and succulent, the fries were lovely and crisp, and my only criticism could be the colour of the plate the dish was served on! 🙂  Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but on the whole I prefer food to be served on white plates.

Slow-cooked lamb with home-made fries and a vegetable medley, accompanied by Chateau Vallouvieres-Pech Menel red wine.

The dessert was all chocolate – perfect for me!!  On the plate in front of me were three different kinds of chocolate desserts: in the picture below from left to right – moelleux au chocolat, a kind of moist chocolate cake; mousse au chocolat, chocolate mousse; and crumble a la banane au chocolat, banana and chocolate crumble.  All three were delicious, but my favourite was the banana and chocolate crumble!  To accompany this dessert, Mme Poux had chosen a red wine called No Name.  This was a fairly young red wine, a 2013 vintage, made from a blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre and cinsault grapes.  It was a fresh tasting wine with a hint of smokiness, and it had a slight petillance, very different from the wine we drank with the main course, but a perfect foil to the richness of the chocolate.  No Name could be a wine for every day drinking, and could be perfect for an aperitif if served slightly chilled.

It was a great evening, spent with good food, good wine and good friends!!  Having discovered the wines of Domaine Pech Menel, I’m looking forward to visiting the winery and tasting their other wines.

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