Summertime, and the living is busy…

Summer is on the way, and in Saint-Chinian that means that there will be lots going on!!  We started with the festival Jazz au Cloitre last Wednesday and there are three more concerts: tonight, tomorrow and Sunday!

Hot on the heels of Jazz au Cloitre is the Fete de la Musique, which is a Europe-wide event, taking place on June 21.  I wrote about the Fete de la Musique back in 2014 – you can find the article here.

Throughout July and August, there are lots of things going on in Saint-Chinian: night markets are held each Tuesday evening…

… open-air cinema screenings are programmed for Wednesdays…

… there are free concerts in the cloister gardens each Thursday, and on Fridays there are circus shows, also in the cloister gardens!

The Bastille Day celebrations are always worth a visit to France!  In Saint-Chinian the party is held over two days – on July 13 and 14, with big fireworks on July 14, followed by a concert on the main square.

A week after Bastille day, on July 21, the main square in Saint-Chinian will be filled with rows of stalls for the annual Fete du Cru, the winemakers’ festival, where you can taste all kinds of Saint-Chinian wines!

The Festival MusiSc takes place this year from July 22 to 28 – you can find the full programme here.

For wine lovers, the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian will be unveiling a new painting on the walls of one of the wine tanks in the winery on July 26.  I’ve written about the Art en Cave project here.  A special cuvee, with a reproduction of the new painting on the bottle label will also be available that day!

On August 22, there’s more music with a concert by the Sinfonietta Bardou in the parish church of Saint-Chinian.  A programme can be found via this link.

If you are tempted to visit any of these events in Saint-Chinian, do let me know!  And if you are planning a holiday to the area, please have a look at www.midihideaways.com .

I hope you’ll understand that I’ll be hard pressed to write blog posts with so much going on.  So I’ll be taking a little break for the summer months, and I will be back with more stories in the fall.  In the meantime, I’ll be taking many photographs and will gather new material for new posts!!

I hope you’ll have a great summer too!

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A walk on the wine side

Wine walks, such as the one I went on in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois a few years ago, are a great way to discover a “terroir”.  Terroir is a French word that has no direct translation — its meaning encompasses geology, climate and location, and it mainly relates to agricultural land.

Last Sunday, I went on a walk organised by the Maison des Vins in Saint-Chinian, entitled Vins, Vignes & Terroirs, to discover wines, vineyards and terroirs!

The format for the event was that small groups would leave for their walks every 15 minutes from 9am to 11am, and that each group would be guided by a winemaker.  I had chosen the 9.30am departure and our guide was Elisabeth Poux from Domaine de Pech-Menel.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember the food and wine pairing dinner at restaurant Le Village a few years ago, where the wines were from Domaine Pech-Menel.  You can find the post here.

Our little group of seven got kitted out at the Maison des Vins with hats and wine glasses in pouches which were to be hung around our necks.  A list of the wines we were going to taste was also included in each of the pouches.

Elisabeth took us along the Avenue d’Assignan, and pointed out a typical example of a wine grower’s house, just opposite from where we turned onto Rue des Jardins.  Along Rue des Jardins, she pointed out a former spinning mill, part of Saint-Chinian’s heritage from its days as a textile producing village.

The window surrounds on many buildings are made from stone which is typical of the Saint-Chinian geology: sandstone.

At the end of Rue des Jardins we left the village and headed for Les Platanettes, crossing the Canal de l’Abbe on the way and passing some of the walled gardens which are always impeccably tended!

We headed towards La Rive through the vineyards, under a bright blue sky!  I was very grateful for the wide-brimmed straw hat! The vineyards were looking beautiful – lots of lush growth!

As we passed the building in the picture below, Elisabeth explained that many of the buildings that one sees dotted around the vineyards were used to house horses.  Before the advent of tractors, the heavy work in the vineyards would have been horse-powered, and everything was geared towards that.  Often the horses would be stabled in the vineyards for several days, so that they would not have to be walked to and from their regular homes every day.

After we crossed the river on a little iron bridge, we reached La Rive.  Just before the first house on the left there are steps leading down to what looks like a small creek.  Elisabeth explained that there is a spring there, and until not that long ago people would come to drink the water.  I could just about make out the outlines of a basin, but it was all a bit overgrown and neglected.

On we went — after we had passed through La Rive we took a left turn and headed through the vineyards to where the first tasting booth was waiting for us in the shade of the trees!!

Marie Rouanet, who runs Domaine Saint-Cels with her husband Etienne, welcomed us with a selection of three different wines:

A white wine (Fleur de lin) from Domaine La Linquiere, a rose wine from Chateau la Dournie and a red wine from Domaine Saint-Cels.  As we were tasting the wines, Marie passed around a plate of tapas – slices of toasted bread that were spread with tapenade and topped with grilled artichoke slices and sun-dried tomatoes.

After a big glass of water we set off once more.  Our path took us along the Canal de l’Abbe, which was built in the Middle Ages and which supplied water to the many textile workshops in the village as well as water for irrigating the gardens.  The textile workshops have all gone, but the gardens are still there.  You can see part of one in the picture below.

The next part of our walk involved a stretch of uphill climbing – at times it was somewhat steep, but the effort was rewarded by the wonderful views!!

Once we got to the top, the path was fairly level for a little while, before climbing again.  It was on the level bit that Elisabeth spotted the bee orchid!

The Spanish broom was in full flower and its perfume was heavenly!

After another steep-ish stretch we reached the top of the hill!  There were more great views!

Our next stop was just around the corner!!

At the Capitelle de Seguin, Nellie Belot from the Maison des Vins was waiting for us with three more wines to taste:

The white wine came from Domaine de Pech-Menel, the winery of our guide Elisabeth Poux.  The rosé wine was from the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian, and the red wine was from Chateau du Pieure des Mourgues.  There was another bite to eat with the wines, a miniature club sandwich, filled with smoked duck breast and fig chutney.  All highly enjoyable!

After another glass of water, we paused for a group photograph with our guide, before continuing our walk.

Our path took us along the edge of the hill above Saint-Chinian, so the views were wide and sweeping!

Before too long the windmill came into view – we were headed there for the last tasting stop!

After a final climb we reached the windmill, where Nadia Bourgne from Domaine La Madura and Gaylord Burguiere from the Maison des Vins were waiting for us.

At this stop we tasted four wines!

The white wine was from Chateau Viranel, and the red wines were from Domaine Galtier, Mas Champart and Domaine Cathala.  Gaylord had a lovely story to tell about the name of the wine from Mas Champart.  The wine is called Cote d’Arbo after a Mr. Arbo, from whom Isabelle and Mathieu Campart bought the vineyards where the grapes for that particular cuvee are grown.  Mr Arbo pushed his bike up the hill from Saint-Chinian every morning, to work in his vineyeard.  After his day’s work he freewheeled down the hill!!

Our wine tasting by the windmill was accompanied by a toast topped with camembert cream – very yummy!!  All the food we had eaten along the way was prepared by Vince’s Truck.

After we finished the tasting it was all down hill – literally!! 🙂

Our walk back down to the village took us across a former vineyard.  I spied this flowering asphodel just before we got back onto a paved road.

Before long we were back at the Maison des Vins once more.  I was a little tired but so happy to have been able to go on this walk!  Thank you to all the people involved who made this possible!

Below is a map of the walk we took.  The complete loop (starting and ending at the Maison des Vins) is approx 6.5 km long.

 

Up and coming

With spring in the air, it’s time to come out of hibernation!  There are many events coming up which will tempt you to visit Saint-Chinian!!

Grands Crus Clasiques, Saint-Chinian – 10 March 2019

The pianist Conrad Wilkinson has relocated his successful series of concerts from Villeneuve-les-Beziers to Saint-Chinian for 2019.  There will be a total of six concerts, and the series kicks off with a concert of German Lieder by Mahler, Brahms and Strauss, sung by Ulrike Van Cotthem, with Conrad Wilkinson on piano.

Occitan Carnival, Beziers – 16 March 2019

The 35th Carnival in Beziers will have biodiversity as its theme!  There’ll be children dressed as bees, butterflies, ladybirds, hedgehogs, frogs to name but a few different animals, and there’ll be lots of colourfully decorated floats!

Journees Europeennes des Metiers d´Art, all over France/Europe– 1 to 7 April 2019

The European Artistic Craft Days are held every year on the first weekend in April.  They give the public a chance to see expert craft makers in action.  Several years ago, I visited a workshop in Azillanet, where the almost forgotten art of etching glass is still practiced – see for yourself here.  You can find the full programme of this year’s events on the official French website.

Procession de la Sanch, Perpignan – 19 April 2019

Each year on Good Friday, the town of Perpignan hosts the traditional Good Friday Procession.  The custom dates back 600 years, and it is a deeply moving spectacle, the only one of its kind in France.

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Grande Deballage, Pezenas – 5 May 2019

For lovers of flea markets and antiques, this is an event that is not to be missed!!  There will be in excess of 150 stalls, selling all kinds of “stuff”, from rusty old keys to beautiful furniture!

Vente de Charite, Saint-Chinian – 9 June 2019

This is a fixture on Saint-Chinian’s calendar of events – a sale of bric-a-brac, plants, clothes, second-hand household items, books and more, all sold for a good cause.  The sale takes place in the abbatiale, the former abbey church in Saint-Chinian, and in the cloisters, and it is open until noon.

 

Festival Jazz au Cloitre, Saint-Chinian – 12 to 16 June 2019

Five evenings of Jazz concerts in the beautiful surroundings of the cloister in Saint-Chinian.   There will be a variety of styles: New Orleans Jazz, Blues, Soul Jazz, Gypsy Jazz and French Jazz!  The artists are a mixture of up-and-coming stars of tomorrow and well-known musicians.  The full programme is at www.festivalmusisc.com

Fete de la Musique, all over France – 21 June 2019

This one is an absolute must for your calendar!!  There will be concerts everywhere, from small recitals of classical music to large pop/rock concerts!  Saint-Chinian will be hosting a concert that day, details are yet to be announced.

Fete du Cru – 21 July 2019

A day packed with wine-tasting! The wine makers of the AOC Saint-Chinian set up their stands on the market square – paradise for wine-lovers, who’ll be able to taste and buy their way around Saint-Chinian wines!!  There will be food trucks, music, games and a tombola (prize draw)!!

 

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Festival MusiSc, Saint-Chinian – 22 to 28 July 2019

This is another one for your diary – the fifth annual Music Festival in Saint-Chinian!  11 concerts in one week, with a mixture of classical music and jazz, and a great variety of styles and performers – not to be missed!!  For the programme visit www.festivalmusisc.com

If you need a place to stay for any of these events, look no further than the www.midihideaways.com website!  You’ll find a selection of properties from apartments for two to larger properties sleeping up to 10 persons.

Spice it up!

In last week’s post, I hinted at my visit to two wineries.  My first stop that afternoon, following the morning’s wine tasting, discussed last week, was at the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian.  I had come not to taste wine, but to look at the “Art en Cave” – enormous works of art which are painted on the fronts of the wine tanks in the cellar.  The project started in 2013 and since then at least one new painting has been commissioned each year.

Each year a new cuvee is created in tandem with the new artwork.  The wine is issued in a limited edition, with the painting featured on the label of the bottle.

When the project was first started, it was a unique concept.  “Art en Cave” is now a registered trademark!

After my visit to the cooperative winery, I went on to say hello to my friends Nadia and Cyril Bourgne at Domaine la Madura.  For the occasion of the winery open day, they had decided to pair visual arts with their wine.  I enjoyed the paintings of Stéphane Villafane as much as I enjoyed the wines of Domaine La Madura!!

This will be my last post this year – I’m going to take a break for the holidays.  So, here is my Christmas present to you: my recipe for mulled wine!  I recently made a large quantity of mulled wine for a Christmas concert in Saint-Chinian.  The lucky visitors went through 15 litres of it!

Mulled Wine

  • Servings: 6 - 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A wonderfully fragrant and tasty mulled wine, ideal for the holidays. The quantities in the foreground are for one bottle of wine, the quantities in the background are for 10 litres!

It’s not necessary to use an expensive wine for this recipe, but if you use a decent quality wine you’ll end up with great mulled wine.  The secret is to ensure that it does not get too hot – use a sugar or yoghurt thermometer if you have one.

Ingredients

  • 6 cloves
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 orange, zest only, peeled thinly
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 bottle red wine

Directions

  1. In a non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel or enamel) heat the wine with the other ingredients to 80 degrees celsius. Use a thermometer if possible.
  2. Leave to infuse for 15 to 20 minutes over a very low flame.
  3. Strain and serve.

If you want to make a non-alcoholic version, substitute red grape juice or a mixture of grape and apple juice for the red wine, add the juice of the orange and omit the sugar.

Leftover mulled wine can be bottled and kept for several days.  Reheat gently

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Drink responsibly!

It’s wine O’clock

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that a number of wineries in the Saint-Chinian area were having an open day on December 8, 2018.  In order to bring you a blog post, I had to go on a research trip! 🙂

My day started at 10:30 in the morning at the Maison des Vins, the showcase for the AOC Saint-Chinian wines.  The Maison des Vins is in part of the former home of Charles Trenet’s parents in Saint-Chinian – if you don’t know the story, you can find my previous posts here and here.

I had come to the Maison des Vins for a tutored tasting of some of the wines which had made the Virtuoses selection of wines from the AOC Saint-Chinian.  There were 11 participants to the session, which was led by Baptiste Poncet from the Maison des Vins and Vivien Roussignol of Domaine des Paissels.  We were led up an amazing and monumental staircase to the tasting room on the first floor.  Here was the room where pretty much every wine in the store below had at one time or other been tasted, to see if it measured up to the strict quality criteria of the AOC Saint-Chinian.  The room was packed with rows of tables.  Several tasting stations were built into each row, with each person having their own small basin and cold water tap!

The Virtuoses competition is specific to the Saint-Chinian wine area.  It was first held in 2014.  The competition is judged by panels of journalists, professionals and personalities in the wine trade, restaurateurs, etc.  Over the years it has been held in different locations (Saint-Chinian, New York, Montreal, London).

The entrance criteria are fairly strict, and winemakers have to enter three different vintages of the same cuvee.  The idea behind that is to show the ageing potential of the wines.  For this year’s selection (2019), 70 winemakers entered their wines, which were tasted by the 25 jury members in New York City.  Before you ask, no, the jury members didn’t have to taste each and every wine!  They were split into groups as were the wines – it would be nigh impossible for all but the most experienced tasters to work their way through over 200 different wines!!

For our little tasting, Baptiste and Vivien had selected the following wines:

Chateau Coujan – Cuvee bois jolie 2017
Domaine de Cambis – Les jardins suspendus 2016
Domaine des Paissels – Les Paissels 2017
Mas Champart – Causse du bousquet 2015
Domaine La Madura – Classic 2015
Domaine Cathala – Cuvee A 2016

Before we got to tasting all those wines, a little surprise had been prepared for us.  If you saw the picture of the tasting stations earlier in this post, you may have noticed three bottles standing next to one of the sinks.  There were four such sets of bottles dotted about the tasting area, each set contained bottles labeled with Syrah, Carignan and Grenache.  Vivien had brought these wines with him.  They had only recently finished their fermentation and had been drawn off the tanks just the day before.  The idea was that we would create our own blended wine with wines made from the three grape varieties that are frequently used for the AOC Saint-Chinian wines!

Four teams were formed, and we were given the requisite tools for blending, namely a measuring jug and an empty bottle for our final blend.  We started by tasting the individual wines.  The Syrah had spent some time in oak barrels and was to add “structure” to the wine, the Grenache was for roundness, and the Carignan was for freshness.  The colour of all three wines was amazing – a deep purple colour verging on black!  This is where my multitasking ended – tasting and photographing do not go together, at least not for me! 🙂

Once we had finished tasting the three different varietal wines, we set about working out a “recipe” for our blend.  We started with 30% Syrah, 60% Grenache and 10% Carignan.  Next we tried 20% Syrah, 50% Grenache and 30% Carignan.  Finally we tried 30% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 30% Carignan.  We tasted each of these blends in comparison to one another, and yes we did keep track of our glasses!!  A sheet of paper had been placed at each station, with number 1 to 6 printed on it!!  We came to the conclusion that our winning blend was the 20-50-30 one and prepared our full bottle according to that recipe.

Each group submitted their bottle, which was then covered with a sleeve, and then we all did a blind tasting of the four different blended wines.  Baptiste had given us a simplified version of the tasting sheets used for the Virtuoses competition.

The wines had to be rated on appearance, i.e. colour and clarity of the wine, intensity and complexity of the “nose”, followed by various criteria of taste: Intensity/concentration/bouquet/complexity, acidity/freshness, tannins/structure, balance/harmony, “length” in the mouth, followed by an overall note.  Each note carried points and, as you can see, I rated the wine named “B” at 13.5 out of 20 points.  I found that exercise to be incredibly difficult.  Tasting all those wines was tough enough, but giving notes was tougher yet.  Added to that was the fact that the wines were very young, and the flavours not yet very developed.

Did “our” blend come out with the highest score??  Nope, it came in last, but in our defence it was the first wine to be tasted, which, as Baptiste said, does nothing for the ranking.  The winning formula was not too dissimilar to ours though: it consisted of 30% Syrah, 50% Grenache and 20% Carignan.

Vivian told us that he prepares about 3 different blends for a cuvee before he arrives at the final “recipe”.  Sometimes, final adjustments are made to the blend just before a wine is bottled.

Being a vigneron is a highly skilled job AND it requires many different skills: growing the grapes, turning them into drinkable wine, blending the wine, and finally selling the wine!  Before this tasting, I had no idea of just how the blending of a wine works – now I know just how much work and skill is involved, and I hope you, also, have learned a lot about all of the work, skills and abilities that are necessary to create a wonderful wine.!

Thank you to Baptiste and Vivien for this great experience!

After all the excitement of the blending, we tasted some of the winning wines, which Baptiste had selected for us from the Virtuoses competition.  I stopped taking notes after the first wine, which was cuvee bois jolie from Chateau Coujan in Murviel-les-Beziers.  This was my favourite wine in that selection, wonderfully round, with a lovely “nose” of honey and pear (not literally, only notes of !! 🙂 ) and a great taste!  Of the reds, my favourite was Domaine Cathala’s cuvee A.

With the exceptions of the three wines used in the blending, you can buy all other wines mentioned in this article at the Maison des Vins or via their on-line shop.

After a late lunch (the session took longer than planned – no complaints though!) I went on to visit the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian and then to Domaine La Madura.  More about this in a future post perhaps.

Drink responsibly!

Seasonal blend

The third Thursday of November marks the release of Beaujolais nouveau, a newly made wine which has just finished fermenting.  There is quite a bit of tradition surrounding this event, which has been going on since the 1950’s – the Wikipedia article about it can be found here.

The wine producers in our area thought that the idea of vin nouveau would be too good an opportunity to miss, so several producers offer a vin nouveau or a vin primeur, two names for the essentially the same product: newly made wines which are bottled and sold shortly after the wine has finished fermenting.  These wines are usually characterised as being light, fruity and easy to drink, preferably slightly chilled.  It’s a real treat if paired with roasted chestnuts!

This year, I found that the cooperative winery in Saint-Jean de Minervois was doing their version of the vin nouveau, offering a Muscat de Noel, a Christmas muscat!

I had to make a trip to Saint-Jean and try the muscat for myself, purely in the interest of research, you understand! 😉

The day I visited the winery, the space out front was stacked with pallets of empty bottles! All of these would be filled up in due course!

The Muscat de Noel is the first muscat to be drawn off and bottled from this year’s vintage.  I tasted it in tandem with another muscat from the winery in Saint-Jean, Eclat Blanc, which the lady behind the counter told me was the closest equivalent.  The comparison was very interesting, with some marked differences between the two wines.  The Muscat de Noel had a much fruitier taste and a lovely smell (nose) of pineapple.  It tasted as though there was not much alcohol in it, even though it packs a punch with 15.5% alcohol, and it was far too easy to drink! 🙂  The Eclat Blanc muscat was a very elegant wine, with a very good balance between fruitiness and acidity.  The alcohol content was the same, but somewhat more in evidence!

A sweet Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois wine is ideal as an aperitif before the start of a meal, with foie gras (duck or goose liver pate), or with some nice blue cheese such as Roquefort.  It can also be used in cooking – I made a very delicious flan, which was flavoured with muscat!

Do you enjoy muscat wine?  What is your favourite food to pair with muscat wine?