I could have chosen so many things for the letter ‘P’ but have decided to go with Picpoul de Pinet as it’s not a wine that is drunk widely, and given the lovely warm weather we have at the moment, it is a perfect accompaniment for alfresco dining (for those lucky enough to have gardens during the current lockdown that is).
Picpoul is actually a family of grapes: Picpoul Rouge (Red), Picpoul Gris (Rosé) and the one which this blog is concentrating on, Picpoul Blanc.
Picpoul de Pinet is produced solely from the white grape Picpoul Blanc (also known as Piquepoul). As the name suggests, this wine hails from France, from the coastal Languedoc region between Pézenas and the Étang de Thau near Séte. Although it can be found in Spain as ‘Avello’ and in other parts of France, it can only be called Picpoul when produced in this particular appellation. So if you see the term Piquepoul, this is the same grape but from outside the Picpoul Appellation.
This is a grape that was once widely grown (through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries), where it would often be blended with Clairette, to produce a wine called ‘Picardan’ – particularly popular with the Parisians apparently.
Unfortunately, the grape proved particularly susceptible to Phylloxera (a louse) which decimated Europe’s vineyards in the late 1800s. What saved the grape was the fact that unlike the pesky little bug, the vines were able to survive (and even thrive) on sandy soils, hence its location in the coastal region around the saltwater lagoon: Étang de Thau.
Did you know? This is one of very few French AOCs (appellations) to be varietally named.
How is it made?
For those that read my last blog on oak, there are many varieties where oak isn’t a natural fit – Picpoul Blanc is one of them. Winemakers generally eschew any use of oak, vinifying in stainless steel at low temperatures in order to retain the aromatic profile of the grape. Some may choose to leave the wine on fine lees for a few months post fermentation to add depth, but usually this is a wine that will be bottled early to retain freshness and is ready for drinking immediately.
Did you know? Picpoul de Pinet is usually sold in distinctive tall, thin green bottles (known as ‘Neptune’). Around the neck will be a symbol of waves of the sea, an embossed Languedoc cross and at the base, columns symbolising Roman Doric architecture – a nod to the ancient roman road which crossed the region: Via Domitia.
What does it taste like?
If I say that translated, Picpoul means “lipstinger” it will give you some clue! This is a grape that is able to maintain remarkable levels of acidity, considering the hot climate in which it is grown.
Stylistically similar to Muscadat, but with a noticeably fuller body. Zingy and fresh this wine has a predominantly citrus profile (lemons and grapefruit spring to mind) alongside subtle floral and herbal notes and a distinct mineral salinity.
From a food match perspective, this is a wine that cries out for seafood: think prawns and oysters in particular.
These may not be overly complex wines, but they are lovely and fresh and ideal for summer drinking. A few producers to look for – I enjoy wines from Domaine La Croix Gratiot and Cave de L’Ormarine but there is also a lot of choice on the high street too, and the price points are pretty good.
Next up “Q” is for Qvevri…and yes that is how you spell it!