By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 24 August 2019
I have lost count of the number of people who say they have eskewed their regular Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc for a little known southern French wine called Picpoul de Pinet.
I can see why they love the Piquepoul grape. At its best it makes deliciously tangy citric nervy unoaked summery whites with upbeat freshness from its crisp acid backbone - but there are a mixed bag of styles on the shelves. Some examples are very neutral and dilute, whilst others are deliciously minerally, nutty with plenty of herb and fruit flavours and a salty tang – so you have to choose carefully.
There are in fact three different Piquepoul berry colours: Noir, Gris and Blanc. The latter is by far the most famous today with 3,500 acres across France – and it is the Blanc version (also known as Folle Blanche) which is used to make a varietal wine across 6 communes in the eponymous Languedoc appellation Picpoul de Pinet – one of the named Crus of Coteaux du Languedoc. Both the Blanc and the Noir are also allowed, but rarely used, in Chateauneuf du Pape’s complex cocktail in the southern Rhone.
It is partly Piquepoul’s ability to thrive on sandy soils and to cope in a hot dry climate that has made it such a modern success story. Today it is the largest white wine producer in the Languedoc in its stronghold around Pinet and the large saltwater lagoon Etang de Thau, between Pezenas and Sete, west of Montpellier on the southern French coast
It has not always been popular; it almost disappeared a century ago. First recorded in 1667, in the C17 Piquepoul Blanc had been a popular blending partner freshening up a famous Languedoc Picardan blend, alongside the Clairette grape.
But by the end of C19, after downy mildew and the phylloxera louse devasted French vineyards, Piquepoul was not replanted as growers preferred hardier disease-resistant varieties, rather than a grape susceptible to botrytis bunch rot. A great deal of work has gone into focusing on hardy Piquepoul clones to overcome this.
Today it has swung back into fashion. Often described as ‘the new Muscadet’ as it shares a similar style, although its fruit weight and alcohol are often higher than Loire’s Muscadet. It has a similar steely crisp structure to Chablis, but it rarely achieves its complexity or ability to age – but Picpoul de Pinet is far better value than even Petit Chablis.
Piquepoul translates as the ‘lip-stinger’, it gained this name due to its mouthwateringly tart acid. But it is its ability to keep natural acidity even in hot dry climates that has seen it become popular today even outside Languedoc and Rhone.
Today 90% of plantings are in France – but with 7% in Spain’s Catalonia (where it is called Avillo), 3% in Paso Robles in California and a tiny percentage in Australia, it is spreading its wings. The New World examples have more tropical fruit and less acid than examples from Pinet in southern France.
Picpoul de Pinet production is dominated by four co-operatives, who usually supply our supermarkets with own label examples. But there are smaller interesting producers worth seeking out. Domaine Felines, run by the Jourdan family since 1983 who own 40 hectares at Meze near the Bassin de Thau, started producing Picpoul de Pinet as recently as 1992 and are today one of the leading and largest private producers. The Wine Society also sell an old vine Cuvee Felines in magnums at £28. Other producers to look for are Domaine Gaujal, Domaine de Creyssels and Domaine Reine Juliette.
Zippy zesty racy youthful Picpoul de Pinet is at its best served in situ on the southern French coast accompanied by oysters from the famous Etang lagoon. With its refreshingly high acid, it can act like a squeeze of lemon on a platter of prawns, anchovy fillets, grilled scallops, seafood in olive oil and garlic and even creamy Driftwood goat’s cheese or salty Flower Marie ewe’s milk cheese.
TESCO FINEST PICPOUL DE PINET 2018 Les Costieres de Pomerols (13%)
£6.50 reduced from £7.50
Soft delicate nose, light lemony notes, hints of blossom, easy crisp, short finish
PICPOUL DE PINET VILLEMARIN 2018 Cave de l’Ormarine (12.5%) ***STAR VALUE***
£7.99/£9.99 Majestic Wine
Minerally, uncomplicated, citric fruits with a touch of salt. A good value example.
PICPOUL DE PINET LES CANOTS 2018 (12.5%)
A richer example with fresh dry pear and acacia aromas, with light fennel notes and tropical fruit flavours finishing crisp and dry
THE SOCIETY’S PICPOUL DE PINET 2018 Condamine L’Eveque (13%)
£8.50 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com
Reliable clean zippy version for those who like steelier lemony examples. Blossomy aromas with mouthwateringly fresh vibrant acidity. Made by the Bascous, an important family in Pinet.
PICPOUL DE PINET 2018 Domaine Reine Juliette (13%) *** STAR BUY***
Loved this well-made example for its salty savoury notes, its crystalline fruit character, grapefruit notes and vivid freshness.
PICPOUL DE PINET 2018 Domaine Gaujal (13.5%)
Hints of apricot, yellow plum and lime notes in this tangy zesty example with its precise acid backbone – this excellent domaine also sell interesting mature old vine examples too.
PICPOUL DE PINET 2018 Domaine de Montredon (12.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£10.33 Fine Wine Co Portobello www.thefinewinecompany.co.uk
Brother and sister Marion and Guillaume Allies grow Picpoul on clay and limestone which gives it a lovely complex richness on the palate, but still with its vibrant acidity and lingering length.
PICPOUL DE PINET 2018 Les Costieres de Pomerols (13%)
Easy fresh crisp example, but slightly lacks any salty tang and creamy texture.
PICPOUL DE PINET 2018 Domaine Felines Jourdan (13.5%) ***STAR VALUE***
£8.50 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com
Rich ripe fleshy fruit, apricot undertones, creamy texture, zippy fresh acidity with a salty briskness. Well-made example and great value too.
Join Rose’s South Africa v France wine tasting at Abode Hotel, Bath Street, Glasgow on Friday 11 October £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com