Picpoul de Pinet is often considered to be the lesser counterpart of Muscadet, the great shellfish accompaniment of the Loire Valley in northwestern France. Pinet resides in the Languedoc just off the Mediterranean coast at the opposite end of the country. Both wines are meant for seafood but Muscadet is absolutely so, while Picpoul is a little less angular and adaptable to other things rather like the Mediterranean coast, itself. Maybe Muscadet should be considered to be the lesser counterpart to Picpoul because it is really limited to the shellfish dinnertable.
Picpoul is the name of the grape, by the way, and Pinet is the place. Picpoul is one of the oldest Languedoc grapes (written documentation to the 12th century) and Pinet is the largest area dedicated to white wine production in the Languedoc. Picpoul de Pinet is a 100% varietal white but there is a red Picpoul grape as well as a Picpoul Gris. All three are used in blending outside of Pinet in Languedoc and even find a place in the Rhone repetoire, in particular, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where it plays a distinct minority role in those blends.
So what makes Picpoul de Pinet desirable? This truly charming medium-bodied dry white exhibits a color of light green-gold with an aroma that is soft, delicate, and floral. Being a seafood wine, the acidity is high (Picpoul means "lip stinger"). But the flavors of lemon, apricot, and yellow plum with distinct minerality are what really sell it. The structure of the wine replete with its crisp acidity reflects what Mediterranean sea breezes can accomplish by moderating heat in a vineyard to ensure the bright, fresh flavors of the wine. "Racy" would be the best adjective for this wine and please do drink this one young!
While its history is long, Picpoul has had difficulties in more recent times. It has long suffered a sensitivity to oidium, a powdery mildew fungus that attacks grapevines, and following the phylloxera epidemic of the late nineteenth century (Blog 6/11/11), many frustrated growers gave up on the vine. Now the grape is more popular than ever in part because of the great strides in vineyard management as a part of modernity in winemaking in general.
Picpoul is quintessentially a shellfish wine because of its ability to neutralize salt and iodine in many types. Its acidity also makes it ideal with seafood in olive oil and garlic. My research also shows it works well with rich cheeses, charcuterie, and chocolate (!?!).
Last night we tasted Picpoul at our regular event and sold out in no time. Thursday we hope to have more.