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Pick up a Picpoul

Picpoul has become the “go-to” wine for shellfish and is massively popular in the UK but which of the various versions is for you? Today’s post is specifically designed to help you answer exactly that question.

Anyone looking through newspaper wine recommendations will be struck by how often praise is currently being heaped upon Picpoul de Pinet.

The reason for this acclaim and applause lies in something Guillaume Borrot – a leading winemaker (and picpoul specialist) at Paul Mas – told us.

He explains “2019 was particularly good [for picpoul] because [there was] no stress and no disease in the vineyard. Grapes were harvested at perfect maturity and with the perfect balance between sugar and acidity.”

Even better guys, Guillaume goes on to tell us that, when the grapes were harvested last week, 2020 proved to be quite similar to 2019.

The story of picpoul (actually a permitted, but little used, ingredient of Chateauneuf du Pape) is a chequered one.

In the middle of the last century the grape variety was prospering because it was one of the principal ingredients of Noilly Prat (still my wife’s favourite vermouth).

Once vermouth went out of fashion, picpoul metamorphosised as an inexpensive alternative to Muscadet – which was barely able to meet demand in those days.

Disastrous harvests and other problems on the Loire, however, eventually led to picpoul displacing its rival as the “go-to” French wine for shellfish.

No surprise there since Picpoul de Pinet’s vineyards are next door to Etang de Thau – a coastal lagoon in Languedoc that is prime source of oysters – and some versions of the wine do indeed have a salty tang.

For the curious, Pinet is one of the communities within this wine’s designated area while picpoul is, of course, the grape variety.

Coming right up to date, last year’s high quality vintage has boosted the wine’s profile yet further and – as the UK is a major Picpoul de Pinet importer – its tall green bottles are a common sight in most major wine retailers.

Time then to taste a few of them and for me to give MidWeekers pointers on which ones I think are currently drinking well.

So, full speed ahead for [….. pause for groans of disapproval] what could be dubbed the “Pick of the Picpouls”

And before you leave this site today, take a few minutes to consider our new “Uncorking MidWeek” events

Back though to Highly Commended Picpouls

The first of the two Picpouls in this category is an orthodox but well-made version quite light in body and colour but nicely smooth and with a wide flavour range.

2019 Picpoul de Pinet Les Canots (£8.49 at Waitrose and 13% abv) has red apple and apricot flavours skilfully balanced with herbal and other savoury influences coupled with attractive pink grapefruit style acidity.

Our second commended choice has fewer tropical fruit elements than the Les Canots but turns up the acidity level somewhat – remember this is seafood wine and pronounced acidity can play the same part here as a squeeze of lemon does on the food itself.

A newcomer to the Tesco range, 2019 Vieille Vignes Croix de Bézard Picpoul de Pinet (£10 at Tesco and 13%) – and well worth its couple of pounds premium over the Finest version – delivers quite rich white wine with firm lemon acidity, apple peel and ripe melon flavours and enticing suggestions of green herbs.   

Next the Runner Up

Both of the top two wines have a slightly unusual aspect to their acidity levels as they start off quite modestly but the acidic freshness develops and accentuates noticeably as you go along.

In 2018 Vignobles Paul Mas Picpoul de Pinet (£7.50 at the Co-op and 12.5%) – which has an extra year of aging compared to the other three – that evolving acidity is grapefruit based and, as such, forges an agreeable partnership with the wine’s savoury components and the viscous apple and quince flavours that accompany them.

And the winner is

Finally to our winner to which M&S are just giving a fresh label and slightly modified name and which is produced by the Ormarine operation – often acknowledged as one of the region’s best producers.

While the acidity in 2019 Picpoul de Pinet Cave de l’Ormarine Cuvee Conchylia (£9 at M&S and 13%) also builds up quite slowly, the final result seems to be more lemon and lime influenced than grapefruit.

While quince elements appear here too, there are also tantalising peach touches to add complexity to the wine – a process that is furthered by its dense texture and the green herb hints it also contains.

In Summary

If that extra squeeze of acidity is your thing, go for the Tesco version but if you like savoury and quince flavours, the Co-op one may suit you better.

The example from Waitrose is a good all-rounder with nods towards all sides without majoring on any while the M&S guy provides density, complexity and suggestions of tropical fruit.

Don’t Miss This

While I love reading (and indeed writing) about wine, it comes a poor second to actually drinking it.

I fancy that I am not alone in that!

For that reason, the new Uncorking Midweek Zoom events have been introduced.

They allow you to do one of two things – drink along with us (in sensible quantities of course) and add your opinions to what others are saying or, secondly, watch and listen and then decide which of the wines you want to buy.

To make these work from the “get-go”, I have teamed up with Diana Thompson because she knows more about Zoom tastings than anyone I know.

Since lockdown started in March, Diana has hosted around 80 Zoom Tastings and has all the booking, money collection and technical infrastructure such operations demand.

For the first session, we have selected a batch of six wines from the new M&S Classic range which I did review earlier this year and some of which were praised by wine critic Jamie Goode in June.  

They should be reasonably easy to obtain individually in M&S stores and in a pre-selected case of six online.

So, hesitate no more, head off to Diana’s website, get booked in, buy any wines you need and sit back for an enjoyable hour or so of informal fun in the company of us both.

Join us again on Monday when we unveil the latest Top Tips and put you wise about Supermarket promotions.

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6 Responses

  1. Hi Brian
    I first discovered Picpoul a few years ago in France and never understood why it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves herein the UK. The one observation for me is you rarely taste a bad one in all it’s styles from the one’s with searing acidity to the more textural savoury offerings. As you say a must with seafood, You’ll not be surprised to hear that I do prefer the more savoury Picpoul’s but in general I’ve enjoyed all styles, I also love the distinctive (usually embossed) bottles that do stand out on the shelves.
    I also recommend Picpoul / Sauvignon blanc blend you can find , well worth a try.

  2. That was a good read Brian, thank you. We were travelling north out of Spain maybe 10 years ago and had a stop-over for a couple of days in Agde, J34 of the A9! It’s no distance from Pinet and the local supermarches all stocked this new-to-us PdeP selling around €2-€3! It was very ”sharp” but nevertheless drunk with seafood it did the trick. We brought a case back and the same the next year when we were back in the same locale, mainly because it was so cheap and worked well when well chilled. Then Tesco had one on the shelf and when I reviewed it online I did wonder out-loud if it would ever catch on in a big way in the UK because the citrus stridency was way more than the usual component of a SB or Pinot Grigio. But it sounds as if these more recent vintages have tamed any extremes in acidic style and it is a wine with some merit.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts Dave and, like you, I feel Picpoul has been a bit of a secret joy that deserves a wider audience. Good shout about the sauvignon blends – well worth seeking out …Brian

  4. Great story Eddie – and the way many of us originally discovered some of Europe’s hidden gems. It was the Loire Valley’s Quincy and Menetou Salon in my case. I think you have a point about reduced acidity because folk lore has it that the name translates into “lip stinger” in the local dialect which suggests that powerful acidity played an enormous part in its early appeal….. Brian

  5. My good lady wife would certainly raise a glass to that idea. Not so easy to get NP these days though – especially in restaurants

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