One of the best white summer quaffers in the world of wine costs $10 and is probably sitting lonely on the bottom shelf in the French section of your local wine shop, tall, slender and green, filled with thirst-quenching awesomeness waiting to be snatched up and guzzled down. That wine is Picpoul de Pinet and it’s time to get acquainted with this playful Mediterranean.
On the southern coast of France in the large Languedoc wine region — a rough triangle makes up six seaside communities bound by the cities of Agde to the south, Pézenas to the northwest and Sète in the east — is where the ancient Picpoul grape has lived for centuries. And running right through the middle of this geographical triangle is the ancient Roman road Via Domita (Domitienne in French) used as a passage from Gaul to Italy, which divides the now Picpoul de Pinet sub-appellation from north and south. On the northern side of the divide vineyards are spaced out between swaths of scrub brush and rocky outcroppings. To the south the hills are lower and sandy, dominated by fossil-rich soils. On the south side, there are only vineyards and they grow right down to the Mediterranean Sea. You can actually stand in a vineyard and see the clear blue water in the distance.
I say distance because before you can see the Mediterranean your eyes gaze upon the southern border of the region, an 11-mile-long and three-mile-wide lagoon called Bassin de Thau that’s filled with sea urchins, various shellfish and crustaceans that are hoisted out of the water on a daily basis, hosed down, and gobbled up at the local watering holes along the lagoon where they’re washed down with the local pride and joy, Picpoul de Pinet.
Although the Picpoul grape has been here for a very long time, with documents as early as the 17th century celebrating its awesomeness, the appellation (AOC) itself was not formed until 2013, quietly making its way to the American market where it was lauded for it’s crispy goodness and low price point.
Within the six communities that make up this region, Pinet being at the center and the AOC’s namesake, the majority of the wine being made is through cooperatives, the largest being in Pinet, with a few privately owned domains making up the rest. This is one of the reasons why this great white wine is so affordable.
Roughly translated Picpoul means “lip stinger” a name credited to its high acidity. The wine almost always comes in tall green or greenish-brown bottles and pours crystal clear with hints of green and gold. The nose is quite aromatic, with wafting floral and honey aromas, and on the palate it’s somewhat delicate with a slight depth that helps bring out the honey vibe. Picpoul is considered a full-bodied wine but the wacky thing is that when you’re sipping it the initial impression you have is that it’s clean and high-toned yet you can feel the slight weight on the palate. It is actually the perfect balance of leanness and depth. This is a wine to be drunk young.
And here is one of the most fascinating things about Picpoul de Pinet: the wine has a unique way, whether it’s an enzyme or some sort of inherent phenolic, of neutralizing iodine in shellfish and crustaceans, making it one of the best wines to pair with seafood.
So go out right now to your local wine shop and grab a $10 bottle of Picpoul de pinet and pair it with your favorite seafood dish. If they don’t have it, request it. The price is low enough that the vendor won’t bat an eye.