Move over, Champagne. Your days as the only go-to wine for seafood and fried goodies are over.
Picpoul, the oft-forgotten ‘people’s grape’ of Southern France (it’s grown primarily in the Rhone Valley and Langedoc regions), is here to accompany everything from Island Creek oysters on the half shell to the famous deep-fried Fisherman’s Plates of Cape Cod. Not only does Picpoul retail under $15, it’s frequently poured by the glass in restaurants as a summery alternative to heftier, oaky Chardonnays. Picpoul, refreshing and light, is the witty, razor-sharp, beach babe of wines.
Rarely fermented with oak, Picpoul Blanc–often labeled as “Picpoul de Pinet,” or simply “Picpoul”–is designed to be consumed young, quick, and cold. Naturally high in acidity and often loaded with briny minerality, Picpoul is an ideal alternative to pricey Champagne or steely Chablis. It doubly satisfies Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc lovers with its clean lemon and bright grapefruit tones. Zesty and fresh, this wine fits in at any party, and has been doing so since the 1300s when the Romans began cultivating Picpoul in Southern France.
Luckily, a growing fraction of France’s production is hitting this side of the Atlantic, and its combination of lightness, high acidity, and stunning minerality make Picpoul a natural pairing for seafood delights. Here is a guide to pairing the delicious romance of Picpoul with New England’s classic fare.
Steamed Maine Lobster
Hauled straight from the Atlantic to a plate near you, few foods elicit as much excitement as lobster, whether or not you don a bib while devouring their sweet delicate meat. Ice cold and citrus-laden Picpoul brings out the inherent sweetness in simply steamed lobster when paired side by side, while the wine’s trademark salty minerality adds contrast to the richness of this butter-dipped tradition.
Oysters on the Half Shell
East Coast oysters are known for their briny, extra-salty flavors, which make them an even better match for Picpoul than their creamy Western counterparts. As opposed to pairing contrasting flavors, Picpoul and oysters engage in a delightful dance of similarity, as both are lean and briny. You could squeeze lemon or drizzle mignonette on those Wellfleets, or simply sip.
Let’s not even talk about Manhattan right now. Thick, creamy combinations of bacon, clam, leeks, and potatoes might not seem summery, but New England natives know there’s no time like chowder time, 90% humidity be damned. With any rich and heavy dish, a zippy and fresh wine that contrasts the weight of the food works well. When steaming bread bowls hit the table, the dichotomy between rich chowder and zippy, high acid Picpoul (especially the Meyer Lemon-scented Reine Julienne Picpoul de Pinet) highlights the intense clam flavor, yet keeps the entire dish feeling light.
The Fisherman’s Platter is the holy grail of New England Seafood delights. Traditionally, it is a Plymouth Rock-sized pile of haddock, sea scallops, shrimp, and whole-bellied clams lightly breaded and deep fried to golden perfection, served atop a heap of fries, with gobs of tartar sauce on the side. Scallops and shrimp with a squeeze of lemon pair wonderfully with bright, dynamic Picpoul on the side. Meanwhile, firm haddock and rich, savory clams harmonize with–you guessed it–the mineral undertones of this juice. Where the effervescence of Champagne once cleansed greasy palates, Picpoul’s lip-stinging acidity does the same thing without burp-inducing bubbles. With each gulp, stomachs seem to say, “I can handle another clam.”
And handling more clams is really what summer is about. Luckily, Picpoul is here to help.