Kissing the Mediterranean Sea from low-lying land, Picpoul de Pinet is an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) within the Languedoc region in southern France. The area gained its prestigious AOC status in 2013 and takes its name from the indigenous grape variety Piquepoul Blanc. (Confusingly, the appellation uses the spelling P-i-c-p-o-u-l, whereas the grape is often spelled P-i-q-u-e-p-o-u-l.) Picpoul de Pinet is one of a very few regions in France that is named after the grape varietal for which it’s known.
The area produces exclusively white wines from this grape varietal in six communes: Pinet, Mèze, Montagnac, Florensac, Pomérols, and Castlenau-de-Guers. It’s also one of only a few Languedoc appellations that produces just white wines.
A bit of History and Context
Piquepoul grapes have been grown in this area for centuries, well-adapted to its climate. Historically, these grapes served primarily as the base wine for the local Vermouth industry. But, as is often the case, technology charged in, and this fruit’s destiny evolved. The 1970s and ’80s saw the introduction of gentle pressing as well as techniques that enabled winemakers to avoid oxidation and ferment at low temperatures. The result? Fruitier wines that have surged in popularity, creating a rapid increase in demand and exponential growth in export markets. Exports – mainly to the UK and US – now represent about 65% of the wines’ market!
Luckily, these days, there are 1,550 hectares of Picpoul de Pinet currently under vine, with 24 private cellars and four cooperatives producing roughly 90,000 hectolitres of Picpoul de Pinet wines annually.
PIcpoul de Pinet enjoys and thrives in its warm Mediterranean climate. Here, temperatures in summer can often exceed 30°C, and rainfall is generally low, especially during the growing season – only approximately 400 mm per year. Beneficially, cooling breezes off the Mediterranean help these grapes retain their natural high acidity as they ripen. Winters are mild.
A proudly local varietal (though it also grows in the Rhône Valley and in Catalonia, Spain), Piquepoul grapes themselves are thin-skinned and drought-resistant. Plus, as already mentioned, they’re great at retaining their naturally high acidity when ripe. Piquepoul Blanc boasts a characteristic freshness. It’s a late-budding, late-ripening grape, so growers often pick it toward the end of September to take advantage of the warm and dry late-summer climate. (PIquepoul Noir and Piquepoul Gris do also exist, but Piquepoul Blanc is the most prevalent grape and the one we’re focusing on for Picpoul de Pinet.)
Given its zippy acidity, it should come as no surprise that Picpoul translates as ‘stings the lip’.
These lip-stinging grapes – when picked at the right time – go on to produce wines with a lot to offer. They’re dry, crisp, and refreshing and boast that characteristically high, zingy acidity. Depending on the age of the vines on which the grapes have grown, these wines will be pale lemon-yellow to greenish-gold in colour.
On the nose, expect delicate aromas of lemon and some light floral notes. On the palate, you’ll find flavours of green fruit, citrus, and blossom as well as a saline character. Wines with a bit more complexity can have some more minerality, with some wet-stone and even yeasty notes. The wines typically range from medium- to full-bodied, and ideally, you’ll drink them within a few years of release to get the best of them. They make for a perfect weeknight white, especially if you’re looking for a good go-to alternative to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.
Many of us have heard the expression “what grows together, goes together”, and Picpoul de Pinet is no exception. Given its seaside location on the Mediterranean coast, it’s close neighbours with the oyster beds of the Bassin de Thau, making it an ideal match for these, mussels, and other fish and shellfish. The seafood’s saltiness also stands up nicely to the wines’ zesty acidity. Beyond the sea, look to fried foods, grilled chicken, and dishes such as Pad Thai with your glass of Picpoul de Pinet.
There’s no denying Picpoul de Pinet’s refreshing appeal, and its continuing popularity – 10 million bottles sold yearly across the globe! – is a testament to this. If you’ve never tried this vibrant varietal or your tastebuds have forgotten what a truly nice drop it is, pick out a Picpoul de Pinet and enjoy a sip soon.