Early growers gave this golden green grape the name Picpoul – or “lip stinger” – for the bracing acidity the fruit retains even when grown in the hot Languedoc sun. In the 1600s Picpoul Blanc (the grape comes in red and pink versions, too) was already cited as a source of quality wines. Blended with the Clairette grape, it formed the basis for a wine called Picardan heavily exported to Holland and the Low Countries through the 1700s.
After Phylloxera struck in the late 1800s, growers moved away from Picpoul because its susceptibility to fungal diseases and fairly low yields – as Languedoc became first the main source of affordable wine for France and then the font of the mid-20th Century European “Wine Lake,” volume, not quality, was seen as key.
The grape’s ability to thrive in very sandy soils, though, meant it could be grown on cheap land where other grapes couldn’t survive, and it survived mainly to make base wine for Vermouth.
The Picpoul de Pinet Wine Region. As the 20th Century went on, winemakers gradually noticed that Picpoul vines planted on the gravel and sand soils of the Bassin de Thau – a lagoon adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea – actually made pretty good still wine. The Picpoul de Pinet region – one of the few in France to include the name of its grape on the label – was formed in 1954 to include vineyards in and around the villages of Florensac, Pomerols, and Pinet.
As tourism to Languedoc grew, so did the popularity of the wine, especially from the well positioned and marketed (the sign is hard to miss!) co-op in Pinet. Here, wine from a neighboring co-op in Pomerols sold on under several labels and in both bottle and bag-in-box essentially defined Picpoul de Pinet for US consumers for years. It’s not a bad wine, but it gives a glimpse of what dedicated growers working with older, low-yielding, vines can really do.
If you’ve only ever had mass-produced Picpoul de Pinet from a co-op winery – or if you are craving something deliciously different in white wine refreshment – a good wine to explore comes from St Martin de la Garrigue, an outstanding old winery nestled in the Languedoc’s garrigue covered hills between Montpellier and Beziers. Just 10km inland from the sea, the estate gets the perfect blend of hot days and cooling breezes to deliver both gutsy, powerful reds and astonishingly vibrant whites.
From $14.98 on a case, this winery’s Picpoul de Pinet is way about average … and even more so in the great 2015 vintage. in the way above average 2015 vintage. Flavors of lemon peel, tangy pineapple, green apple and fresh, salty, sea breeze swirl across your tongue in a wine that coats your palate with agreeable richness and finishes salty, lemony, minty, and very fresh. You’ve never had Picpoul like this before, and once you try it (especially with shrimp, oysters, or clams), you’ll struggle to go back.