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Picpoul de Pinet wines: Eight to try this summer

Like the Loire’s Muscadet or Portugal’s Vinho Verde, Picpoul de Pinet is a great alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, offering refreshing, dry white wines perfect for summer. Despite years of success, Picpoul de Pinet’s appeal shows no sign of abating and still embodies the summer drinking spirit.

What is Picpoul de Pinet wine?

It’s a crisp, refreshing white wine made exclusively from the ancient Picpoul grape variety, hailing from the Languedoc-Roussillon’s Picpoul de Pinet AOC in southern France. This AOC is one of very few Languedoc appellations to be dedicated solely to white wine production.

Scroll down for eight Picpoul de Pinet wines to enjoy this summer

The Picpoul de Pinet AOC vineyard area is located directly behind the Etang de Thau, a large lagoon on the edge of the Mediterranean sea. The warm climate here is tempered by sea breezes.

A variety connected to its surroundings

The Picpoul Blanc variety, with its inherent freshness and ability to retain acidity, has been grown here for centuries, uniquely adapted to the climate. A variety that ripens late, the grapes are often picked towards the end of September so benefit from the warm, dry late summer climate.

Black or red strains of the Picpoul grape do exist, for example the Piquepoul Noir variety, and they can produce very pale rosé coloured wines with that distinctive tangy character.

However these strains cannot be used under the AOC Picpoul de Pinet regulations and are usually bottled as IGPs, but with its recognisable and pronounceable name, and with the unceasing popularity of rosé wines, they serve as an interesting addition to the market (there’s an example in the wines below).

Originally Picpoul was better recognised as one of the grapes used to make vermouth in this area. However, with the creation of the Picpoul de Pinet AOC in 2013, the variety has found its niche in dry, zippy whites and now more than 10 million bottles are sold across the world each year.

In fact 65% of production is exported, with the UK guzzling up a staggering 57% and the USA 11%.

Production of Picpoul de Pinet AOC is dominated by four large cooperative wineries, with the rest being made by 24 individual producers.

What does Picpoul de Pinet taste like?

The wines are often pale lemon-yellow in the glass with green tints, although it can be more golden coloured if harvested from old vines. The wines are generally drunk young, within the first few years of release.

The name Picpoul means ‘lip stinger’, on account of its zingy acidity. This is often complemented by citrus, green fruit and white blossom characters, and a distinct saline, iodine quality. More complex examples can also display mineral, wet stone, or yeasty notes, too.

Oysters and mussels are harvested from within the Etang de Thau itself, so these are naturally classic pairings with Picpoul de Pinet wines. The saltiness of seafood platters and salt cod croquettes pair excellently with the grape’s signature racy acidity.

Its lip-puckering freshness can also cut through rich foods like cheese and charcuterie, or even desserts, making it a versatile wine for picnics.

Similar styles of wine include Loire Valley’s Muscadet and Portugal’s Vinho Verde, both known for producing fresh, high acidity wines.

What’s next?

The fact is that Picpoul de pinet is no longer a niche, unknown white wine but a stalwart of many a restaurant wine list, widely available around the world in both the on- and off-trade. That comes as no surprise, given its great ability to pair well with food.

Decanter’s Picpoul de Pinet panel tasting in 2019 revealed that the success of this popular wine lies largely in its consistency. Restaurants and wine shops can be confident in a reliably fresh, food-friendly offering.

So where can Picpoul de Pinet go from here?

Whilst the well-known style is that of pleasurable, simple, saline freshness without the use of oak, some examples can now be found which use techniques such as malolactic fermentation, lees stirring and oak ageing to add complexity and to experiment with this much-loved wine style.

The regional body for AOC Picpoul de Pinet has revealed a new initiative, which began to emerge in 2018, called “Patience de Picpoul de Pinet”. A new style of Picpoul de Pinet, made from mature vines and designed for ageing.

Matured on fine lees until 1 June the year following the vintage, these wines should show a fuller, complex expression of this popular grape. Other criteria will include sealing with a natural cork, as opposed to a screw cap, and the recognisable slender green bottle will be switched out for something larger and dark in colour.

Whilst these wines are yet to be widely available, they should offer an interesting counterpart to an already popular style.

In the region, investment continues to be put towards research and development of disease resistant clones of the Picpoul grape.

Eight top Picpoul de Pinet wines to try

Wines tasted by Decanter experts.

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