Is Picpoul the new Chardonnay?
Is it just my imagination or is the white wine Picpoul de Pinet trying for world dominance - or at least UK dominance - in the grape variety stakes?
It seems that every wine list in every establishment I visit has a Picpoul on the list.
Someone somewhere has done a spectacularly good marketing job, since only a very few years ago, no-one had ever heard of it, let alone drunk it.
Possibly for good reason, since I am not generally a great fan of this particular wine.
Remember the days of the old sweet aperitifs, such as Cinzano, Dubonnet and Noilly Prat?
These have largely dropped out of favour, although in their heyday were produced in huge volumes.
The base of these were mainly wine - not very good wine. The wine used for Noilly Prat is mainly - Picpoul de Pinet. But the production is now minimal in comparison to 40 years ago. So what happens to the vineyards growing Picpoul? They produce a white wine for drinking instead of aperitif production and undertake a slick marketing programme. Is Picpoul the new Chardonnay, since it seems to be on every wine list? I think not.
Perhaps more a case of current fashion. Picpoul is a white grape variety and is grown mainly in the Languedoc region of France as well as parts of Southern Spain and Portugal. The literal translation from the French word is “lip stinger”, presumably from its mouth-wateringly high acidity. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, it was very popular and, blended with another little known variety – Clairette - shipped in large quantities to Paris.
It then fell out of favour, apart from its use in Noilly Prat the production centre of which is in Marseillan on the Languedoc coast. Picpoul de Pinet is an Appellation Protégée area producing some of the best examples of this wine. Although high in acidity, despite being grown in a fairly hot climate, well-made examples can be very good to accompany fish and seafood, particularly oysters. I am just somewhat astonished at its sudden popularity, when there are so many better wines around at similar prices.
A good Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lie, or a well-made Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine in central France, for example, I believe knock Picpoul into a cocked hat. However, it certainly has gained a following and with better technology and wine making techniques, quality and flavor is increasing in these wines.
They certainly are good companions to seafood and despite my grumblings, a well-produced single estate Picpoul de Pinet has been known to pass my lips – without stinging them too much.