David 8 September 2016
What better way to welcome Spring than with a bottle of zesty white from the south of France? This just released Picpoul is perfect.
Picpoul (Piquepoul) is pretty much unknown in Australia, but it's one of the oldest domestic varieties in the vast Languedoc region of southwest France. It has been grown there for several hundred years, but was devastated, like most of Europe’s vines, by phylloxera (an aphid-like pest) in the mid-to-late 1800s. As a late ripening and low yielding variety, it was not replanted with any enthusiasm, but its tolerance of sand made it a good choice for coastal vineyards.
The grapes of Picpoul are small, golden and oval shaped and produce superfresh dry wines. In the old Occitan language the term Picpoul translates to ‘pecking hen’ or ‘lip stinger,’ referring to the high acidity of the variety. This colourful description though is long outdated. Appellation rules were put in place many decades ago to prevent the excessive yields that lead to under-ripeness (ie. high acidity) in the variety.
Typical Picpoul descriptors are lemon and lime, floral and mineral characters and clean, zesty acidity. Here’s how Jancis Robinson MW describes it in her must-have book Wine Grapes: “Lemon scented, nervy, and dry, occasionally on the floral side.” More from Melbourne based wine importer Randall Pollard: “The style is a little difficult to describe, but is a little like an imaginary cross between dry Australian Riesling (citrus, acidity, drive and freshness) and French melon de Bourgogne from Muscadet (doughy, yeasty, lemony and more textural). The best examples have a youthful, lemony, sedate aromatic nose and a zesty palate showing hints of pear, lemon with a hint of mineral and firmness.”
These days the most famous expressions of Picpoul are found in a sub-appellation of Languedoc, known as Picpoul de Pinet (a rare instance of French labelling reflecting the variety in the appellation name). Centred around the town of Pinet, Picpoul de Pinet is a large appellation of about 3,000 acres. It’s the largest producer of white wines in Languedoc and lies on the region’s eastern edge, southwest of Montpellier.
The appellation runs along the Mediterranean coast, separated from the sea by a large lagoon, the Bassin de Thau. To the east is the port of Sète, with its splendid fish market, and to the south, the old Roman town of Agde. Appellation rules require the use of a tall, slim, green embossed bottle, which a growing number of producers are opting to seal with screwcap. This ensures the wine’s freshness, an essential part of the Picpoul experience.
Languedoc is famous for its sunbaked vineyards, so how does a wine as fresh and delicate as Picpoul, usually a cool climate style, emanate from here? The answer lies in the appellation’s close proximity to the coast. Here a strong sea breeze moderates high daytime temperatures, while the lagoon prevents steep night-time temperature drops. The locals say that the Picpoul vines aren’t happy unless they can see the Mediterranean sea. They’re obviously onto something.
Made to be enjoyed young, Picpoul is a great find, and great value.
Domaine de la Majone Picpoul de Pinet 2015
The Majone estate is a member of the largest co-operative in Picpoul de Pinet. As major stakeholders in the cop-op, as well as owning the actual winery, the Jeanjean family are entitled to make and name wine made from their own fruit. Importantly, they keep their fruit separate from other growers’, which is labelled under the co-op name of Caves l’Ormarine.
This is 100% Picpoul and like many in the Languedoc, it's made with modern methods to maximise delicacy and freshness. It’s fermented with cultured yeasts in temperature controlled tanks and doesn't see any oak. It only has a short maceration (skin contact) and is not left on lees (dead yeast cells).
The wine is a crystal clear light gold. On the nose it shows bright aromas of citrus, elderflower and pear, which you’ll also find on the palate, (albeit in more subtle forms), melding with delicious lime, pineapple and musk characters. A dry mineral finish completes each mouthful. As it opens up it develops more weight,but it’s the core of fresh Picpoul acidity that drives this wine and makes it so crisp and appealing.
Old world wine refreshed with modern methods, and in Languedoc it's a must with oysters.
I can offer it for $24 a bottle. Click here to order new vintage