AOP Picpoul de Pinet is the only white wine appellation in the Languedoc, and it’s on a roll right now. With vineyards on the low hills surrounding the Etang de Thau, it takes in 6 different villages, and production is around 80 000 hectolitres a year. The wine is called Picpoul de Pinet, but the grape variety is actually Piquepoul blanc, and there are 1400 hectares of it grown on mostly limestone-based soils.
Piquepoul is an old variety, well adapted to the warm south, and first mentioned in the 14th century. Originally, it started out as a black grape. Recent genetic evidence has shown that it descends from a single ancestor, Brun Fourca, an almost extinct Provençal black grape. The black version of Piquepoul was widely grown but lost out in face of the Spanish imports that were capable of making darker wines that the market preferred: Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre. However, a mutation, a pink (gris) Piquepoul, started to gain popularity in the early-19th century. And a further mutation saw the emergence of Piquepoul Blanc. All three are colour mutations of the same variety, so Piquepoul blanc is technically a clone of Piquepoul Noir and Gris, not a separate variety. Piquepoul Noir is still grown in the region, although it can’t make AOP Picpoul de Pinet wines: its talent is for lighter-coloured reds so it could be successful again now these wines are back in fashion.
The genius of Picpoul de Pinet marketing is tying the wine to a consumption occasion and food match. It used to be that Muscadet was the go-to seafood wine. But following a tricky time for Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet stepped in. It’s particularly popular with us Brits: we are the destination for 35% of all the wines made here, and sales are growing.
There are a few factors that have contributed to the success of this appellation. The first is the work of Étienne Farras, who was the president of the Pinet Wine Cooperative, a role he took in 1963. This was the year that the French government decided to develop this stretch of the Languedoc coast as a tourist destination. Piquepoul plantings had declined to just 50 hectares. Ferras convinced the local hospitality community that Picpoul de Pinet, then a VDQRS, was a perfect match for the local seafood. Oysters and Picpoul. Indeed, so resonant is this association that Piquepoul blanc is now being grown in Australia where it is dubbed the oyster grape.
The second was the advent of machine harvesting in the early 1980s. This is a variety that’s hard to hand harvest, and machine harvesting not only got round this difficulty, but also allowed the grapes to be picked quickly when they were ideally ripe, and also at night or early in the morning (pressing cool grapes greatly increases wine quality). In 1985, Picpoul de Pinet was awarded AOC status.
There are four Caves Cooperatives in the region, and 24 private domains. Almost all the wines are bottled in the appellations protected ‘Neptune’ bottle, and this has certainly helped with the collective brand that is Picpoul de Pinet. The brand promise is a good one: most of the wines deliver what customers are expecting, and bad Picpoul is very rare.
In a new movement, there is a premium tier of Picpoul de Pinet emerging – a premium offering that the appellation has been working on since 2018. It involves parcel selection of older vines, longer ageing on lees, and there are tasting tests to verify quality. Wines that pass, which can’t have oak influence and must be cork sealed, can be part of this ‘Patience’ range. There are currently 8 wines that are now in this premium tier, which will soon be launched officially.
Domaine de Campaucels Jean Le Blanc 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
12.5% alcohol. Wild ferment, 7 year old vines organically farmed. Lots of flavour here with concentrated citrus and pear fruit with a touch of peachy richness and a touch of honey. 90/100
Chateau de la Mirande 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
13.5% alcohol. Aromatic and fresh with nice citrus, mandarin and pear fruit. Delicate and quite pure with good acidity. Typical. 89/100
Villa Noria La Serre 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
13.5% alcohol. Organic. Very fruity and lively with bright lemony fruit, a grapefruit flourish, and a bright, expressive finish. 90/100
Les Vignerons Montagnac Terres Rouges 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
This is from a special red clay terroir. Lively, bright, crisp and delicate with pure lemon and pear fruit, and a spicy flourish on the finish. 87/100
Domaine de Petit Roubié 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Organic. Very expressive with lemons, melons and nice fruit. 87/100
Cave de L’Ormarine Cuvée Prestige de L’Ormarine 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Nice weight here: textured and fruity with lively pear fruit as well as some white peach. Generous, and has a grainy edge. Very stylish. 90/100
Domaine Reine Juliette Terres Rouges 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
There’s a waxy edge to the nose. Nice fruit here: pear, citrus and some spiciness, with nice depth. Linear with lovely pear fruit. 90/100
Cave Pomerols Beauvignac Cuvée Anniversaire 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Lovely fruity style with nice bright pear, lemon and melon fruit. Slightly salty. Very fine and fresh. 88/100
Domaine de Castelnau 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Fruity and lively. Juicy with a nice mandarin edge to the pure fruit. 87/100
Domaine Savauray de Beauregard 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Lively, fresh and textural with nice pear and citrus fruit. Has good balance with pleasant fruit. 87/100
Château de Pinet 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Layered and fresh with a bit of saltiness. Nice vibrant fruit with a slight cherry edge to the pear fruit. 88/100
Château Font-Mars 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Lovely fruity style – rounded melon and pear fruit so expressive with a citrus flourish 89/100
Domaine des Lauriers Prestige 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Fruity and rounded with peach and mandarin – perfumed and textured. 89/100
Domaine la Grangette Poule de Pic 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
13% alcohol. In conversion to organics. Fresh with crystalline citrus and pear fruit with some richness. 88/100
Domaine Félines Jourdan Cuvée Féline 2018 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
13.5% alcohol. A special plot selection. Intense citrussy nose. Palate is powerful, fresh, linear and salty with nice lemon and pear fruit. Mineral and taut, this is lovely stuff. 93/100
Château Petit Roubié 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
13% alcohol. This organic Picpoul is fine, fresh and delicate with a touch of mandarin and some pear. Shows nice balance and good acidity. 89/100
Les Vignerons de Florensac ‘Selection’ 2019 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
13% alcohol. After 1 week of cold stabulation this is fermented at low temperature and then aged on fine lees for 10 months with stirring. Crystalline. Fresh with a saline twist to the grapefruit notes. Good concentration: spicy and fine with lots of appeal. Lovely grainy, supple finish. 94/100
Château de Pinet Gaujal de Saint Bon Cuvée Impériale 2018 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
There’s a waxy, honeyed edge to the bold pear and peach fruit. Has a mineral edge and nice density, showing lovely fruit. 92/100
Domaine de Petit Roubié Clapotis 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Fresh, supple and light with juicy pear fruit with a nice rounded texture. 87/100
Cave Pomerols Beauvignac Cuvée Millésime HB Chevalier 2019 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Powerful, pithy edge with lovely crystalline citrus fruit. Lemony and detailed with a bit of spiciness. This has real complexity with a touch of salinity. 93/100
Château Reine Juliette 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Lively and intense with grapefruit, lemons and a nice salty hint. This has really nice presence: it’s mineral and fine. So good. 94/100
Cave de L’Ormarine Hommage à Etienne Farras 2020 AOP Picpoul de Pinet, France
Lively, bright, textured. Lovely depth here, with fresh citrus fruit and some pear, and fine spicy notes as well as a twist of salinity. Concentrated, fresh and fine. 93/100
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