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Top lip stinger on the High Street

Until recently, picpoul was simply a major component of Noilly Prat vermouth and an authorised (but little used) ingredient of Chateauneuf du Pape.

A sudden – and temporary – fall from grace of muscadet, however, prompted the quest for a respectable rival to sauvignon blanc as a companion to seafood.

With picpoul's claimed ability to neutralise the effect of salt and iodine, that emphatically lemon influenced grape variety answered the call.

Acidity is part of the reason

We should not be surprised. After all, it has high levels of acidity even in the hotter climates where it normally grows  – probably because it ripens late – and a name that translates to “lip stinger”.

Moreover, it has been doing a similar job in the prime oyster country around Languedoc’s Thau Lagoon for ages; the feature picture shows you Picpoul de Pinet vines by the Etang de Thau (Courtesy of CIVL  Céline and Gilles Dechamps).

Along with its noir and gris relations, white picpoul has been ever present in those parts for over 400 years.

Here is where it grows best

True, picpoul's susceptibility to disease dimmed its popularity for a while but modern techniques in vineyard and winery helped it become yet another “born again” grape variety.

Apart from a few successful applications in America, picpoul has not strayed far from home and probably reaches its zenith in the six communes that combine to form the Pinet appellation.

But what should it taste like?

Picpoul de Pinet , especially when drunk young – and cool – gives you soft, delicate and floral white wine with crisp touches of grapefruit and citrus based acidity and, sometimes, bonus hints of nuttiness, white pepper and minerality.

Those characteristics have made its slim green bottles a fixture in trendy bars and restaurants and, increasingly, a popular option for drinking at home.

Many retailers list a version and so I did a tasting exercise to select the best versions available on the High Street. Here are the conclusions.

So what gives you bangs for your bucks

Asda-Picpoul-de-Pinet
Asda-Picpoul-de-Pinet

Happily there are few absolutely dire examples in major retailers but prices do fluctuate.

At the value end of the spectrum comes 2015 Picpoul de Pinet (currently £5.37 at Asda – but be wary, Asda prices seem to change much more quickly than those of other retailers).

The wine itself has zingy mint based freshness, attractive apple substance and a lingering finish with just a whisper of sweetness to round it off.

 

 Finest Picpoul
Finest Picpoul

The Everyday Low Price version at Tesco 2015 Finest* Picpoul de Pinet (£6 at Tesco)is good value too.

 

Here, the lemon acidity acquires white plum depth with spicy apple components too but none of those supplementary flavours diminish the variety’s signature clean freshness.

 

Co-op Picpoul de Pinet
Co-op Picpoul de Pinet

As one of the very first UK wine journalists to praise versions from Lidl, I have a soft spot for all under-appreciated retailers with a determination to punch above their weight.

 

It was a joy therefore to savour the delights of 2015 Truly Irresistible Picpoul de Pinet (£6.99 at the Co-op).

 

The acidity is grapefruit centred rather than lemon but no less pithy or zippy for that and it slowly rises through apple based touches towards a long, savoury finish.

Moving towards mainstream prices

Sainsbury's Picpoul
Sainsbury's Picpoul

Typically, though, expect to pay around £8 for well made versions as you will with one particularly impressive “big four supermarket” version.

I particularly appreciated the excellent apple centred acidity which introduces the neat sherbet-style touches in 2015 Ormarine Picpoul de Pinet (£8 at Sainsbury’s).

Those components work especially well with the wine’s textured elements and the polished saline or mineral finish that rounds everything off.

 

Hen-Pecked Picpoul
Hen-Pecked Picpoul

Even more impressive – and for the same money – comes the smooth and delightfully balanced 2015 Hen-Pecked Picpoul de Pinet (£7.99 at Waitrose).

It opens with clean, nettle and pear drop flavours that lead into red apple fruit with a distinctive lemon edge as an enticing companion to the wine’s textured orange depth.

 

Picpoul Sur Lies
Picpoul Sur Lies

Cave de l'Ormarine (see the Sainsbury’s example) is also behind another distinctive version – 2014 Picpoul Sur Lies Fines (£7.99 instead of £8.99 at Majestic).

It is a vintage earlier and (unusually for the area) has spent time on its yeast derived lees – which added significantly more richness

That may be why there is a more restrained acidity behind its cooked apple and quince centred fruit.

 

M&S Picpoul
M&S Picpoul

One sometimes pays a little extra for M&S versions and so devotees of their well constructed, sometimes unconventional but normally pretty reliable range will inevitably be drawn to

2015 Picpoul de Pinet (£9 at M&S).

For me, its strength is not just the crisp lemon freshness but the way it develops a cinnamon and red apple roundedness that combines well with its suggestion of sweetness.

So what’s the final verdict?

All these versions have strengths and none would seriously disappoint but, if I only had enough money to buy one, it would be the Waitrose option.

But, if my pocket money had been docked and cash was short, I would head to Asda.

This is substantially expanded version of a review that appeared in my weekly column in Scotland on Sunday.

 


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Comments

5 Comments

Nigel

Interesting introduction and useful recommendations as always

Richard Wheeler

Brian,

I simply cannot thank you enough for your enthusiasm for the written word and wine. I relish visiting supermarkets to find the latest vintage of selections such as Picpoul. I am now looking forward to the offerings from Waitrose and M&S to compare with the others. What a long way we have moved on from 1990s French Claret or Australian Chardonnay in a box!

Murray Wilson

Brian,
Thank you for this very useful comparison of the various retailers’ Picpoul offerings. I look forward to more of the same using other grape varieties.

Tim Morris

Hi Brian
Just to say that I for one really appreciate this sort of posting. It gives me the illusion of learning something when I am really being indulgent..

Brian Elliott

Many thanks Murray, Richard, Nigel and Tim for your kind words. The recent feedback exercise suggested a thirst for more background material and, with retailers depending less on money off promotions, I was looking for a different way to present things. Do, please, keep me updated on your thoughts about posts ….. Best …… Brian


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