Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Picpoul de Pinet

The last bottle to be added to The List resulted in a bit of chat on a classic French wine - even though the wine we drank hailed from the Okanagan Valley in BC. I don't know how "classic" this next wine is, but it is definitely a French wine that goes back centuries - even if most folks have likely never heard of it before.

Picpoul's novelty in the Vancouver market seemed to garner the wine a fair allocation of press when it first arrived at the provincial liquor stores last summer - particularly when it showed up with a reasonable $14 price tag. I know I grabbed it as a new addition to my assortment of Wine Century Club varietals, but I see that it's pleasing some palates as well. It was chosen as one of Vancouver Magazine's "Best Light White Wines" for the 2012 Wine Awards.

1040. 2010 Ormaine - Picpoul de Pinet (AOP Coteaux du Languedoc - France)

Picpoul Blanc is one of three Picpoul varietals - the other two being Picpoul Noir and Gris - and it is primarily grown in the Rhone and Languedoc regions. It is largely used for blending in the Rhone; however, the Pinet region of the Languedoc is known for producing a 100% wine like the one we're trying. Pinet is a small region located next to the Mediterranean Gulf of Lyon on the Thau Lagoon; yet, it's the largest white wine district in the largely "red zone" known as Languedoc.

More than a couple sites online say that "Picpoul" translates as "lip-stinger." I'm not so sure I see the literal connection there but the grape varietal is known for its high acidity, hence its "stinging" attribute. As mentioned, the grape has been grown for centuries in the Languedoc; however, it fell out of favour somewhat when the French had to pull out vast swaths of vines due to the country's famous phylloxera outbreak in the 19th Century - mostly because the wine wasn't seen as being as sophisticated as other white varietals and because it was more susceptible to fungal diseases than many other vines.

Indeed, wines made from Picpoul were so pedestrian in their profiles that, in more recent times, a good percentage of the region's fruit was destined to be used in the production of Vermouth. Well known Vermouth artisan, Noilly Prat, is located nearby and the herbal fortification of the wine meant that the basic quality of the wine wasn't nearly as important as it would be for a varietal wine. Demand for Vermouth has dropped in modern times however, and that drop has forced winemakers to improve the quality of their wines.

Ormarine is the largest grower cooperative in the region and it dominates production. One site even stated that the cooperative makes approximately 45% of the appellation's wine. Ormarine does make a number of wines but the black label - or Carte Noir - is the main brand.

I was somewhat taken aback when I saw this wine sported an AOP designation. I couldn't remember having seen it previously. AOP stands for Appellation d'Origine Protégée or the Europe-wide equivalent of the French national-level AOC system.

Marketed in a striking bottle, I could see this as an alternative to a tart Pinot Gris. Most sites particularly recommend serving it with oysters and shellfish. I don't know about drinking it with mermen, but this one one was still hanging around from the Christmas decorations. Should I run across a live version, I'll have to remember to offer him a little Picpoul.

In the mean time, I get to start off the new year with another new varietal. I can go with that.

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