Pick up a pack of Picpoul

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Chances are you’ve never heard of Picpoul de Pinet, the sprightly white from southern France that typically costs under $10. Once you try it, you’ll be torn between sharing your new found love with the world and keeping it to yourself.

Three different sizes with which to sting your lips and lick them too:

Hugues Beaulieu Cave de Pomérols Picpoul de Pinet 2011. C’ville Market. $7.99

“Les Perles” Piquepoul 2010 (1.5 L). Market Street Wineshop. $9.96 on sale or $15.99 regular price

Pomérols “La Petite Frog” Picpoul de Pinet Bag-in-Box (3L). Market Street Wineshop. $25.99

Pronounced “peek-pool” (with piquepoul as an alternate spelling), the name refers to both the wine and the grape. It translates as “lip stinger” because the grape’s got a serious lip-licking, cheek-sucking tartness to it. A quality more commonly found in wines from northern regions, the high acidity in Picpoul de Pinet comes from its situation just west of the Mediterranean Sea on the Coteaux du Languedoc. An area awash with sun and spicy red wines, the 3,000-acre triangular region (with the towns of Agde, Sète, and Pézenas serving as its points) where Picpoul de Pinet is grown holds the only AOC designation for a white wine in the appellation. The grapes break bud early in the season and ripen late. They enjoy long, lazy days sunbathing amidst the sandy soils of a limestone plateau blanketed with perfumed garrigue (see Winespeak 101) and surrounded by pine groves. The vines get a panoramic view to the sea whose breezes keep them cool and moist at night.

Versions of the grape exist in gray (picpoul gris) and red (picpoul noir), but both are quite rare compared to picpoul blanc, which, along with cinsaut and clairette, are the oldest grape varieties of the region, dating back to the 17th century. Also grown northeast of the Languedoc in the Rhone Valley, picpoul (in white or red) is one of the 13 grapes permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape—a hulk of a wine that often benefits from a squeeze of acid. Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles and Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz—two California vintners known for their use of Rhône varietals—grow Picpoul with good success because of their climates’ consistent sun and long growing seasons.

Bone-dry, tangy, full of minerality, and low in alcohol, Picpoul de Pinet is sometimes referred to as the Muscadet of the South, or France’s version of Albarino, because it too is a total catch with seafood. Oysters and mussels are farmed in the Coteaux du Languedoc’s Thau lagoon and that’s exactly where Fran Kysela, owner of Winchester-based importer Kysela Père et Fils, first tasted Picpoul in 1992. It’s what all the locals were drinking with their shellfish and after falling for it too, Kysela decided to bring in 3,000 cases of it. “My staff thought I was crazy, but it was only here in dribs and drabs and I knew I could sell it,” Kysela said. Twenty years later, he distributes 42,000 cases of Picpoul de Pinet a year—it’s his best-selling wine. Still, the wine’s relative obscurity requires a lot of missionary work, which Kysela does by opening bottles for people to try. At that point though, the wine sells itself.

Crystal-clear with greenish-gold accents, Picpoul de Pinet comes in a tall, slender green bottle, enclosed with a screwcap and embossed with a Languedoc cross. Or, for the more environmentally and economically efficient, get it in a three liter bag-in-box depicting a frog wearing a beret. In either format, you’ve got top-shelf, easy-access, after-work sipping material. The ideal aperitif, Picpoul de Pinet refreshes like a gin-and-tonic, yet with flavors of tart apple, lemon and lime zest, white pepper, tarragon, and smoke, it holds its own with dinner—whether it’s fried chicken on a picnic blanket or roasted chicken at the dining room table. It even seems to harmonize artichokes and asparagus, two glorious foods of spring which tend to turn petulant with most wines. And because Picpoul’s alcohol content is an orderly 12.5 percent and a bottle costs less than a glass at most restaurants, you can easily justify drinking twice as much.

So there’s my little secret. Leonardo da Vinci said that the discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star. Consider me a humanitarian.

Winespeak 101
Garrigue (n.): The low-growing, soft-leaved Mediterranean bushes including holm oak, juniper, broom, and wild herbs such as rosemary and thyme (and lavender in Provence) that impart some aroma and flavor into the wines of the region.

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