Picpoul de Pinet: Sipping the Maritime Charms of the Languedoc

By Jamie Knee   |   April 9, 2024
A few of the local vintners

Embarking on a recent escapade to the sun-kissed Languedoc region in southern France was like stepping into a masterpiece painted with historic cities, awe-inspiring landscapes, and a cultural tapestry woven with richness. The Languedoc AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) wine region has transformed from a hub of bulk production wines to a powerhouse crafting high-quality gems. It’s also proudly wearing the crown for the highest production of organic wines in France.

The region is characterized by its historical significance and cultural richness. Bordered by the Pyrenees mountains to the west and the Rhône River to the east, it has served as a crossroads for various civilizations over the centuries, experiencing changes in rulers and cultural influences. This unique historical tapestry, combined with the natural beauty of the region, creates an inviting and engaging environment for travelers seeking a genuine and immersive experience.

Picture this: grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, carignan, and cinsault vines dancing across the picturesque vineyards, contributing to a ballet of robust reds and invigorating whites. Surprisingly, Languedoc even outshines its glitzy cousin, Provence, as the largest producer of AOC rosé wines. Yet, amid this palette of wines, one clandestine jewel seized my senses – Picpoul de Pinet; the name of a region within Languedoc, as well as a tantalizing must-try wine.

Distinguished in a region dominated by blends, Picpoul de Pinet is a revelation, exclusively crafted from the ancient white grape, piquepoul, also known as ‘picpoul,’ rooted in the 14th century. It’s a wine that encapsulates the essence of Languedoc, flourishing in its very birthplace. The vineyards’ mosaic of limestone and clay soil provides the perfect foundation for grapes of exceptional quality, standing resilient against the warm climate. As you meander through the vineyard-laden countryside, the connection – between the land and the wines it births – becomes palpable. Rolling hills, medieval villages, and the occasional breeze from the Thau Lagoon, kissed by the Mediterranean Sea, intertwine to create a haven where picpoul grapes thrive.

The maritime influence is the secret sauce, offering relief to the late-ripening grapes and infusing a unique saline quality into the wine. This magical concoction of soil, landscape, and sea breeze births wines celebrated for their crisp acidity and citrusy notes. It’s like a sip of Languedoc’s maritime charm, akin to the coastal vineyards of Santa Barbara, adding an extra layer of mystique to the wine.

Indulging in the vibrant picpoul reveals a delightful combination of lively zest, citrus allure, and a distinct hint of saltiness. It’s akin to experiencing a sensory journey that transports you to the enchanting landscapes of southern France, all captured within the confines of your glass. Now, you might hear whispers of chablis and sauvignon blanc comparisons, but let me tell you, picpoul stands out with its own salty swagger, bringing a refreshing sea-kissed vibe to the party. And oh, that high acidity? Well, they named it Picpoul de Pinet, which loosely translates to “stings the lip” in French. Yep, it’s like a little lip-puckering love affair with every sip!

Some of the Languedoc terroir

My journey soared to new heights with a gastronomic pairing at The Oyster Farm Atelier and Co., a haven where raw and cooked oysters, ceviche, mussels, and fries seamlessly harmonized with the exquisite notes of picpoul. These culinary delights became the perfect companions, transforming a meal into a symphony of flavors. Sharing these unforgettable moments with exceptional producers such as Domaine Mas Saint Laurent, Domaine Font-Mars, Savary de Beauregard, Vignobles du Château Félines, Domaine de Campaucels, Domaine de la Grangette, and Beauvignac-Caveau de Pomérols was an absolute highlight, and I am deeply grateful for the enchanting wines they presented.

Pairing picpoul wines with a variety of dishes, from oysters to grilled seafood and goat cheese salads, it effortlessly cuts through fried or rich fatty foods – even the classic French fries. The bright acidity and citrus notes not only complement but enhance every flavor, crafting a harmonious and refreshing dining experience. This versatility is a testament to the wine’s ability to elevate the overall enjoyment of different culinary delights.

Reflecting on my journey, I implore fellow adventurers to uncover the allure of picpoul, ideally sipping it in its birthplace in the south of France. However, if the journey to the Mediterranean seems elusive, fear not! You can acquire Picpoul de Pinet wines at Santa Barbara’s own Renegade Wine Shop on East Haley Street. Let its crisp notes and the enchantment of this ancient grape transport you to the heart of southern France, a true embodiment of the Languedoc’s rich winemaking heritage. Here’s to the spirit of exploration and discovery – cheers!  


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