Sips: For fish, shellfish and beyond, think Picpoul de Pinet from France’s Languedoc

Ask casual wine drinkers about Picpoul de Pinet, as I did with a couple of friends this week, and you’re likely to get looks of confusion and bemusement. It’s understandable. Picpoul de Pinet, though not uncommon in this country, is well off the beaten wine path. The first thing to know about Picpoul, as it’s called, is that it’s a white wine from France, from an area on the southern edge of the Languedoc region on the Mediterranean Sea. The second thing to know is that Picpoul de Pinet is the name of both the wine and the grape. This is unusual in France, where the name and the grape variety are usually two different things. (Sancerre, for example, takes the name of the town in which the grapes are grown, but the grape is the sauvignon blanc). The third thing to remember is that Picpoul is a largely underappreciated summer wine value. Find a bottle that you like and you will have discovered a superb wine for fish and shellfish, particularly oysters, and a refreshing and original aperitif wine.

I was reminded of Picpoul’s charms last week as I traveled through Languedoc and tasted several examples. Picpoul is  Languedoc’s answer to the Loire Valley’s Muscadet and deserves to be better known. After one forgettable bottle we oclaude jourdanrdered at a restaurant, I was introduced the next day to the wines of Claude Jourdan right,  and her Domaine Félines Jourdan, which makes about 15,000 cases of Picpoul, in addition to other wines, each year. The property, which is located on the banks of a large lagoon fed by the Mediterranean and used for oyster farms, is in a cool terroir that benefits from the Mediterranean breezes and produces refreshing wines with ample acidity. That was immediately apparent on tasting the 2010 Picpoul, a delicious blend of grapes from three different sites within the property. The wine, fermented and aged in stainless steel, is fresh and round with lemon, honey and vanilla tastes as well as a distinct minerality and a subtle briny note that reflect the domaine’s proximity to the sea and its chalk, limestone and clay soils. Claude Jourdan, who took over the domaine in 1996 from her mother, noted that the grapes are picked quite late (in late September). “I am looking for a maturity in the grape, a roundness,” she said. The wine sells for about $14 in the United States and.

Other notable wines from Domaine Féline Jourdan include  the 2010 Languedoc Blanc, a blend of 90 percent roussanne and 10 percent picpoul with apple, spice and grapefruit notes, and a trio of attractive Vins de Pays – red, white and rose – that are real bargains at $8.

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