Picpoul de Pinet – raising the bar with Acaciae
I had a treat last Friday. The delights of Bentleys Oyster Bar – two kinds of oyster, native and rock – as well a lobster were delivered to me at home. All I had to do was put the prepared lobster, complete with garlic butter, under the grill and I chickened out of chucking the oysters as there was an expert to hand. And to go with these gastronomic delights were three different Picpoul de Pinet, including a brand-new wine, Acaciae.
But first came two more classic Picpoul, which left me wanting to return to the Languedoc and savour a plate of seafood on the étang at Bouzigues looking out on the oyster beds, with a glass of Picpoul in hand. Instead I was in London looking at our brilliant bright yellow banksia rose which is full flower and taking over most of our garden.
This is classic Picpoul de Pinet, with a firm salty nose and palate, and a lemony note on the finish. Drink Picpoul instead of adding lemon to your oysters. With a rounded finish, it was nicely refreshing and went perfectly with an oyster.
Villemarin is one of the brand names from the Ormarine cooperative in the village of Pinet. The director Cyril Payon talked about the cooperative and about Picpoul in general. The area benefits from the important cooling effect of the étang de Thau, which brings humidity at night, with a south wind. The grape, Piquepoul, always has good levels of acidity; they never ever need to add acidity. They pick at night and take great care over oxidation. The harvest can last three to four weeks. The cooperative is registered with Terra Vitis, the French certificate for sustainable viticulture, with Cyril pointing out that even though they are not organic, they have to take great care of their environment, as it is very important to protect the oyster beds from any pollution.
The wine making is simple; they press as quickly as possible and protect the juice with inert gas. There is no skin contact and no oxidation with a fermentation temperature of 16°– 17°C, but no lower. Cyril does not want any flavours of bonbons anglais, as the French call boiled sweets.
They have worked in partnership with Jeanjean, a large family company and now part of the Advini group, and so the Jeanjean winemaker, English MW, Ian Munson, has had a part in the development of the wines.
The second wine we tasted was 2019 Excellence Ormarine, élevé sur lies fines - 6.50€ TTC – and not yet imported into the UK.
The influence of the lees, of six months ageing on the lees, immediately adds more depth of flavour. There is a little more colour, and the nose is more rounded with firm stony notes. And on the palate there is more weight, with some tangy salty finish. The effect of the lees is very apparent when you compare the two wines.
And then came Acaciae – 25€ TTC
Excellence Ormarine forms the basis for Acaciae, with the significant difference that Acaciae is aged for four months in acacia wood. Ian explained how they were looking to make a Picpoul with a difference, and maybe a wine that would age – Picpoul is usually drunk as young as possible - and they did various trials with French and American oak barrels and even staves, and found them wanting. From my experience of oaked Picpoul, I can quite see why. The oak simply overwhelms the subtle flavours of Picpoul, so they thought, let’s try acacia wood. They used 500 litres barrels in which the wine spent four months, with some lees stirring. They tasted every month and after the second month there was a surge of wood, but after the fourth month, they felt the wine had found its balance, with aroma and structure, but all the while retaining the freshness that is essential to Picpoul. And not all the wine goes into acacia, just three quarters of it.
They found that oak turned the Picpoul bitter whereas, acacia which is not an aromatic wood, is much more discreet. When you taste a Picpoul that has been in oak, the impact is immediate. This was subtle; the wine simply did not say wood. The colour was light golden, beautifully balanced with nice weight on the palate and a lightly creamy butter note on the nose. There was length and texture, with a light streak of tannin – and my goodness, did it go well with the lobster….. Ian called it turbo-charged Picpoul, or Picpoul with oomph – that’s a very professional tasting note for a Master of Wine!
The discussion continued. Acacia and oak are similar in price; they asked their usual cooper to make the barrels for them. Ian would like to try an acacia barrel from Stockinger, the leading Austrian cooper, who is currently very fashionable and give the wine eighteen months ageing, so that you get some brioche flavours from the lees. A malo-lactic fermentation does not work for Picpoul; you lose the essence of the grape. But longer ageing and particularly more extended ageing on the lees would give interesting results. Picpoul is not massively intense; it needs to be treated carefully. A parallel was drawn with some of the recent developments in Muscadet. And Ian observed that he has recently enjoyed a magnum of 2015 Picpoul that was drinking beautifully. Which begs the question as to how well Acaciae will age. With acidity and a backbone of tannin, he felt it should age very nicely. It was fascinating to taste a new take on Picpoul de Pinet. For this first vintage, they produced just 3000 bottles, so if one comes your way, possibly in a smart restaurant, which is where they are aiming to place it, do try it.