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Accordingly, you might expect me to steer clear of a wine with a name like Picpoul de Pinet, a relatively little-known white from Southern France whose name translates, roughly, as "the Lip Stinger of Pinet."
Despite the name, though, Picpoul at its best is a refreshing treat, a wine of such crisp, food-friendly acidity that, in southern parlance, it makes you want to jump up and slap yo' mouf. Or in plainer English, it's lip-smacking good.
Picpoul is native to Southern France, from the Languedoc to the Rhone Valley. It remains one of the 13 varieties permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the Cotes-du-Rhone, but it's rarely used there in modern times.
It's still a favorite in the Languedoc, though, grown in the Picpoul de Pinet region of Coteaux du Languedoc, with its sandy coastal vineyards around Sete, the Mediterranean seaport town near Montpellier. It is the local wine of choice with the region's fresh oysters on the half-shell.
I've reported often on a perennial favorite, the relatively widely available Picpoul de Pinet from Hugues Beaulieu.
Today's tasting comes from a different, less familiar Picpoul producer, Cave de Montagnac, and I'm pleased to report that it's every bit as good and, if you shop around, may come in for a dollar or two less.
Cave de Montagnac is imported in the U.S. by Wine Adventures, Inc., a small firm in West Des Moines, Iowa, that currently distributes its wines in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin, and to a limited extent online. I asked Wine Adventures' President Stephen Gaucher for stories about his Picpoul, and he responded with an almost visible Email chuckle, "I'm not sure I can type for that long."
When he started importing wine nine years ago, Gaucher said, he relied on French friends to help him find special wines.
"One was a woman who, while we were on the train to Montpellier, told me we were going to eat Bouzigues oysters that afternoon and drink the local wine Picpoul. I had not heard of the wine or the oyster. I was looking forward to both when the train pulled in. However, my excitement about finding a new wine and eating these special oysters was derailed by the fact that my traveling companion had her suitcase stolen. No suitcase, no oysters, and sadly no Picpoul. It took us all day to do the police reports. The next day we had other appointments, so I didn't taste a Picpoul until I was back in the states and had a Hugues Beaulieu.
"I liked the wine a lot, and the next time I was in France I arranged a tasting that had 40 different Picpouls. The ones I liked were too expensive. So I left the tasting and went into the next town where a sign on the side of the road advertised a tasting of local wines. I stop, tasted - no Picpouls - and before leaving asked the vigneron if he could suggest a local Picpoul. He recommended Cave Montagnac Picpoul, and as they say the rest is history. For the past six years I have imported over 2,000 cases of this wine a year, and remember, I am a small importer."
Underscoring the regional appeal of Picpoul, Gaucher observed that Picpoul's tall green "Neptune" bottle embossed with the ancient cross of the Languedoc invariably appears on the table with oysters or mussels around Montpellier and environs; but travel down to Marseilles and the choice is the local Cassis; as far away as Paris, you'll rarely find Picpoul.
"My best friend in France, Marcel, who was in the French Foreign Service, had never heard of Picpoul until I introduced him to it four years ago," Gaucher said. "So by chance I found it, and have been able to offer people a wonderful alternative to Chardonnay."
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Cave de Montagnac 2006 Picpoul de Pinet ($7.99)
Transparent straw color, bright glints against the light. Clean and fresh, citrus and a whiff of pear. Crisp fruit flavors follow the nose, shaped by brisk fresh-fruit acidity, stops short of lip-stinging, but I'm not inclined to complain about that. Simple and fresh, a good food wine and an exceptionally good value. U.S. importer: Wine Adventures Inc., West Des Moines, Iowa. (Jan. 22, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: The classic pairing in Languedoc is fresh oysters on the half-shell, but Picpoul makes an amiable companion with a range of seafood, poultry and fish. It was beautiful with a simple, subtle Chinese-style dish, steamed chicken in black-bean sauce with ginger and garlic.
VALUE: At my local $8 price, this one will surely rank in my Quality-Price Ratio top 10 for 2008. Take care, however, as Wine-Searcher.com returns some bizarre prices as high as $20 or more, at which point I recomment that you pass and consider summoning the constabulary.
WHEN TO DRINK: The conventional wisdom holds that Picpoul is made for early drinking while it's young and fresh, although at this price it would be an easy experiment to save a few just to see where they go.
For a short review and scenic photo of the region, visit the importer's site. Click this link, then page down to the end to find Cave do Montagnac:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Distribution of this small-production wine by a regional importer is necessarily limited, but Wine Adventures' Website indicates that it will ship directly to buyers in U.S. states where the law permits. For more information, click:
Check prices and find vendors for Cave de Montagnac Picpoul de Pinet on Wine-Searcher.com:
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