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95-point Picpoul de Pinet - April 2019

The pre-amble

The April 2019 edition of Decanter (www.decanter.com) makes its usual, detailed, panel-based, blind-tasted analysis of Picpoul de Pinet.

We are able to offer the poll-topping, 95-point, Outstanding wine that tops that review, priced at just £9.95 a bottle.

Which is to say: a Decanter poll-topper for less than a tenner. That doesn't happen all that often. In fact, we can't think of an example of when it did.

It's the first time that Picpoul de Pinet (PdP) has come under the Decanter microscope to this extent, reflecting:

  • the comparatively modern rise-to-fame of what was a much-undersung sub-region (now appellation) and grape;
  • the high degree of popularity attained;
  • the quality level of Picpoul now being achieved; and
  • the burgeoning number of producers and labels available.

Let's start on the right foot, though. Picpoul never has been - and probably never will be - regarded as among the finest of fine white wines. Chablis, Meursault, Condrieu, Savennières ... it is not. As our Bullet-Point Guide To Picpoul belows sets out, PdP started from humble beginnings, is (typically) simply made and remains a wine for easy drinking.

But easy drinking is a good thing for many. It's hard to fine a wine bar, pub, bistro or restaurant that doesn't have a Picpoul as a better house wine or among the first four wines on its wine list.

But for many - my wine-knowledgeble Dad among them - it's all a bit of mystery wine.

 

Picpoul de Pinet - our Bullet-Point Guide

 

To this end - for my Dad and for you - here's a quick Bullet-Point Guide to Picpoul de Pinet. <If you just want just to get the the poll-topper, scroll on down or click any of the pictures below>.

 

  • It's a wine from the sunny, windy Languedoc of Southern France, between Narbonne and Montpellier.
  • Specifically, it's from the newly-declared Picpoul de Pinet AOP - it was a part of the greater Languedic appellation until 2013 -  which constitutes some (but only) 1,500 hectares on the inland shore of the salty, oyster-producing Etang de Thau (see map).

 

map from Decanter

  • That's a pretty small area for a wine (now) this well-known (Rioja's vineyards cover an area 40 times larger, for example).
  • 12 million bottles are now produced every year. Yes, 12 million. 5 million of those stay in France. Over 3.5 million of them cross the Channel to us... quelle surprise. Did we mention that it was popular here?
  • Weirdly for France, the appellation is named after the grape variety. Indeed, so proprietorial has the AOP become over the grape that only it can use the spellling Picpoul. Everyone else - the grape is employed a fair bit in the Southern Rhone and Provence - has to use Piquepoul.
  • Which reminds us: piquepoul. French for "lip-stinger"....
  • ... which reflects the wine's high acidity and lemony, zesty flavour profile. The Picpoul grape is surprisingly heat-resistant, ripens slowly and preserves its acidity very well... rather like Greece's brilliant Assyrtiko.
  • You could (I sometime do) argue it's something of a cross between Riesling (lemony, citrussy, high acidity) and Sauvignon Blanc (intensity of flavour). But it doesn't get (anything like) the recognition that those two grapes do ...
  • ... which is perhaps explained by two factors: a)-being used as a acidity-boosting makeweight in often under-valued blends (eg white Cotes du Rhone, both red (yes..) and white Châteauneuf-du-Pape) and b) bad PdP winemaking in the past, all too often producing something of an oily concoction of a wine.
  • It's often touted as "the modern Muscadet", going very well - as it does - with shellfish and "thin fish". It's certainly a good food/gastronomic wine.
  • Like many wines from coastal areas - Muscadet, Rias Baixas, Vinho Verde - there is something of a saline, marine tang-of-the-sea about it (although it's our view that this is often overstated by wine writers).
  • It's simply made: oak is a no-no (the vanilla/smoke really clashes with PdP's lemony flavors), so all winemaking is in steel. The aim is typically to go from vineyard to bottle as fast as possible, preserving as much acidity, fruit and freshness as possible.
  • It tends to need drinking inside a year-to-18-months of vintage; this is not a wine to cellar but to enjoy at its freshest (see also: Albarino, Verdejo, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc etc...)
  • Most production is by large co-operatives, although there are a good many smaller producers increasingly appearing, driving quality overall upwards.

 

The Decanter review

57 wines came under test: that's a fair few from effectively one vintage (nearly all 2017 plus a few 2018s where they were early enough across to the UK to make the tasting). It was a good - if unspectacular - showing, in aggregate. There were 25 Recommended (85-89 points) wines, and 22 Highly Recommendeds (90-94 points).

It's the two Outstandings that are of most interest, of which we have one. You'll find that just below.

A quick word on the scoring follows. Judges mark a Picpoul against their expectations of what a Picpoul can do and be: a perfect Picpoul on that basis scores 100. But/so a 95-point Picpoul need not be as good (or as bad) a wine as a 95-point Pouilly-Fuissé, Amarone or Vouvray.

It's worth bearing that in mind: it's unusual when a wine of this price point comes up for inspection and scores this well. Indeed, even the judges struggle a little to decide what makes a good PdP. Both Outstandings achieved their 95 points via quite a wide range of marks among the panel. This, we'd say, is (at least in part) because it is something of a 'Marmite' wine.

What you do get is a very good Picpoul, let's be clear.

 

The review-topper

.. is the Villa des Croix 2017 from SO Vignerons:

The "SO" bit is not a horrid vernacularism in a "that is SO not a good way to use English" kinda-way. Rather, it's an amlgam of the initials of the company's two founders/owners, one of who is an oenology Prof at one of France's leading winemaking departments (am full of respect for that team).

SO Vignerons are essentially a négociant structure, buying grapes from local landowners, making the wine on the Villa des Croix property <yes, a single-vineyard wine for <£10> and bottled in nearby Béziers. There's a bunch more info on the makers on the product page.

Harvest time at Villa des Croix

We had two key questions when we were researching this wine:

a) is it, in fact, a better Picpoul?

b) if so, what makes it a better Picpoul?

We put a) to the test. Much as we trust Decanter, we don't want to bring you wines without our testing them: where would be the integrity or fun in that?

We blind-tasted-tested our teams here, using the Villa des Croix and our workhorse, ever-popular, restaurant-seasoned Grange des Rocs 2017 (not tested by Decanter).

How, we asked, did they differ and which is better?

What emerged was that 6 out of 8 of us preferred the Villa des Croix (VdC), 5 of us markedly more so. There wasn't much to choose on the nose - the VdC was actually quite mute. But the flavour intensity/concentration, interest value and length of finish on the VdC were very obvious. Most obvious of all was a more substantial density/body/weight to the wine than we've encountered in a Picpoul before. It's still a Picpoul - a barrel-fermented-and-aged Chenin, this is not - but it's attractive and just a bit beguiling.

Decanter are certainly quite taken with it:

  • "classic Picpoul in very good shape";
  • "Super fruit. Still bags of life";
  • "A stunning example of Picpoul de Pinet";
  • "Some class here"
  • "with precision and delicacy";
  • "very attractive"; and
  • "clean, lively, mouthwatering, lean and long".

To b), then ...  where does this come from? I asked Daniel Orsolino, the "O" of SO Vignerons. The answer a little surprised me, although it need not have done. With grape varieties similar to Picpoul - used for their bite and freshness - such as Verdejo, Albarino, Melon de Bourgogne (for Muscadet), Godello, Sauvignon Blanc and even Riesling, there's a neat trick. The trick is that of leaving the wine on its yeast after fermentation has ceased - sur lie in French, sobre lias in Spanish - and is increasingly used by more ambitious winemakers to add body, lengevity, 'roundness' and complexity to a white wine. The cost - if left too long - can be some loss of "fruit hit' and acidity, so getting the lees time right is crucial to achieve that balance. We'd say the Villa des Croix does that well.

For a tenner, can you go far wrong?

 

Furthermore...

SO Vignerons aren't just about Picpoul. Their approach is applied to a number of other grape varieties, and the Villa des Croix range also offers a Viognier (2018) and Pinot Noir (2017), both under the Vins de Pays d'Oc PGI/designation.

Again, we'll say it: these are not wines that will set the world alight, but they are markedly better than your average supermarket 'glug' for a similar price.

The Viognier is the big, blowsy, floral number you'd expect - it'll not get confused with a Vernay Condrieu but my two glasses were great with a fish-finger sandwich (FFS) and Tuesday's Shetland.

The Pinot poses no immediate threat to Premier Cru Nuits-St-George, but is surprisingly rich, ripe, warm and - don't tell SO Vignerons we said so - just a little New World in approach. At £8.50 a bottle, they'd make good any cases you might be considering - do remember our fifteens - and not disgrace any meal (especially FFS). 

You'll find them available-to-buy just below here.

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Villa des Croix Viognier 2018, SO Vignerons (1x 75cl)

SO Vignerons (SV) is a small négociant structure, producing typical, high-quality Languedoc wines. The company was founded by Claude Serra (the "S") and Daniel Orsolini (the "O") in 2005.

Claude, SO Vignerons' winemaker consultant, is also a Professor at Montpellier University of Oenology, and manages the company's viticulture and winemaking.

The philosophy behind So Vignerons is to produce high-quality, modern-style Languedoc wines at very affordable prices. This has been made possible by:

- the long-term contracts signed with their growers;

- having Claude as the winemaker/consultant to all their growers; and

- using a state-of-the-art bottling line.

All SO Vignerons' wines are vinified by Claude and come from vineyards located on specially selected terroirs producing characteristic varietals from the Languedoc region. Their aim is to share their passion for their wines and region and a commitment to preserve the environment.

The Villa Des Croix property is planted with Picpoul, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Terret. SO Vignerons' wines include a number of varietal blends, but the Villa des Croix wines - of which we list three - each adhere to a monovarietal approach.

The soil in the vineyards for the Viognier is siliceous soil of Pyrenean origin. The area also benefits from an oceanic micro-climate.

The grapes are harvested at night, skin contact is allowed for 5 - 6 hours at 10°C. The grapes are pressed using pneumatic pressure. It undergoes thermo-regulated fermentation at 15/17°C after a clean racking of the must. Malolactic fermentation occurs and the wine is matured in tank on fine lees for 6 to 8 months.

The colour of the wine is a clear and pale yellow straw. The aromas evoke intense floral notes, citrus peel, vanilla, tangerine and light honey notes. The palate is fresh, pleasant and deliciously well balanced. The finish is rich and persistent. It can be enjoyed on its own as an aperitif but is a perfect accompaniment to grilled fish and fusion food. If you have good levels of patience, this Viognier can be kept for up to 4 years.

£8.50

Villa des Croix Pinot Noir 2017, SO Vignerons (1x 75cl)

SO Vignerons (SV) is a small négociant structure, producing typical, high-quality Languedoc wines. The company was founded by Claude Serra (the "S") and Daniel Orsolini (the "O") in 2005.

Claude, SO Vignerons' winemaker consultant, is also a Professor at Montpellier University of Oenology, and manages the company's viticulture and winemaking.

The philosophy behind So Vignerons is to produce high-quality, modern-style Languedoc wines at very affordable prices. This has been made possible by:

- the long-term contracts signed with their growers;

- having Claude as the winemaker/consultant to all their growers; and

- using a state-of-the-art bottling line.

All SO Vignerons' wines are vinified by Claude and come from vineyards located on specially selected terroirs producing characteristic varietals from the Languedoc region. Their aim is to share their passion for their wines and region and a commitment to preserve the environment.

The Villa Des Croix property is planted with Picpoul, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Terret. SO Vignerons' wines include a number of varietal blends, but the Villa des Croix wines - of which we list three - each adhere to a monovarietal approach.

Villa des Croix Pinot Noir 2017 SO Vignerons - fiche technique

£8.50
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