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Get to Know Zesty White Picpoul

Once a somm secret, the wine is thirst-quenching and affordable

Vicki Denig By October 25, 2021
photo of photo of the city of Narbonne, which is the biggest city in Languedoc
Narbonne, one of Languedoc's biggest cities, began life as a Roman fishing port. Photo by Leonid Andronov/iStock.

Picpoul is one of those great grapes that are unknown, so far, except to insiders. Beloved for its rip-roaring acidity and saline-tinged flavors, Picpoul’s popularity has soared within the U.K. and France. Even in the U.S., where it’s less well known, people are excited about the value it offers.

The advantages to having Picpoul are numerous,” says Sylvester Inda, sommelier at New York’s Le Pavillon, noting its value for money. Inda adds that he tends to steer guests looking for refreshing white wines away from Sauvignon Blanc and other high-acid white varieties, to let Picpoul steal the show.

Christy Frank, owner of Copake Wine Works, agrees. “Picpoul delivers excellent value while allowing me to take customers on a little adventure,” she says. “It scratches the same itch as a Pinot Grigio, but dollar for dollar, Picpoul offers a bit more complexity and interest.”  

Home in the sun 

Picpoul comes from the Picpoul de Pinet AOC in Languedoc, in the south of France. Once an obscure grape, it’s now recognized as one of the great varieties of the region. Known since the Middle Ages as a tangy dry white, its freshness and acidity are reaching an entirely new, modern audience. As it grows in popularity, growers find themselves racing to keep up with demand. But they rave about its qualities.

Claude Jourdan of Domaine Félines-Jourdan has been vinifying Picpoul since 1986 and has increased her plantings from seven to 136 acres. “It is an endemic grape variety that has long been cultivated only on our land,” she says. 

Jean-Marc Bouvier of Les Vignerons Montagnac Domitienne has expanded his Picpoul production from 792 to almost 200,000 gallons over the past 30 years. “Picpoul de Pinet is the largest white in the Languedoc, and its commercial success has been exponential,” Bouvier says, citing significant market booms over the past 15 years, both within France and on the export market. 

Languedoc native Marianne Fabre-Lanvin recently launched Souleil Wines, an organic wine project focused on sustainability. When planning the assemblage for her white blend, using Picpoul was a no-brainer. “The first reason we decided to include a generous proportion of Picpoul in Souleil Vin de Bonté Le Blanc is because we adore its freshness and distinctiveness,” she says. “Because of this, it seemed natural to include Picpoul in the blend, as this fresh grape brings hints of salinity to the wine, which is reminiscent of the sea.”

Languedoc giant Gérard Bertrand has worked with Picpoul for over 20 years and has also seen significant growth in interest in the grape. “Picpoul has been around for at least five centuries; in 1618, the botanist Magnol described it as one of the most renowned grape varieties in Languedoc,” says Bertrand. “For me, Picpoul is completely emblematic of a very pleasant end to a hot and windy day in front of the sea, with some delicate oysters and a delicious glass of wine. These make the perfect pairing and embody the art de vivre of southern France.”

Beyond France

The grape has also attracted fans elsewhere. Brad Buckelew of Lost Draw Cellars explains that many Texas winemakers and growers have found much success with the variety. “We’re always looking for varieties that tend to bud late to avoid spring freezes, and retain acidity well; Picpoul checks both of those boxes,” he explains. 

Elsewhere in Texas, Dr. Bob Young of Bending Branch Winery states that Picpoul is one of the most versatile grape varieties, mostly because it can make outstanding wines in various different styles. “Picpoul’s high acidity lends itself not only to bright, tank-fermented wines, but it can also handle the full-bodied creaminess of barrel fermentation,” he explains. 

Seth and Laura Martin, owners of Texas’ Perissos Vineyards, planted their first Picpoul vines in 2019. “We chose Picpoul because we were searching for an acid-driven, fruit-forward summer wine in the style of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Picpoul meets those criteria,” Martin says, stating that the couple has not found many disadvantages to growing the grape. Their first estate-grown Picpoul will be released in 2022. 

Curt Schalchlin, owner/winemaker at Sans Liege Wines and Groundwork in California’s Central Coast, explains that although there aren’t many opportunities to try Picpoul from California now, things will likely change in the near future. “I think we will see more Picpoul around, as it seems folks are interested in new things or different than their parents drink,” he says, stating that the variety’s “ability to give growers a great crop and fun flavors to work with” will also play into the shift.

This article has been corrected. Picpoul de Pinet is the appellation, not the name of the grape, as was originally written.

3 Picpoul to try:

bottle of Mas de Daumas Gassac Picpoul de Pinet 2020

Mas de Daumas Gassac Picpoul de Pinet 2020 ($12)

This long-standing pioneer of organic and sustainable viticulture in France’s Languedoc region has become world-renowned for their delicious, well-made wines and their Picpoul is no exception. Expect flavors of citrus, white flowers, and coarse sea salt to lead to a lingering, long-lasting finish. 

bottle of Souleil Vin de Bonté Languedoc Le Blanc 2020

Souleil Vin de Bonté Languedoc Le Blanc 2020 ($15)

This sustainable-focused blend from the Languedoc oozes with flavors of tropical fruit, lemon, and saline-tinged acidity. Proceeds from every bottle of Souleil go to the 5 Minute Foundation, an action-based global movement working for cleaner oceans. Inda notes that Picpoul drinkers tend to lean toward brighter wines and that fans of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre will almost certainly enjoy the lip-smacking acidity of Picpoul. 

bottle of Julie Benau Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet 2019

Julie Benau Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet 2019 ($24)

Frank notes that she generally stocks this thirst-quenching Picpoul, which boasts an oyster on the label for added effect. “I’ll talk about how close the vineyards are to the oyster beds — that old ‘what grows together, goes together’ notion,” she says. Frank additionally notes that budget-friendly French versions of Picpoul allow her to take customers on a bit of an adventure. “We get so many requests for a crisp white wine, and a good Picpoul is just that: fresh, lively, and thirst-quenching.”