Forget about Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio! This summer try the pleasantly alliterative Picpoul de Pinet and get a refreshingly new taste (and maybe impress a friend or two with your savoir boire). Grown in France by the Mediterranean Sea, this unique variety is lean and bitingly crisp, and with aromas of lemon confit, white flowers and minerals it pairs perfectly with the local oysters and seafood.
A couple of weeks ago I visited the Queen of Picpoul- Claude Jourdan of Domaine Félines-Jourdan. About an hour’s drive Southwest of Montpellier along the coastline, her estate is where she makes and bottles all of her own wine. Nestled against the Mediterranean, a warm wind flows through the oyster farms of Sète and around her vines. The constant winds allows for healthy grapes that grow without worry of mold or rot. With year-round sunshine, I basked in the warm glow with her (appropriately named) dog, Sunny, as she told me all about her wines, vines and history.
The majority of wine in the region is sold by cooperatives that buy wine from small growers and bottle everything under their own labels. That can be a good solution for some growers who don’t have enough wine to bottle and sell on their own, but the downside is a mass-blending and buying that can lead to a less precise expression of the terroir and grape.
Claude Jourdan, who boasts the monicker Queen of Picpoul, is one exception to this practice. She is the largest private producer of Picpoul de Pinet. She describes her wine business as a “female affair.” Her mother founded the winery before her in a notable twist on the traditional French father-son wine operation. Her wines seem to reflect a certain feminine sensibility: approachable to everyone but with layers of depth that can be found by those who know how to look. Jourdan makes several red and white blends on her sprawling estate, but her shining star is Picpoul. I tasted the recent 2013 vintage and it was like sucking on oyster shells with a stingingly refreshing bite of acidity. In fact, Picpoul translates to “lip-stinger.”
The Domaine holds 3 specific terroirs which are usually blended together for the sake of typicity — the ability of a wine to reflect the grape from which it was produced. The Felines terroir gives citrus notes and freshness to the blend, the La Coulette offers aniseed and fennel aromas and supplies a roundness while the Les Cadastres is full of exotic fruits and flowers. For her next creation, though, Jourdan is working on a special new cuvée of her Picpoul that is grown by the lake and will be a new name in Picpoul.
She wanted to give her new wine some added richness but chose not to use oak in order to maintain the acidity and fresh aromas. Instead, she left the juice on the lees (the residual yeast cells after fermentation) which gives the finished wine a sleek roundness. In the vineyard, she also prunes these vines so they offer smaller yields. This special cuvée will be bottled in magnums and given a new label which pictures a woman looking behind her. When I asked who the woman was, Claude answered, “She is Félines-Jourdan,” the essence and soul of Picpoul de Pinet.
White wine lovers take note: she may be just the one you’ve been waiting for.