Until recently, picpoul was simply a major component of Noilly Prat vermouth and a permitted (but little used) ingredient of Chateauneuf du Pape.
Served cool and young, however, it suddenly became the trendiest of companions for shellfish – as versions from Languedoc’s Pinet region have been for centuries when accompanying oysters from the nearby Thau Lagoon.
That success owes much to picpoul’s acidity levels – which are surprisingly high given Languedoc’s warm climate – and account for its name (which translates to “lip stinger”).
Picpoul de Pinet offers soft, delicate and floral white wine with grapefruit or lemon crispness and sometimes hints of nuttiness, white pepper and minerality.
But which are the best versions currently available on UK high streets?
Well, while Asda and Tesco have decent versions for a couple of pounds less, my pick from the “top four supermarkets” goes to the fresh and grassy 2015 Ormarine Picpoul de Pinet (£8 at Sainsbury’s). I particularly appreciated its excellent apple-centred acidity which introduces neat sherbet-style touches that work well with the wine’s textured elements and the saline or mineral finish that rounds off everything.
Cave de l’Ormarine produces another distinctive version – 2014 Picpoul Sur Lies Fines (£7.99 at Majestic). It is a vintage earlier and (unusually for the area) has spent time on its yeast derived lees.
This has added significantly more richness and may have mellowed the acidity that sits behind its cooked apple and quince centred fruit.
Top of the high street choices for me, though, is the smooth and delightfully balanced 2015 Hen-Pecked Picpoul de Pinet (£7.99 at the Comely Bank and Stirling branches of Waitrose).
It opens with clean, nettle and pear drop flavours that are an enticing prelude to the wine’s red apple fruit, distinctive lemon edge and textured orange depth.
Spain, 14 per cent
This is the product of a collaborative venture between winemakers, sommeliers and ordinary drinkers that proves several heads are better than one. Enjoy then its soft, tempranillo-derived, black cherry and cassis fruit with only gentle tannin and texture, but bold acidity to make the whole thing fresh and lively.
£6.49 instead of £8.99 until 25 April at Majestic
Alsace, France, 12.5 per cent
As ever, Alsace does things differently – and here is its smooth and fresh take on the ubiquitous PG. Enjoy especially the wine’s crisp, apple-centred fruit, lively pink grapefruit acidity and mango-based depth, all supplemented by a characteristic, perfumed but vaguely sweet backdrop.
£9.99 at Waitrose