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Forgotten summer whites: Picpoul and Jacquère

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While attending a wine tasting at my local ABC Fine Wines and Spirits, I became reacquainted with two lesser-known French white grapes from two lesser-known wine regions, the Languedoc and Savoie. The grapes are Picpoul and Jacquère and they have a similar bright acidity that is very refreshing this time of year. Both varietals are lighter than the typical Chardonnay, with a subtler acid than often-bracing Sauvignon Blanc, and with more mineral depth than the typical Pinot Grigio. If there was a Venn Diagram, these two grapes would overlap the other three and still define their own space. The wines made of these two grapes have strong citrus notes, not as much grapefruit, perhaps more lemon and lime, which is why they both pair so well with seafood. Let’s explore some nearly unknown territory.

Though it used to be grown more broadly, Picpoul de Pinet has become Languedoc’s own white varietal. It lost favor post-Phylloxera, but the varietal, Picpoul Blanc, has made a comeback in the sandier soils near the Mediterranean. Chateau Petit Roubié, Picpoul de Pinet 2012 is the perfect white wine for Florida seafood, with mineral notes on the nose, limestone and lime zest, and even a little wet slate. On the palate there is plenty of tart citrus, yet with a rounder mouthfeel. Not big and buttery like a Cali Chardonnay, but a little fatter on the tongue than a Pinot Grigio. My final impression is of mineral and citrus zest. Crisp and refreshing, this wine pairs perfectly with oysters and shellfish as well as a whole gamut of Fruits de Mer. Since it’s a little thicker on the palate than a Muscadet or Pinot Grigio, it can work for some of your Chardonnay fiends.

Jacquère, even less known than Picpoul, is from the alpine region of Savoie in southeastern France. Jacquère can be found in small parcels near Condrieu in the Northern Rhone, though it is not allowed in that sweet appellation. It is best known as the primary grape in most Vin de Savoie Blanc. Just east of Lyons and south of Lake Geneva, Savoie used to be part of the Kingdom of Savoy that included Italy’s Piedmont region, therefore has some very distinct characteristics, and lesser-known varietals. The wine I had was the 2013 Perrier Apremont Vin de Savoie, 100% Jacquère, which smelled of concentrated lemon juice in a granite bowl. Citrus and minerality, our theme, also define this wine. Maybe more lemon zest than lime, and with slight pithy notes, but there is a finishing acidity that is cleansing, making this a great wine to pair with fondue. It cuts through that cheese fat like a light saber. It also pairs well with roasted chicken (especially if you stick a halved lemon and some rosemary inside). Though the sea is still a good ways away, it pairs well with fish, especially some of the locally fished species like pike, as there are many lakes and rivers in this mountainous area.

Yes, I like some crisp acidity, and in this Florida heat, I find it to be more refreshing. They are also lower in alcohol, which lessens their volatility (and is quite the rage thanks to Eric Asimov). Though they both have strong citrus and mineral notes, they are still subtle wines that really enhance some of the subtler flavors in lighter seafood fare. They can also work with Asian cuisine that has hints of spice but loads of other layered exotic flavors. These two wines would match very well. Enjoy a small tour off of the beaten path with these two varietals.

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