There’s an area in the south of France where great wines are produced, and from the vineyards you can see oyster beds in the blue Mediterranean Sea. The best village to experience the oyster and wine relationship is Bouzigues, in the area called Coteaux du Languedoc, near the well known town of Sete. A few miles west of Bouzigues, toward Meze, is the area of picpoul production.
As far as I know wines made exclusively from the picpoul grape are only produced in this small region. I’ve tried the picpoul from roughly two dozen producers in this small area. The picpoul from the Joudan family, to me, is far and away the best. I’m not the only one who likes this wine; in 1886 professor of viticulture G. Foex called “piquepoul gris” one of the best wines in the Midi.
Picpoul de Pinet, the white wine of choice for the locals to drink with oysters, is a light, somewhat mild wine with good acidity and some mineral flavors that doesn’t interfere with the briny taste of the oysters, and seems to compliment their taste and texture. Also, the locals like the price — it’s not expensive, and it is made simply as a clean, usually non-oaked wine meant to be consumed right away, without aging. I would expect the better quality picpoul by the bottle to sell for about $15 in a wine shop, and to sell for about $25 in a high-end restaurant. Typical tasting notes refer to a crystal clear wine with green and gold highlights, a soft, delicate nose with hints of acacia and hawthorn blossom, and a fresh, cleansing mouth feel with mild acidity on the finish.
While very popular with oysters, picpoul is also delicious with chilled fish dishes, such as anchovies in dill, and with soft cheeses and, like almost everything in life, with chocolate.
You can experience these wines yourself in Santa Monica. Picpoul is available at Gjelina restaurant on Main Street (along with a number of other interesting wines on their excellent list) and at Anisette Brasserie, on Santa Monica Boulevard, just west of the Third Street Promenade, where I’m the wine director. Try the picpoul with some oysters and e-mail me your thoughts.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org