Tired of Pinot Grigio? Me, too! And Chardonnay? The ABC movement (Anything but Chardonnay) is well established. So why do we keep drinking the same wines? Habit? Fear of the unknown? Lack of news about alternative whites you can buy? Well, that’s one problem I can fix!
Let’s talk Picpoul de Pinet. It’s a fresh white wine made from the Picpoul blanc grape and is, in my humble opinion, a taste step up from Pinot Grigio. Picpoul grapes are mostly grown in the Languedoc region of France — in the far south of the country, just west of the Rhone River — and come in both red and white varieties, although the white (blanc) is better known.
Picpoul de Pinet is acidic and lemony, and is a perfect partner for deep-fried oysters, crab claws or fish. You could serve it with fried chicken, too. The name Picpoul is also sometimes spelled “Piquepoul” and translates as “stings-the-lips,” because of the grape’s high acidity. And I know you remember the pairing rule: acid with fat. Picpoul de Pinet is an amazing antidote to residual grease in fried foods.
There’s a wide selection of Picpoul de Pinet in the Mobile market, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a bottle. I tried the Domaine des Cadastres 2012 vintage (13 percent ABV; Shiraz Wine and Spirits/USA Beverages; Old Shell Rd.; $18.) True to type, it had a pale yellow color, faint fragrances of citrus and grass, and predominantly lemon flavors. It was clean, crisp and dry — just nicely tart.
Domaine Cadastres had more body than I expected, and was delicious not only with fried oysters, but also with your basic grilled cheese sandwich. It strips away greasiness and I can’t over-emphasize how ideal the flavor match is with seafood (maybe because the vineyard borders oyster beds along the Mediterranean coast). One caveat: Do not serve this Picpoul with sweet foods. I’ve mentioned the perils of barbeque and baked beans before, and this wine is a “no go” with them. Any sweetness in the sauces will send the wine’s lemony tartness right over the edge. Not nice.
Next up: Albariño. You can guess from the spelling that this grape hails from Spain; it’s been grown there and in Portugal since the 12th Century, and now is grown in several U.S. states. It generally produces the kind of light, fresh white wine enjoyed by folks in hot climates.
Albariño has slightly spicy aromas, with hints of apricot and peach, but sometimes fresh apple, too. This does not mean it’s a sweet wine — just a fruity one. It has high acidity levels, and sometimes a hint of bitterness (not a bad thing, for food pairing) due to the grapes’ thick skins, and seeds getting caught in the crushing process.
California Albariño is plentiful in local wine shops and grocery stores, but my favorite comes from the Willowcroft Winery near Leesburg, Va. Fresh and fruity, but with a refreshing dry finish, I can drink this wine all afternoon, watching the little beads of condensation roll down the bottle. Offer it to your guests as they walk through your door and watch their expressions change from fright (“Yikes, another sour white!”) to delight. And if you can’t find Willowcroft — the winery is “working on” shipping it to Alabama — there’s also a good choice of Spanish Albariños locally.
The king of apricot flavors is Viognier. This is a wonderful grape that, like Picpoul, was first grown in the south of France but now has spread everywhere because it makes such a fabulous aperitif wine (but also goes great with roast pork and Chinese food). Along the Rhone River, wine made from Viognier is usually called “Condrieu,” although some vintners now try to help shoppers by putting “Viognier” on the label. Viognier is widely grown in California and other states, as well as in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa — and most of this New World wine is meant to be drunk young. French Condrieu ranges from light and fresh to full-bodied and rich — worthy of aging (yes, an age-able white), the color turning deep gold and the flavors maturing into dried apricot and toast.
Some people call Viognier “sweet” because it’s very fruity, but it’s a dry wine. Domaine de Couron 2012 Viognier is a Rhone valley Viognier (not a Condrieu) at the light-bodied end of the spectrum. Pale-straw colored, it has fragrances of fresh peach and honeysuckle. The flavors closely match the fragrances, but add apricot, cantaloupe and allspice. I’d serve this Viognier ice-cold by itself, or with a cheese plate. It’s an agreeable wine, with more complex flavors than you’d expect — dry on the finish. (14 percent ABV; Shiraz Wine and Spirits; $17.)
And hey, if you can’t quite stop ordering Pinot Grigio, just drop a syllable and try Seamus Wines’ “Pearl” Pinot Gris, from California’s Central Coast. Pearl has a sharp, bright fragrance with bursts of gardenia and other white flowers (think magnolia) and noticeable oak. It struck me as very similar to an oak-aged California Chardonnay in fragrance. The color is pale and cool. Flavors include cantaloupe, kiwi, citrus and crisp green apple; the wine almost “snaps” as you sip. It’s dry and acidic, with a long finish.
Pearl is fuller bodied than most Pinot Grigio, although not heavy — demonstrating the main difference between the Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio wine styles (they’re made from the same grape variety but the wines are poles apart). Oak aging also adds to the mouth-feel. Pearl is fine by itself but best with food (see the artful shrimp on the label for a clue).
It was tasty with chicken Alfredo and Kalamata olive bread. Bust out of your wine rut and give it a try; you’ll discover Pinot Gris has a major “wow factor” compared to Pinot Grigio. (14.4 percent ABV; distributed around Mobile by A&G Beverages; $28-$35, depending on the venue; only 840 bottles made.)