Posted on April 09, 2017
For the past couple of months, the bottle of the picpoul blanc I’ve had in my fridge has nagged me, urging me to taste. Quite remarkably, I forgot to sample when I interviewed the winemaker but I have been curious about this varietal.
This past weekend, when we went to an Indian restaurant with friends, I took my bottle from Four Lanterns Wineryalong. We were a diverse group, the six of us representing five countries. Very Bay Area, with an American, Briton, Croatian, Scot, and, of course, Indian. All to say we had grown up with varied tastes.
Four out of the six had never had picpoul blanc before, which made it all the more exciting. I told my group to expect a wine high in acid and sure enough, many of the group said it tasted of lime or lemon. The aroma was vanilla or floral or, again, lemony. One smelled melon.
But this changed when the food came out. Every winemaker I have spoken to since starting this blog has said that wine is meant to be savored with food. This varietal proved it. When we sipped our drink with the samosas, potato chaat, vegetable pakoras, and cauliflower manchurian, the flavor changed. It was quite a transformation. Our picpoul blanc varietal changed from lime/lemon, in flavor and aroma, to stone fruit. Fruitiness, in my experience, takes the edge off the acid, and makes the wine taste sweeter, even though, as one somm teacher told me, if you hold your nose and sip, so the olfactory and gustatory are separated, the wine will taste dry. (I have tried it, and it is true.)
Steven Gleason, owner of Four Lanterns Winery, says that while he works very hard to keep his picpoul blanc true to the varietal by making sure its acidity is high, he also adds a small amount of clairette blanche. The richness of this grape has a subtle effect on the wine.
Maybe that was the smoothness we felt with the food.
“Picpoul is a geek wine,” says Gleason. “It has very distinct characteristics. You take the general wine drinking population, you’ll get a certain percentage that likes it; it’s their palate. But if you take the wine-drinking community, it’s almost 100 percent they’ll like it. I call it a wine geeky wine.”
I have written how a glass of grenache blanc at a Paso restaurant sent me in search of the winemaker who’d crafted it. Amy Jean Butler of Ranchero Cellars started her winery in 2008.
Grenache blanc came to her because she had trained in Rhône varietals in an earlier job. “Rhône was right for Paso,” she says. “It sets us apart as a region. If we started making cabs, we would play second fiddle to Napa.”
Her decision, as that of others around her, has created a market for varietals that I had never heard of until my trip. My husband and I opened her bottle one day with home made Thai curry. It proved a delectable pairing. Stone fruit, off dry, high acid.
But here’s what I wonder: Would every one find the same level of acidity in these wines? At the WSET class in Napa last month, one of the instructors, while teaching us that the higher the acid in a wine, the more we salivate, said that there are individual differences. For instance, some of us salivate (drool?!) more than others and so we may find a wine to be higher in acid. So also with tannins, which grip some of us around the gums more than the rest.
Perhaps there lies the beauty of it: All of us experience the work of winemakers in our own way.