A lively, fresh white wine for the new oyster season
September is just around the corner and heralds the start of the new oyster season.
Tradition has it that oysters should only be eaten when there is an ‘r’ in the month. Thus, September through to April is the official oyster season.
Nowadays, thanks to new production techniques and improved transport and storage, oysters are available throughout the year, but flavours seem to be at their best during the official months of consumption.
Those that are confirmed oyster eaters are no doubt champing at the bit, waiting for the new season’s produce. In Sussex, most oysters on the market are imported from France or flown down from Scotland. However, nearby in Kent, native flat oysters are cultivated in Whitstable, having a particular flavour of their own. Talk to an oyster-lover and he or she will inevitably have their own theory as to what wine one should drink with these particular shellfish. Invariably it is white and dry, but can differ from Champagne to Chablis to Muscadet to Bordeaux Blanc and everything in between. All of these can work extremely well with the slippery little devils, but one which is not always immediately on the radar is Picpoul de Pinet.
An ancient grape variety of the Languedoc region of Southern France, piquepoul blanc is made as a varietal wine in the region between Pézenas and Sète on the Mediterranean coast, the appellation controlée area of Picpoul de Pinet. Bordering the Thau lagoon, it is the largest white wine producing region in the Languedoc, sloping down towards the coastal lagoon at an average altitude of 130 ft. The terroir is largely made up of clay and limestone, with quartz pebbles liberally strewn across the surface of the vineyards.
Production is dominated by the Co-operative Cave de l’Ormarine in Pinet and their Villemarin Picpoul de Pinet 2020 is available from Majestic at £9.99 a bottle or a bargain £7.99 mix six price.
The piquepoul blanc grape is a late-ripening variety, benefiting from the end-of-season humidity to finish maturing. The colour of the wine is a very clear, pale lemon and it has marked floral aromas on the nose with hints of citrus. Lively, mouth-wateringly crisp acidity on the palate, with persistent citrus flavours, makes it an ideal companion to seafood, especially oysters.
Picpoul de Pinet has seen a remarkable change in its fortunes in the last ten to 15 years, with hardly a restaurant wine list to be seen without this wine on its list. Twenty years ago, much of this wine was very high in acidity, overpowering the other components. As wine-making techniques have improved, together with different vineyard management protocols, riper, less acidic wines have been produced, with greater depth of flavour and aromatics. The wine from Majestic is a classic example of this style of wine and is an inexpensive accompaniment to a plate of oysters, served with a squeeze of lemon.
Richard Esling is a wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. He runs agency and consultancy WineWyse, is founder and principal of Sussex Wine Academy and is chairman of Arundel Wine Society