Though Chardonnay has long been one of America’s favorite white wines, consumers are clearly interested in exploring other varieties and expanding their white wine palates. Sales of Sauvignon Blanc have recently surged—so much so that California vineyards can’t keep up. And though Pinot Grigio has been an American go-to for the last 20 years, fans of crisp white wines may want something new to sip on this season.
Enter Picpoul. Though it may strike some as an obscure white grape, it certainly has its in-the-know wine fans. If you’ve never tried it and tend to gravitate toward high-acid whites, like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, it’s time to give this wine a moment in the spotlight.
What Is Picpoul?
Sometimes spelled Piquepoul or Picapoll, Picpoul is an ancient French grape variety gaining fans for its zesty, lip-smacking appeal. Its name derives from the French “poule-piqueur,” which literally translates to “hen-pick,” a reference to the chickens that peck at fallen grapes on the ground. In France, it is also referred to as “lip stinger,” due to its high acidity. This is a fitting description for the high-acid, dry white wine, which delivers a burst of citrus, white flowers and hints of thyme.
The grape has three varietals: blanc, gris and noir. All are used for blending—usually with other Rhône or Loire varieties. However, Picpoul Blanc is also a single varietal standout with its own appellation.
Where Is Picpoul From?
Picpoul de Pinet is an AOC in the Languedoc and is home to 90% of France’s production, averaging 11 million bottles a year. Picpoul de Pinet is often packaged in distinctive green bottles made by the Albi Glassworks factory since 1994. They are stamped with the Languedoc cross and embossed with “Picpoul de Pinet.”
Bordering the Thau Lagoon near the Mediterranean Sea, this appellation’s sandy coastal soil protected the grape variety from the phylloxera that devastated European vines in the late 19th century. However, the grape almost disappeared around the same time due to a powdery mildew outbreak. The region’s soil is dotted with garrigue (scrub-covered rocks) and, combined with the cooling sea breezes, contributes to the wine’s pleasant minerality.
Picpoul Blanc’s ability to tolerate warmer climates has attracted U.S. producers in California and Texas. Tablas Creek Winery introduced Picpoul Blanc into the United States in 2000, importing cuttings from its partners in Beaucastel.
“Of all the obscure white Rhône varieties, it’s the one with the most interest and sells out fastest,” says Jason Haas, Tablas Creek partner and general manager. “Last year’s 50-case production sold out in two weeks. The year before, our 150-case production sold out in a month. I think that’s partly because it’s delicious and well-suited to our climate in California and partly because it has a bit more name recognition from the Picpoul de Pinet wines, unlike Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc or Picardan grapes.”
“Picpoul Blanc produces higher-than-average yields on the vine, making it a more sustainable crop for growers and winemakers,” says owner Bob Young. “The acidity of Texas Picpoul is very pleasant because the heat moderates it. The Picpoul of Languedoc is noticeably more acidic.”
How Does Picpoul Compare to Pinot Grigio?
Pinot Grigio is a very common wine, and you’ll often find it on wine lists across the U.S. That’s not quite the case when it comes to equally-delicious Picpoul. In fact, online searches for Pinot Grigio outnumber Picpoul Blanc 18 to one, according to a representative at Wine-Searcher.
But with more texture and aromatics than Pinot Grigio and less grass and flint than Sauvignon Blanc, Picpoul is a great alternative for those who tend to turn toward these popular grape varieties. Plus, it also leans on the affordable side, making them pleasing to both the palate and the wallet.
However, Picpoul is finally gaining some of the recognition it deserves. A representative at Vivino reports that page views for Picpoul Blanc rose between April 2022 and 2023. “At Vivino, page views are a key indicator for interest in certain wines on the platform,” said the rep. Although page views for Pinot Grigio vastly outnumbered those for Picpoul Blanc, the platform “saw a higher comparative spike in page views for Picpoul than for Pinot Grigio across the summer months both last year and in 2021.” Vivino is interested to see if this trend continues this summer, the rep continued.
Retailers are also seeing more customer interest. The Wine Cabinet in Reston, Virginia reports Picpoul sales are equal to its top six selling Pinot Grigios and outsell Sauvignon Blanc two to one, according to owner Rande DeJesus.
“Our HB Picpoul de Pinet has been a top seller for [the last 16 years],” DeJesus says. “We describe it as softer than a Pinot Grigio with less mineralization, yet, good acidity with flavors of lemon zest, white flower blossoms and peach to round out a clean finish. At under $11 a bottle, it completely outclasses most grocery store wines.”
While some sellers compare Picpoul to Pinot Grigio, others say it can be an option for any kind of high-acid, dry white wine lover.
“It is the mythical hybrid of Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and a touch of Sauvignon Blanc,” says Dan Steffen, general manager at Pure Wine and Spirits in Madison, Wisconsin. “Picpoul is the utility infielder of the wine world. It can serve many purposes as an aperitif, a match for seafood and shellfish or a fun brown bag wine to take to your weekly tasting group.”
Riverside Wines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, carries four Picpouls that are all top sellers. “We sell Picpoul to customers who like Pinot Grigio, but are looking for something with a little more zip and to customers who like Sauvignon, but think it’s too green and pithy,” says Alison Matera, general manager. “People are also shying away from oak-treated whites, so Picpoul is a no-brainer.”
Christy Frank, owner of Copake Wine Works in New York’s Hudson Valley, has stocked Picpoul regularly over the last 10 years. “It’s a great way to offer something different to customers looking for crisp white wines,” she says. “It has a little more body than Muscadet and a much more personality than most Pinot Grigios at a similar price point.”
Picpoul Bottles to Try
Turning Tide 2021 Picpoul (Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara)
93 Points Wine Enthusiast
At first, this affordable bottling from a warmer corner of the region is quite austere, with aromas of glacial wash and tight citrus blossom. It then opens a touch more toward yuzu peel and crisp pear. The palate is cut by citrus peel and a stony, oyster-shell minerality. Broader white-melon flavor consumes the midpalate. Editor’s Choice —Matt Kettmann$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Bonny Doon 2021 Picpoul (Central Coast)
92 Points Wine Enthusiast
The potential for Picpoul remains strong, thanks to bottlings like this. Fresh and clean aromas of white peach and lime sorbet show on the nose. The palate is broad with red-pear and nectarine flavors, as acid rises into the finish alongside a white-flower element. Editor’s Choice —M.K.$20.40 Vivino
91 Points Wine Enthusiast
This dry, tangy, light-bodied wine is laced with subtle mineral, walnut and apricot flavors that give it an enticing complexity. A sense of appetizing restraint is underlined by good acidity and a slight grip in the texture. —Jim Gordon$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Jean-Luc Colombo 2020 Les Girelles (Picpoul de Pinet)
90 Points Wine Enthusiast
Tropical aromas of pineapple and passionfruit waft from the glass along with grapefruit, cut grass and blossoming white flowers. A solid dose of acidity keeps the palate lively from start to finish, but ripe fruit flavors allow for a good midpalate weight and smooth mouthfeel. —Stacy Briscoe$ Varies Wine-Searcher
88 Points Wine Enthusiast
A ripe fruit profile of honeydew, cantaloupe and white peach complement zestier aromas of orange rind and pith on the nose of this enticing white. A gentle Spanish Broom accent lends a touch of additional depth to the bouquet. The palate is light and bright, driven by racy acidity that leads into a mouth-watering finish.$12.99 Vivino
What Food Pairs Well with Picpoul?
Enjoy with fresh seafood, shellfish, Asian fare and tangy cheeses.
What Does Picpoul Taste Like?
This wine has high acidity and notes of citrus, making it a very refreshing bottle. It can also be quite floral and has a touch of minerality.
How Do You Pronounce Picpoul?
The wine is pronounced pik-pul.
Is Picpul Dry?
Yes, it is a dry white wine.
What Grape Is Picpoul de Pinet?
It is a white wine made with the Picpoul grape from the AOC appellation of southern France’s Languedoc region.
Last Updated: July 12, 2023