A pilgrimage to the home of Picpoul de Pinet

It’s been a fair few years since I discovered Picpoul de Pinet, so when planning a wine tasting trip to the South of France it seemed only right to include a trip to the tiny appellation where it’s made. What resulted was one of the best and probably most bountiful wine tours I’ve done, tasting no less than 12 wines in an afternoon at two very different vineyards.

PicpoulWe were staying in Montpellier, the capital of the Languedoc region and booked a tour with Montepllier Wine Tours which started from Sete, a half hour train ride away. Sete is a port town that is known as the Venice of the Languedoc because of it’s network of canals. So it’s a pretty place and was well worth getting there early to have a wander round.

SeteSeteThe tour was starting from the train station so we headed back that way to have lunch at Brasserie Le Victor. It’s next to the local theatre and was the perfect place to sit outside, people watch and eat a delicious salad. As we would be spending the afternoon tasting Picpoul which is a white grape we decided to try the Languedoc rose with lunch. It was actually very similar to the Provence rose we’d been tasting over the previous few days, but quite a bit cheaper.

SeteSeteMaybe we wouldn’t have had wine with lunch if we’d realised just how many we’d be tasting but hey, it was a sunny day in Southern France. And we didn’t mention it when we met our tour guide Marc, who it turned out was giving us a private tour as there were only the two of us booked on it. Result!

Heading out of Sete we initially drove alongside the Thau lagoon, a large expanse of salt water peppered with oyster and mussel beds. My friend and I are both allergic but if you’re a seafood fan there are tours that combine wine and food tastings.

SeteThen we headed inland to our first vineyard, Chateau Saint-Martin de la Garrigue in the village of Montagnac. At the centre of the estate is a gorgeous Renaissance château that is surrounded by gardens, vineyards, olive groves, pine trees and the typical Mediterranean bushland – garrigue.

Chateau Saint-Martin de la GarrigueChateau Saint-Martin de la GarrigueBefore tasting the wines we were able to go inside and take a look. The chateau has been completely restored and while the outside looks very typical of its era the inside unusually combines tradition with very modern furniture and decor. Might not be to everyone’s taste but we thought it really worked.  There’s also a small 9th century chapel in the grounds and a swimming pool. If you’re interested the chateau can be rented but there’s no indication of price on the website.

Chateau Saint-Martin de la GarrigueChateau Saint-Martin de la GarrigueThe wine tour includes seeing the cellars with their huge wooden barrels and stainless steel vats and then tasting five wines including of course their Picpoul de Pinet. It was an excellent one and it was good to try some other Languedoc grapes too.

Wine barrelsPicpoulOur second vineyard visit couldn’t have been more different. Domaine Gaujal is in the village of Pinet, the very heart of the appellation. To do the tasting we went into a courtyard with various small brick buildings and headed into one where our hosts were waiting.

PinetIt was a quirky place with interesting decor and quite dark. So before tasting our first wine we took it outside to look at its colour against a white piece of paper and in decent light. We’d been taught this on our Provence wine tour a couple of days earlier but behind us we heard the lady who was looking after us ask Marc if we were professional wine drinkers. A proud moment indeed!

PinetWe tasted seven wines here including a variety of Picpoul wines. We hadn’t realised there were different types of Picpoul so it was a real treat. Some of the variation included different quality of wines while one was a blend and another was late harvest. We came away with a lot more knowledge about our favourite wine and even a book all about it.

Domaine GaujalPicpoulWe also got to see a demonstration of water jousting, which takes place in Sete every August in front of a huge crowd. It involves two guys facing off on platforms attached to crewed rowboats and using lances and wooden shields to try and knock the other into the water. Obviously the demo we saw from Marc and the vineyard owner was on land but we got the idea.

Water joustingAfter the tasting Marc shepherded us back into the car to take us to see the appellation sign at the centre of the village and then some vines. Needless to say photos had to be taken of both, if only to remind us of that time we went on a pilgrimage to the home of our favourite white wine grape, Picpoul and came away just a little bit sozzled!

Picpoul grapesClick on an image below to see more photos in the gallery and check the France section of my blog for more posts about my trip to Provence and the Languedoc.

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