Novellum – Value from the Sunny Side of France

My “Great Wine Values” tastings continue with a Chardonnay from the south of France, specifically the Languedoc-Rousillon region.

This 2017 Novellum Chardonnay cost $12.99 on Wine.Com. It got a 92 score from Jeb Dunnuck (a breakaway critic from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate). That means that the Novellum’s price-per-point is an insanely low $0.14!

When I drink whites from Languedoc-Rousillon, roses from Bandol or whatever from Provence, I’m expecting sun-in-a-glass. Other than that, wine-making styles vary wildly.

Boom! When I swirled this in the glass, I smelled candied pineapple and papaya before I even brought it near my mouth! In terms of flavor, it was very ‘sunny’ – tropical fruits, very limited oak impact, and good acidity with a touch of sweetness.

A Long Way from Burgundy

My wife liked it – though she told me it didn’t taste like a Chardonnay to her at all. “Certainly not a French Chardonnay.”

She thought it was a Riesling! And I can understand why – there was a surprising aromatic quality to the nose that made me think there was some Viognier or Marsanne added to the Chardonnay.

Later, I was chuffed to discover that I was kind of correct: 80% of the Chardonnay was aged in tanks on Viognier lees.

I’m not such a huge fan of this style, to be honest. I like the limited oak, I like the fruit but overall I don’t think I could drink four glasses of this. I don’t think I will include this one in the upcoming WineKnow tasting event. But you might love it! Different strokes for different folks!

WineKnow Facts:

  • The large wine regions of Languedoc-Rousillon and Provence are (in terms of location) very similar. The Rhone River flows into the Mediterranean near Arles, which is bang in the middle of France’s coastline. Just remember Two Ls: Languedoc-Rousillon is to the “Left” (i.e., to the west of Arles and the Rhone, stretching towards Spain) while Provence is to the east of Arles, stretching towards Italy.
  • Vines in the Languedoc get MUCH more sun than in Bordeaux or Burgundy. So you’d expect a Languedoc (or Provencal) Chardonnay to taste a lot ‘sunnier’ down than classic white Burgundy (Chardonnay). And they do. They are generally fruitier, less acidic and less complicated.
  • Languedoc (and further west, Rousillon) is a great area for value wines in France. The reds tend to be GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends like in the Rhone Valley, while the whites are a mix of aromatic Rhone varieties like Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne or international crowd-pleasers like Chardonnay.
  • Stylistically, these wines are all over the place. Some are overtly copying the “New World” model of super-plush or heavily-oaked wines. Others are as restrained as they can be given the climate. You just have to try them until you find a few you like. Good news is, they’re cheap!

Picpoul de Pinet

Sure, it’s exciting to try a famous wine: a “cult” cab from Napa or a first growth from Bordeaux.

But I find it a lot more thrilling to taste a grape I’ve never tried before, especially when I have zero knowledge about the sort of wines it makes. When we traveled in Georgia (a sovereign nation in the Caucausus hehe), virtually ALL of the grapes were unknown to me. In Italy, each province had local grapes we’d never heard or seen before.

So this was my first Picpoul de Pinet – a white from southern France. (That’s about all I knew.) What would it taste like? Would it be aromatic? More like Chardonnay or more like Sauvignon Blanc or more like a Viognier?

Pic-a-boo! Who are you?

COLOR: Light yellow (NOT almost clear like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio)

SMELL: Pear and lemon fruit, no obvious oak, no strong floral aromas

BODY: Medium-bodied with a very smooth feel

ACIDITY: Medium-high. Higher than a Chardonnay but lower than a Sauvignon Blanc.

FLAVORS: Tart lemon, a bit of pear/melon but with a savory bitterness/dryness at the end that was very unusual.

Did I enjoy it? Yes! (Although I think a decent percentage of people would find the bitter finish unpleasant.)

What would it taste great with? Seafood, I’d say. This is an oyster wine for sure.

What did it remind me of? A bit of Verdelho. A bit of unwooded Chardonnay.

WINEKNOW FACTS:

  • So Picpoul de Pinet is actually an AREA, and the grape is Picpoul.
  • Pinet is a small AOC (Defined Area) in Provence between Montpelier and Beziers
  • The Picpoul grape is a late-ripening variety; so it needs good, long summers
  • Picpoul translates as “lip stinger” for its acidity! (I still don’t find it as acidic as SB)
  • A Decanter magazine blog said this was a perfect seafood wine and compared it to Muscadet (from the Loire Valley) although I find Muscadet has more of a perception of sweetness than this Picpoul does
  • This wine is CHEAP! (usually around $10) and comes in a long-necked green bottle with a cool, cruciform logo embossed on the neck
  • Going to the coast? Seafood barbecue? This wine would kill it and you’d get respect for bringing something different.
  • I SHOULD HAVE HAD THIS IN MY “SUMMER WHITES” TASTING!