darwin_monoIn 2009 we celebrate Charles Darwin´s 200th birthday the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species.  This got me thinking about Darwinism, natural selection, and the survival of the fittest.  If it works for apes it should work for grapes.

According to Julian Jeffs in The Wines of Spain “the forty or so varieties that were planted in the eighteenth century (in la Rioja) have been reduced to seven”.  Some of the 33 MIA´s are no doubt alive and well outside la Rioja.  But others no doubt share the fate of Calagrano.  Now prohibited in the la Rioja (ouch!), it is almost extinct.  I suspect there will be no wailing and gnashing of teeth when this particular grape finally gives up the ghost or is being kept on life support in some obscure botanical garden.  The same scenario is playing itself out throughout the old world everyday.  I wonder how many of the 360 varieties that have disappeared from around Naples since 1930 are really missed, anyway?  A whole lot of them were no doubt boring and/or nasty and hadn’t been drunk by anyone under the age of 50 since the day a good road from the outside world finally reached their village, bringing with it decent wines. 


But then again there are many delightful, quirky obscure varieties which have their niche.  And other worthy grapes are waiting to be recognized or to find their true terroir.  So, which grapes should we worry about?  I personally think that some should be declared endangered species due to their charming names alone.  Take “baboso negro” which is found somewhere in the backwaters of the Canary Islands.  “Baboso negro” means something like “slobbering (or drooling or slimy) black grape”. Any of the three is enough to keep it around for my money. 


But what about the thousands of other fringe varieties which don’t boast such endearing tags?  At least one well-known wine critic says that the sophisticated consumer (that’s us, folks) have an almost moral obligation to buy from time to time a lesser-known varietal (even if it is overpriced and we don’t really like it) simply to help keep it going.  Other wine philosophers would let the market weed out the undesirables with the same “blind, pitiless indifference” that Darwin ascribes to Mother Nature´s natural selection process.  Battle royale between the free  marketeers and vine huggers. 


 This humble blog now takes an intrepid leap into this turbulent maelstrom. In honor of Darwin’s 200th birthday we introduce DARWIN, SAVE THIS GRAPE!!!(or NOT).  In this column we will put relatively obscure grapes to the ultimate test.  Thumbs up, or thumbs down. Survival of the fittest, baby! 


And today’s contestant is: PICAPOLL. 


Well, picapoll, the Catalan name of this native of Languedoc where it is called picpoul, is hardly on the endangered species list.  Under the alias “folle blanche” it survives in the western Loire; it is made into French Riviera best-seller “Les costiere de Pomerols”; it pops up in Chateuneuf-du-Pape, and even in California.  But still it is obscure enough for our purposes, so here goes. 


By the way picpoul means something like “lip stinger” in Languedoc; picapoll can mean something“louse bite” in Catalan.  Let’s see if the following three varietals live up to their august names. 


A.C. Coteaux du Languedoc, Picpoul-de-Pinet; Saint Peyre 2006

At a jolly Wine and Oysters evening at the Boston Wine School we tried this wine with oysters.  There was good company and bright conversation and the wine went down well.  Nothing too complex here; just drink and enjoy.   It is bright and crisp, with a nice little acid flash (though not as much as you might think from the “lip stinger” moniker).  And it goes well with the oysters, not a mean trick for an inexpensive wine.  Sure a fine sparkler, an upscale Chablis, or a minerally Sancerre goes great with oysters, but this humble Picpoul can be had for around $10 US.  


A.C. Coteaux du Languedoc, Picpoul-de-Pinet, “Les costieres de Pomerol”, Hugues Beaulieu, 2007

Ditto the above. Nice citrusy bouquet and maybe a little more acid than the Saint Peyre and even cheaper at about $8. Chill it up and serve it nice and cold as an aperitif or with sea food on a hot summer day.   


D.O. Pla de Pages, Abadal Picapoll, Masies d’Avinyo

This is my personal favorite, although I´ve never seen it in the U.S.  It is made by one of my favorite Spanish winemakers, Masies d’Avinyo (D.O. Pla de Pages).  This picapoll varietal recently won the Ramon Llull prize for “recovering local varieties” and “maintaining grape diversity” in Catalunya.  I recently shared a bottle with my friend Ricard in his Barcelona apartment. After a meandering chat about this and that, he said something like “you see, wine doesn’t have to be so complicated”.  A dig at yours truly? 

So, these wines are best with good company and easy conversation.  They are definitely not to brood over; don’t expect hidden depths or mystical flashes of terroir.  They are cheery wines, with some citrus working, and a little acid “louse bit” to keep things interesting.  And they don’t break the bank.   





  1. Raymondo Says:

    I’m a quiet fan of the Abadal Picapoll too, though when I first mentioned this to a certain goateed gent of our mutual acquaintance he scoffed, calling it a supermarket wine. Save the Picapoll I say. If I could have found this pleasant gem, & others like it, in my local supermarket back in the motherland I might not be here.

  2. Xiomara Says:

    You are so interesting! I don’t think I’ve read through a single thing like that before.
    So great to discover somebody with unique thoughts
    on this topic. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up.
    This website is one thing that’s needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

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