Malcolm Jolley finds a fun summer white from a famous French winemaker…

2018 Jean-Luc Colombo ‘Les Girelles’ Picpoul de Pinet ($18.95 – LCBO# 16412)

At my local LCBO, the ‘flagship store’ at Summerhill, there is a display island at the back of the European Vintages section reserved for the wines of the Northern Rhône. I often pause before it and day dream over the expensive bottles arrayed before me and try desperately to think of how I could justify maxing out my Visa card on a few Cornas and Condrieus, and wonder whether the children really need new shoes. Then, I pivot left and look for bargains from the Southern Rhone and Languedoc.

One label on that pricey display island that always grabs my attention has the distinctive lettering of ‘Jean-Luc Colombo‘. Last time he was in Toronto, his agency Profile Wine Group, held a tasting where he led me and a group of journalists and sommeliers through his 2014 Condrieu ‘Amour de Dieu’ and his 2014 ‘Terres Brûlées’ and ‘Les Ruchets’ Cornas. All cost about $100, or did – maybe more now. But we also tasted some of his wines from the Southern Rhône and Languedoc that were under $20. It’s a truism that great winemakers make great wine, whatever the price point. And there is a sentiment in wino circles that anyone can make a decent expensive wine, but making a delicious affordable wine is the true test of the vigneron. With the 2018 Jean-Luc Colombo ‘Les Girelles’ Picpoul de Pinet ($18.95 – LCBO# 16412), Monsieur Colombo, and his winemaking partner and wife Anne, have risen to the challenge.

We don’t see a lot of Picpoul in Ontario, but I do when I visit the UK. There, my impression is that its reputation is mixed between a plonky supermarket wine and a great value, underappreciated gem. It that way it reminds me of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, another slightly aromatic, crisp but capable of weight, white that can really outperform. Interestingly, Picpoul in one of the few appellations that is both the name of the grape and the geographic area of production. I wonder if these wines from the East of the Languedoc aren’t having a bit of a renaissance, and Les Girelles might be my ‘Exhibit A’. In any event the Colombo Picpoul is definitely in the underappreciated, amazing value side of the spectrum. It’s full of tangy citrus with a touch florality on the finish and good weight on the mid-palate. At a declared 13.5% alcohol, it’s a little dangerous on a warm summer evening, so I suggest serving it as an aperitif with snacks. At $18.95 at the LCBO Vintages, it’s certainly worth a try.