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Do You Know Pineau?

Hoke Harden

New Member
Sep 24, 2014
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Do You Know Pineau?

No, not Pinot, neither Noir, nor Gris, nor Blanc. Not Pineau d’Aunis. And not Pineau de la Loire either.

Do you know Pineau des Charentes? If you don’t, you should.

Pineau des Charentes is not well-known here in the U.S., but it is hugely popular in Cognac---no surprise there, since it is made only in Cognac and it requires both the grapes of Cognac as well as a healthy dollop of Eau-de-Vie de Cognac (the brandy) to make Pineau.

Although in the E.U. category of wine---Vins de Liqueur or fortified wine---Pineau is not actually a wine. Neither is it a brandy.

What is it, then? The cognaçais take a portion of the freshly pressed pure grape juice each harvest and ‘shock’ it to stop fermentation by adding 25% Cognac (both grape must and brandy must come from the same vineyard). They call it a ‘mistelle’. Whatever it is called, it’s remarkably versatile and tasty.

J, Navarre Vieux Pineau
Although required to be a
minimum of 5 years in barrel,
this Vieux remained in barrel
for 30 years prior to bottling.
In a word, subline.

Pineau des Charentes is a beloved tradition going back 400 years. It’s the aperitif the cognaçais make for themselves. But you can enjoy it too.

Why should you seek out Pineau des Charentes? Several reasons.

Pineau is the very definition of ‘artisanal’
If you admire the artisanal movement, Pineau is about as small-batch, hands-on artisanal as you get. To make Pineau you must A) Own a farm in Cognac. B) Grow grapes on that farm. C) Make brandy from only those grapes. D) Use only grape juice and brandy from that vineyard. E) Make a blend of 75% grape juice with 25% Cognac to stop fermentation and retain the natural sweetness of the grape. (Sounds tasty already, eh.) F) Put the Pineau in an oak barrel; depending on the type of Pineau, that may range from 12 months to more than 30 years.

Now that’s about as artisanal as you can get.

It is a delightful aperitif
Although it may seem counterintuitive to have an aperitif that is sweet, it’s not; you need to try it. The naturally high acidity keeps the sweetness from being cloying; the light fruit aromas and flavors are delicious and charming; the brandy adds a bit of backbone; and the required barrel aging allows the juice and brandy to integrate slowly over a period of time.

Pineau is what virtually everyone drinks as an aperitif in Cognac, usually neat and lightly chilled or as a tasty spritizer with tonic or soda. When you are there, it is a pleasant habit to get used to.

The Color, Age and Flavor Range of Pineau des Charentes
(L - R) Blanc-Vieux Blanc-Tres Vieux Bland
Rouge/Rose', Vieux, Tres Vieux.

Pineau is available in a variety of flavors and styles
White, Rosé or Red? Pineau has you covered. Young (minimum of 12-18 months) and fresh and vibrant? You bet. Old (labelled Vieux) with a minimum of five years in barrel? Very popular. Tres Vieux (very old) for the “rancio” development of extended barrel aging, a minimum of 10 years (soon to be 12) and some much older. It is not uncommon to see the Tres Vieux Pineau at or exceeding 30 years in barrel. And yes, that 30 year old is just as remarkable as you think it would be, layer upon layer upon layer of infinitely expanding complexities.

A Tasting Plate for Pineau
Caneles, Butter Cookies, Parmesan,
Bleu, Goat Cheese, Quince Paste,
Hazelnuts, Walnuts, and a large chunk
of rich Dark Chocolate.

Pineau is profoundly tasty with/on/in food
Chef Thierry Verat proved pineau’s versatility through a multi-course menu at his restaurant La Ribaudiere in Cognac. He began with Guerin Pineau Rosé on the rocks (delicious) and then proceeded to several courses, from soup to seafood to meat to cheese to dessert, each dish containing Pineau in some form. It was an amazing tour-de-force of a meal.

A Negroni with Pineau.

Pineau is a dazzling ingredient in a craft cocktail
In another type of tour-de-force, bartenders from around the world presented an array of intriguing craft cocktails using pineau as an ingredient. It’s sort of like vermouth (also a fortified and barrel aged aromatizzato)---but not really. It’s sort of a liqueur---but not really.

Pineau adds complexity and depth and resonance to all sorts of drinks, from a simple Aperol-Pineau Spritz to a jazzed-up French 75 to a tiki-tropical fruit delight to a whimsical Americano, and all the way to a gorgeous take on an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. And although fortified, it is a low-alcohol---usually about 17% abv---ingredient that can electrify a cocktail.

Try a well aged Pineau with
Caneles de Bordeaux, sticky caramel outside
and gooey custard inside.
Final reason: it tastes good
Whether as an aperitif, an on-the-rocks sipper/cooler, a companion to food, a tantalizing ingredient in a craft cocktail, or a soothing digestif after a luxurious meal, Pineau des Charentes is something you need to make acquaintance with.

Sufficient reasons all for trying Pineau des Charentes. It may not be easy to find---but there are several Pineau des Charentes imported to the U.S., so they’re out there, and more are coming. Google it: hit wine-searcher.com or Cellartracker, or Wine.com, or Vivino, or your favorite wine store. Check with a local gourmet grocery if you have one. (The two closest to me both stock Pineau on the shelf.)

For more information on Pineau des Charentes try their website here. Or Google; you know how to do that.


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