Discover the beautiful story of Pineau des Charentes or how a simple mistake was transformed into globally appreciated aperitif...
400 years ago, the error of the century?
According to the legend, the Pineau des Charentes is not only the fruit of the vine, but also the fruit of chance. In 1589, in a remote area of the Cognac region lived a winemaker, simple and serious man, having the heart to work. One day during harvest, he accidentally poured grape must in cognac barrels. Furious at his clumsiness, he put the cask away in a corner of the cellar.
A few years later, when the harvest was abundant and he needed all his barrels to host the precious juice, he went to recover the cast aside barrel. About to throw its contents, what was his amazement to discover a wonderful liquid, clear and golden, fruity and heady, sunny as the land of Charentes. Pineau des Charentes was born!
Appellation and manufacture of Pineau des Charentes
By 1935, the Pineau des Charentes gets the status of Appellation d’Origine (AO) fortified wine. It has the French label "AOC" since 1945 and the European label PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).
Pineau des Charentes is obtained by mixing the must, obtained by pressing grapes, with cognac at 60-72 ABV. The Cognac must be distilled the previous year.
Pineau des Charentes is necessarily obtained after an assembly in French oak barrels for about 75% of grape juice and 25% of Cognac. After aging, the analysis should reveal an alcohol content of between 16 ° and 22 °, and a sugar content of 125g of grapes per liter minimum.
The designation requires that the grape must and the Cognac come from the same vineyard, the same terroir and the knowhow of the men passed from generation to generation since 1589. Only after one year of aging the beverage is able to get the appellation Pineau des Charentes, but it still must be approved by a tasting committee appointed by the producers. At this stage, about 30% of production is postponed. If tasting is positive, the Commission, in liaison with the union of producers, grants approval to the product and issue its stamp. Pineau can then be bottled and delivered to the consumer. Everything is done to guarantee consumers a high quality product.
Difference between white and red (or rosé) Pineau
The land of Charentes is anything but monotonous and the wide range of flavors it exhales is reflected in the different grape varieties. There are two varieties of Pineau: white (more dry) and rosé or red (more fruity).
Pineau des Charentes white, has hues of blonde and amber light and the sweet smell of honey. The musts used come mainly from the following white varieties:
Ugni Blanc (also called "Saint-Emilion des Charentes")
Meslier St. Francis
Pineau des Charentes White must age a minimum of 18 months of which 12 months in oak barrels.
Pineau des Charentes rosé or red has bright ruby hues and the musts are mainly from following red varieties:
Some of these red varieties are also used to develop the Charentais red wine (vin Charentais). Pineau rosé or red must be aged a minimum of 12 months, including 8 months in oak barrels.
A bit more about the production
The white grapes are pressed as soon as the harvest is completed while red goes through several hours of maceration to get a nice bright red color. Then comes the fortification technique of mixing the grape with the cognac that must be aged at least one year. The "fortification" ends the must fermentation process by killing the yeast and leaving natural residual sugar.
From the legend that gave it birth, Pineau des Charentes retained the poetry and the innate characteristics. Today, Pineau can age for several years in barrels according to traditional rules. The wood used comes from Limousin and Tronçais in France. This wood, both waterproof and porous, is sufficiently little tight to allow evaporation of the esters and the "angels' share". Its tannin helps to give flavor Pineau who, like all that is noble, improves with age. Let those who do not believe the legends taste Pineau des Charentes, the taste will prove to them its worth.
The aging of Pineau des Charentes
As we described above, Pineau, like cognac, must age in oak barrels. It is at the end of aging that the blended must and cognac may be called “Pineau des Charentes”. It is during this phase that the fortified wine acquires its finesse and complete its aromatic palette. The virtues of patience pay off when Pineau achieves a harmony of taste combining power and aromatic complexity, roundness and freshness in the mouth.
There are two sub appellations of superior quality: the "Old Pineau" aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 5 years and the "Very Old Pineau" aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 10 years.
Use of Pineau des Charentes
Cocktail Negroni Charentais
It was not until 1921 that Pineau des Charentes was marketed by a winemaker in Burie, Charente-Maritime, France. Since that time, Pineau was widely imposed in France and beyond its borders. Outside of France it is found mostly in Belgium, North America, Taiwan, and Germany...
Traditionally consumed as an aperitif, many gastronomes noted that its roundness goes well with foie gras and its mellowness and sweetness complements some fruits like cantaloupe and strawberries. Pineau also makes unexpected combinations: Its fruity taste is beautiful with oysters. Generally Pineau des Charentes is served at 54 °F (average cellars temperature) although we recommend drinking it cooler between 41 °F and 43 °F.
How should I taste it?
Neat prefer a tulip glass that will showcase its color and bouquet and express all the richness of the soil. A young Pineau can be served as an aperitif, while an old or very old Pineau harmoniously accompany a fine meal.
In cocktail, it readily combines with fruit juice, tonic water and a few mint leaves. During a meal an old or very old white Pineau is the perfect companion to a foie gras, goat cheese or blue cheese. An old or very old Red Pineau is pleasurable with a chocolate dessert (black forest cake for example). And a young Pineau red will enhances the aromas of a strawberries salad. The young white Pineau, it is undoubtedly a friend of cantaloupe. In gastronomy, the Pineau des Charentes is the ideal partner for delicious recipes.
How should I store it?
Once bottled, the Pineau des Charentes will not evolve further; prolonged cellar conservation thus won’t provide any maturing but also won’t hurt him (provided you keep the bottles upright and away from light sources imperatively). After opening, the Pineau is preserved safely in the refrigerator, upright. It will be preferable to leave it at room temperature for a few minutes before serving.