Pineau des Charentes is a complex fortified wine with a sophisticated sweet side. It’s about the mingling of grape flavors with Cognac characteristics.
People say it’s fresh, sweet and fruity but for me there’s more. It’s deep layers of complex flavor that promote discussion: bright to bruised apple, ripe apricot and fig, light spice, and vanilla nuttiness. Some have floral notes, and a bit of crisp acidity- all this on a thin layer of sweetness. The curious thing is not many know about it!
My “pee-no-day-sharant” introduction started with Darrell Corti, a most knowledgeable man on the topic of wine and food, and, Culinary Institute of America Vintner’s Hall of Fame inductee. Darrell shared in his engaging manner that “Pineau” is a Vin de Liqueur, the most famous in fact. Produced in white, red, and rosé styles, people commonly enjoy it as an aperitif in the old world.
I purchased and tasted it that same day. Several years and a continent later I find myself face to face with this wine-based beverage.
It’s made in a region just north of Bordeaux where the grape spirit Cognac is added to either unfermented or partially fermented grape must from the current year’s vintage until it reaches 16 to 22% alcohol. The ratio for Pineau is approximately one part Cognac to three parts must. Once mixed, aging follows.
- White Pineau – a minimum of 18 months, 12 in oak
- Red and Rosé – a minimum of 14 months, 8 in oak
Finding older versions definitely excites me: five year aged vieux (old), and ten year aged très vieux (very old and more of a rarity) are both richer and more complex than younger versions. We recently tasted a très vieux layered with soft richness. I likened it to a ginger snap crumbed over a brioche slice, drizzled with salted caramel orange sauce and topped with walnuts and almonds.
Although it has a sweet side, Pineau can be beautifully balanced if acidity and Cognac’s depth and body are present. Adding sugar is strictly forbidden; sugar in the freshly pressed grapes brings its natural sweetness.
The grapes used to make white Pineau are less common: a minimum of 90% Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and/or Folle Blanche. While Jurançon Blanche, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion are allowed, they’re not used often.
Grape varieties for rosé and red are Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I haven’t met a Pineau I didn’t like, although I tend to reach for the white version.
Again, Pineau is a type of Vin de Liqueur. They’re made many places throughout Europe and often referred to as “Mistella” in Italy, “Mistela,” in Spain, and “Mistelle” in France. You can find one on the Greek island of Samos, “Anthemis” and one from Sonoma, California, however France is the Vin de Liqueur epicenter (the départements of Charente and Charente-Maritime).
A Cocktail Lovers Tip!
Pineau is commonly consumed as an aperitif. Some mixologists say it’s great for concocting a variety of drinks including the Pineau Shrub (Pineau, rosemary pineapple shrub, lemon juice, orange bitters), Pineau Colada (Pineau, pineapple juice, coconut milk, lime juice blended with ice), and Pineau Pompadour (Pineau, rum, and lemon juice).
For a Pineau Martini, mix 2 parts gin with 1 part Pineau.
The Payoff – Pineau Pairings
Pineau is nice with a variety of foods. The payoff of finding a bottle? An apero after work, enjoyment with brunch, or anytime with friends. Here are a few items that work well with Pineau:
- Rillette or Pâté- try salmon, pork or duck
- Mushroom Pâté
- Cheese plates- especially with blue veined cheese and aged Gouda
- Curry dishes
- Fig Tart with Orange Custard (or Crème Anglaise)
- Tarte tatin
A favorite springtime Pineau beverage is chilled sparkling water with Pineau (75%-25%) in a short glass with an orange twist. Pineau is nice chilled.
Give Pineau A Try
It’s hard to find more than a bottle or two at most wine shops in the U.S., if at all. Ask your favorite merchant where you can find a Pineau. Corti Bros in Sacramento, California carries a few bottles. Max and Sophie at The Cognac Expert in France have a healthy selection…and ship to the U.S. too!