(Photos © Kiwidutch)
Pineau des Charantes is the “official” name of this aperitif, made exclusively in the departements of the Charente and the Charente Maritime in central-south-east France. What is particular is that even when we drove 3 hours north within France and asked about Pineau we were met with blank stares and puzzled looks because people there had never heard of this regional delicacy and delightful secret.
It can be obtained in some select areas of France from people who have learned the secret but don’t count on finding it outside the Charentes at all and count your blessings if you do. Apparently Belgium has it’s fair share of Pineau admirers and it can be found there more readily than most other areas of France but since we personally buy our stock when we visit the Charente, I couldn’t vouch for the accuracy of the Belgium information that I received. Certainly the best reason for getting your Pineau locally in the area where it is made is simply that you will be able to taste a sample of what you are getting and compare them, and they will be substantially cheaper in price.
So, why go all the way to the Charente and what exactly is this treasure? As I explained before ( in less detail) Pineau, as the locals simply call it (sometimes also known as “Pineau Charentais”) is made from the very first pressings of grape juice that is added to Cognac, which is a kind of brandy. This first juice must be made on the same day that the grapes are picked and then added to Cognac of various ages to produce a variance of taste results (and price too, since understandably an aged Cognac is more expensive a commodity then a young or barely aged Cognac.)
The story of Pineau is that it is a wonderful error of serendipity that happened in the late 1580′s when a servant (some say winemaker) added fresh pressed grape juice to a barrel that he thought was empty, but which contained eau de vie for Cognac, and unawares it was aged as usual with the other barrels and only a few years later was the result of this happy accident discovered and Pineau as we know it today was born.
(Photos © Kiwidutch)
If the grapes varieties of Ugni Blanc or Folle Blanche are used, then the resulting Pineau will be Blanc (White) and it is usually aged from between 15 months up to decades long, after which the colour varies from a light yellow to a creamy gold, depending on the oak barrels that it was aged in and the age of the eau de vie that it is mixed with.
Pineau Rose (Red) is made using Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties and is aged for at least 15 months. Both Rose and Blanc Pineau’s will end up with an alcohol content of about 17% and the final taste is similar to a good Port, but it’s different. Various Pineau’s have their own character and level of sweetness, and Hubby and I started out many years ago with a distinct preference for Blanc Pineau, probably simply because it was the only Pineau available when we first tasted it because Blanc was what was made by the farmer that Hubby worked for, and we never really tried the Rose much. Our experience is that here seems to be more of the Blanc available for sale, but after 17 and 26 years respectively of our personal Pineau admiration, we have slowly but surely formed a bigger preference for the Rose, and now that we mentioned this in one of the local vineyards, we were greeted by a smiling remark that that’s how the local French mostly prefer their Pineau too.
Colours of the Rose depend on the type of the grape used, the age of the eau de vie and the length of time that the Pineau has been aged in the barrel.
There are a multitude of small Pineau makers, some make it for commercial purposes, many for personal consumption only.