Pineau des Charentes: A Regional Apéritif
The first time I was offered a glass of Pineau, I opted for both. What better way to celebrate a family reunion in Dompierre-sur-mer, a charming town near the historic port of La Rochelle, when family from all over the globe decided to spring a surprise reunion in Europe.
Pineau des Charentes is an apéritif from the Charentes region in the south west of France that has its origins in 1589. History relates that it was the result of the accidental addition of grape juice to a cask of Cognac, an auspicious mistake at the time that led to the fortunate birth of what is now considered one of the region’s popular drinks.
The sweet and fruity mistelle is produced by mixing grape must (unfermented grape juice) with a young Cognac high in alcohol content (60%) to prevent it from fermenting. It is then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of one year depending on the varietal. According to the Comité National du Pineau des Charentes, Pineau Vieux and Très Vieux are aged five and ten years respectively. It is available in the white, rosé and red.
Pineau des Charentes has its own Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), which means it has to abide by a set of stringent rules governing how the wine is produced including its origin, grape varieties, ageing and labelling.
With an alcoholic strength of 17%, it is traditionally enjoyed as an apéritif, lightly chilled. Its sweetness also lends itself to be drunk as an after dinner fortified wine. Pineau can also be used in cocktails, added to sparkling wine even with gin. It features in cuisine charentaise such as moules au Pineau, which consists of mussels cooked with garlic, onion, parsley, a little cream and steamed in Pineau.
A word of advice when ordering the apéro at a restaurant or a bar. If you’re not in the Charentes region don’t just ask for un Pineau, or you might be presented with a bottle of Pinot Noir wine as I was in Paris. Better be safe and refer to it by its full name to avoid any confusion.
When a singular taste triggers memories of a happy event, one is compelled to recreate it at home. My search for a Pineau in Sydney led to the Ultimo Wine Centre. Ironically, it came from Château de la Péraudière which is located in the town of Dompierre.
Australia has a related wine well worthy of a mention. Cassae from Cassegrain Wineries in New South Wales is produced by the same method as Pineau des Charentes. I have not done a side by side taste comparison but I have found Cassae to be quite a pleasant after dinner drink that has been enjoyed on many occasions.
Next time in France or if your bottle shop carries it, give Pineau des Charentes a try, neat, and lightly chilled.
I never decided if I preferred the blanc or the rosé. There’s always next time.
For more information :
Comité National du Pineau des Charentes
Ultimo Wine Centre
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