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Pineau des Charentes

Pineau des Charentes Recipes and information

Pineau des Charentes

Pineau des Charentes (also known simply as pineau) is said to have originated in the 16th Century when wine must (i.e. unfermented grape juice) was accidentally poured into a cask containing cognac eau de vie. The cognac prevented the must from fermenting and the barrel was set aside as an unfortunate mistake. However, it was found that extended maturation saw the flavors of the wine must and cognac blend to produce a fine drink. Pineau des Charentes has been a specialty of the Charentes region ever since. The Charentes region seems to be sub-region within Cognac.

Recipes with Pineau des Charentes
Amour Rouge Cocktail
Grey Goose Origin
Potter's Coup

The regulations governing production of Pineau des Charentes are quite strict. For a start the product must come from the Charentes region. The grapes used for the must should be Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Colombard, Sémillon, Sauvignon or Montils. Pressing must be light to ensure the pressed juice is of high quality. The cognac used for blending must be a minimum of one year old, 60% or higher alcohol by volume, and from the same vineyard as the must. According to the Comité National du Pineau des Charentes the finished product must be matured in oak barrels for a minimum of 18 months. Other sources mention minimum maturation of 8 months for red pineau and 12 months for white, so there seems to be some ambiguity on this point. Old pineau can be aged for 10 years or longer. The alcoholic strength by volume must be in the range 16-22%. Most pineau is a blend of roughly one quarter cognac to three quarters wine must, with an alcoholic strength of around 17%.

The vast majority of pineau is either consumed within France or exported to Francophone markets. Less than 25% of pineau production is exported, and over 90% of exports go to Belgium and Canada. In practice France and Belgium together consume almost all pineau production. Canada follows a very distant third, but still consumes several times more than the next largest pineau drinking nation. I am guessing Quebec is the center of Canadian pineau consumption. The French are keeping this one very much to themselves. So enough of facts and figures! It is time to open that bottle and see what the French are hiding. . .

The taste is mild but interesting, and unusual compared to other aperitif wines. No herbal flavors, bitterness or spice leap out at you. There is also little of the matured complexity of aperitif wines like port or sherry. This stuff is simply sweet, full bodied, and extremely ‘fresh’. It tastes like a very fruity wine, but also reminds me strongly of mead (honey wine). It is hard to believe it contains no honey since the honey taste is so strong. There is also some apple aroma, though again no apples were harmed in its manufacture. It has an unusual ‘primeval’ character, reminding me of the opening titles in Werner Herzog’s ‘Fitzcarraldo’, which describe the Amazon is described as a place where God never finished his creation. Pineau seems slightly rough-and-ready, with a plethora of interesting aromas that threaten to erupt all over the place and are disinclined to sit still. This stuff should have potential as a cocktail ingredient. I wonder why it isn’t used more?

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