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Friday, December 27, 2013

Pineau des Charentes; the Aperitif of France’s Cognac region. Cognac III.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
Pineau des Charentes AOC; 
one of France’s finest apéritifs.
    A bottle of Pineau de Charentes.
Photograph courtesy of  Pictr73

Locally, and among its aficionados everywhere, Pineau des Charentes AOC is just called Pineau and so I will use that name in this post.
Pineau wines come in two versions, whites, really light to dark yellows, and rosés, with some of the rosés dark enough to be called reds. These are wines whose aging and fermentation has been stopped by the addition of Cognac.  For your first taste of Pineau, as an aperitif, order a young  Pineau well chilled; if it is cold, as it should be, enjoy the aroma, then sip it, and then quaff it; you will love it. 
The flavors of Pineau.

The flavors of Pineau vary slightly with the wines used in their production as well as their age. White Pineaus are made with the same grapes that are used for Cognac. Other white wine grapes may be added and they can pleasantly affect the flavor; each producer has his or her own preferences.  The rosé and or red Pineaus are made mostly from blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc; once again,  as with the white Pineaus to stop the aging of rosés and reds Cognac is added.
Enjoy your Pineau.
Photograph courtesy of vincen-t.

The younger Pineaus.
For Pineaus the younger wines are the best choices; despite that statement, age does add certain flavors and accents and the serious admirers of Pineau will argue that the five or ten-year-old wines are to be preferred.  Despite my respect for age I prefer the younger Pineaus as they are enjoyable and uncomplicated pre-dinner drinks. When dining with friends I prefer the discussions and arguments about food and wine that begin when the meal is underway, and that means after the apéritifs; additionally the older the wine, the higher the price. When Pineau is the apéritif of choice I am content with the younger versions. 

      Another bottle of red Pineau des Charentes.
Photograph courtesy of thierry llansades
Pineaus are also used in many cocktails and sauces and there are well recommended red and white Pineau vinegars.
Magret de Canard  and Pineau des Charentes on a French menu

Pepper-honey glazed pan-seared duck breast served with grilled melon, summer vegetable pearls, and a sauce based on Pineau des Charentes.
Photograph courtesy of Renée S. Suen.

The aging and creation of Pineau.
The wines used to make Pineau des Charentes are aged, in barrels, most for between one and a-half to three years, though some are aged for ten years or longer. The creation of  a Pineau comes with the addition of Cognac to the wine that stops both the aging and fermentation; from then on a Pineau’s age remains the same as the day it was bottled.   Wines made like Pineau, with the aging and fermentation stopped by the addition of a distilled liquor, are called vins de liqueur, in English they are called fortified wines.  The added liquor boosts the final alcohol content and in Pineaus that is anywhere from 16% to 22% with most having 17% alcohol. Other French apéritifs made in a similar manner include Armagnac’s Floc de Gascogne, Calvados's Pommeau and the Jura’s Macvin.  With similar methods of preparation in different countries, with different amounts of aging and different distilled alcohols come Ports, Sherries, Madeira, Marsallas and similar wines.
   Barrels of Pineau des Charentes aging.
Photograph courtesy of sardinista.

On a French list of aperitifs, the carte du apéritifs, there may be a Pineau des Charentes Vieux, Vieux mean old, and the wine used for a Pineau Vieux will have been aged in a barrel for at least five years. If the menu offers a Pineau des Charentes Tres Vieux, very old, then the wine will have been aged for a minimum of 10 years.

A white "Vieux"  Pineau des Charentes from Cognac Bertrand.
Holder of the 2012 Union of French Oenologists (Winemakers) award Prix de Vinalies
Photograph courtesy of Cognac Bertrand.

The brotherhood and sisterhood of Pineau des Charentes.
The Confrérie de Franc Pineau.

Like many other wines and foods promoting the Pineau is a confrérie; confréries are French brother and sisterhoods that voluntarily popularize  their favorite wine or food product.  The confrérie popularizing  Pineau des Charentes is the Confrérie de Franc Pineau, its members, like the members of nearly all confréries, dress up in would-be ancient costumes, organize parades, award each other medals and make sure that no cheap imitations are being offered. 
      The Confrérie of Pineau des Charentes is in town.
Photograph courtesy of Zevillage

The members of the Confréries de Franc Pineau swear eternal allegiance to their favorite aperitif and then have a great time at their frequent dinners and other activities. Should you enjoy Pineau and wish to join their confrérie and spread the good word you will be seriously considered for membership if you accept all the obligations. There are branches of the Confrérie de Franc Pineau outside France, from Belgium to New York, Hong Kong and more. 
   Waiters and waitresses in the

Trophée Pineau des Charentes race in Bruxelles, Belgium

The race is over 2.50kms, the participants must carry three filled glasses and one bottle of Pineau. Running shoes are not allowed.

Photograph courtesy of  saigneurdeguerre .     

Buying Pineau des Charentes.
If you are in France and have enjoyed a Pineau as an aperitif, and wish to take a bottle home remember that the younger Pineaus are relatively inexpensive, most under USD 15.00. Whether you prefer a young, or an older and finer wine, there is a usually a far greater choice, in French wine shops than in the duty-free.
Storing Pineau des Charentes.
Pineau does not age in the bottle and so it may be kept standing up or lying down; however, light can affect a Pineau’s color over time.  If you are not planning to drink your Pineau within a year of purchase keep it in a dark cupboard.
Links of interest:

Les Étapes du Cognac
A group representing of 50 producer merhanys and Cognac lovers. 

Cognac Bertrand.
A family owned Cognac producer established in 1731.
The Cognac posts:
Cognac I:

Cognac II.
The aging and blending of Cognac.  Already published.
Cognac III: 
This post.
Cognac IV To be published:
Visiting the Cognac houses and trying their wares.
The history of the British and the Irish who created great Cognac houses: HINE, Martell and Hennessey.
Cognac from the French Atlantic Islands of Île de Ré and  Île d'Oléron
Cognac V . To be published:
A short introduction to the touring and dining opportunities in the Cognac region.  Cognac is within the French région of Poitou-Charente and the département of Aquitaine in the Dordogne and will include:
The wines of the Cognac region.
The oysters and mussels of Cognac and Poitou Charente.
The melons of Cognac and Poitou Charente.
The goat’s cheese’s of Cognac and Poitou-Charente.
The AOC Butter of  Cognac and Poitou Charente.
The black truffles of  Cognac and Poitou Charente.
The sandy shores of Cognac, 
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2013.
For information on the book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman