Pineau des Charentes – aperitif from the Charente and Charente-Maritime
Pineau is often overshadowed by its ‘big brother’ in the region, cognac but those who have tried this distinctive and delicious aperitif will testify to its qualities. Pineau des Charentes to give the aperitif its full name is made from adding unfermented grape juice to cognac. This blend is then aged to produce the familiar taste of pineau – some vintage pineau will be aged for five years or more to ensure an even richer flavour.
Legend has it that pineau des Charentes was created by chance in 1589 when a winemaker accidentally dropped some grapes into a barrel containing brandy. The resulting taste after a period of ageing was found to be so good that it became regular practice – and a new drink was born.
The most common form of pineau des Charentes is white and is made from white grapes such as Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche. White pineau is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 18 months.
However the red or rosé form is also very popular within the region itself. This is made with red grapes, typically Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Red pineau is aged for a minimum of 14 months.
One rule that applies to both red and white varieties is that the unfermented grape justice or ‘must’ and the cognac it is mixed with have to come from the same producer.
Where to buy pineau des Charentes
Pineau can be found in local supermarkets in Poitou-Charentes as well as in local caves or wine shops. However, if you have the time, one of the most enjoyable ways of buying pineau is to visit one of the many small producers of the drink in the Charente and Charente-Maritime. Over the years pineau has built up a following in Belgium and Canada, though the Germans, Danish and British have developed a taste for it too. It is also available in the UK – for example, Oddbins stocks it.
How to drink pineau des Charentes
White pineau is most usually drunk as an aperitif, served chilled at between 8°C and 10°C. But it can also be served with food too, and goes very well with poultry, fish and seafood, and blue cheese. In particular the white version of the drink is an excellent accompaniment to foie gras.
Red pineau is also served as an aperitif, and goes well with game dishes, soft cheeses, fruit and chocolate puddings. In addition the drink is sometimes used to make cocktails and is also an ingredient in cooking, for example in the making of delicious sauces for duck dishes.