What is Pineau des Charentes?
At Fareham Wine Cellar we sell Drouineau Pineau des Charentes Blanc, made by Société Puy Gaudin in Gemozac, and a Chateau de Beaulon 5 Year Old Red Pineau des Charentes as well as a Vieille Reserve d’Or, a 10 Year Old Pineau des Charentes Blanc and a 10 Year Old Pineau des Charentes Rouge.
Please follow the links for more information on the individual products, in the meantime here is my brief guide to this little-known, but little gem of a drink.
PDC is a regional French aperitif, made in the départements of Charente and Charente-Maritime in western France. It is a fortified wine (a mistelle or vin de liqueur), made from a blend of unfermented grape must and Cognac brandy. The geographical zone authorized for the production of PDC AOC is practically identical with that for Cognac, and in fact many of the artisanal producers of Pineau (numbering several hundred) also are also Cognac producers.
Legend has it that he origins of Pineau date back to 1589 when Henry IV was sitting on the throne of France. At harvest time a winegrower is alleged to have poured grape must into a barrel which already contained Cognac eaux de vie. At the time the barrel was hidden at the back of the Lord’s cellar and only rediscovered a few years later when the barrel was required for re-use. The contents of the barrel were tasted and were discovered to be a marvellous, clear and refreshing drink.
In the production of PDC, the grapes are pressed and then undergo a light fermentation. After pressing and fermentation the grape must juice is mixed with Cognac eau de vie which must be a minimum of 1 year old. This is known as “assemblage” or blending. The addition of alcohol stops the must fermentation. The resultant product must have be between 16% and 22% alcohol by volume but, normally, most is sold at 17% by volume.
Types of Pineau des Charentes
Grape varieties that can be used for the production of white Pineau des Charentes are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Colombard, Sémillon, Sauvignon and Montils. It must be aged for a minimum of 18 months in oak barrels prior to release.
A typical white Pineau will be the colour of old gold, broom and light amber. The aromas that one finds on the nose include figs, vanilla, quince cheese followed by secondary exotic fruit, crystallized fruits, honey, walnut, almond and plum. There are also floral notes. The palate is soft and silky due to the acid / sugar / alcohol balance and there are further honey, fruit and spice flavours.
Old and Very Old (Très Vieille) White
These are made in the same way as white Pineau but must be aged for a minimum of 5 years oak barrels for old PDC and 10 years minimum for very old PDC.
The tasting profile of these will be similar to white Pineau but the rancio, walnut and caramel aromas and flavours develop with age. There are also more dried fruit notes such as prune. It also becomes more honeyed.
Red and Rosé
These are made in the same way as white Pineau but red grapes are used – in this case Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Red and Rosé Pineau must be aged for a minimum of 14 months in oak barrels.
Obviously, because these are made from red grapes the tasting profile is quite different from white Pineau. The colours can vary a lot from a medium rosé colour up to a fairly dark, crimson red. The typical aromas associated with red / rosé Pineau are quince cheese, blackberries, blackcurrant, tobacco, liquorice, honey, oak, cherry and spices (cinnamon). These flavours lead on to the palate which is usually fuller than white Pineau.
Old and Very Old (Très Vieille) Red and Rosé
These are made in the same way as red and rosé Pineau but must be aged for a minimum of 5 years oak barrels for old Pineau des Charentes and 10 years minimum for very old Pineau des Charentes. The tasting profile is similar to the red and rosé Pineau above but, with age, the colour develops into a lighter, more mahogany colour, but with red hints. The flavours develop further with oak aging, which becomes dominant over the fruitier flavours of the younger styles. Aromas and flavours of prunes and chocolate notes develop.
Serving Pineau des Charentes
One can drink Pineau des Charentes, throughout a meal, from the starter to the dessert.
Pineau des Charentes is a very versatile drink. The White and Rosé are usually served chilled as an aperitif before a meal but they can be matched with various foods.
The fine floral notes in white Pineau mean that is can be matched with poultry and fish dishes. It can also be used as a dessert wine and goes really well with a pineapple tart or traditinonally poured over melon.
An old white Pineau, due to its sweetness balanced with acidity, can be paired very well with foie gras or blue cheeses such as Roquefort or Bleu d’Auvergne.
Rosé and Red
The berry flavours of rosé or red Pineau mean that it can go well with some meats such as lighter game. It is also a good match with soft goat’s or ewe’s cheese. They will also spice up the flavours of a melon or go well with a sweet plum tart.
The great finesse of an old or very old rosé or red Pineau means it is best set of by a sweeter, nutty or fruity cheese such as Ossau-Iraty or an aged Gouda or Permesan. They also go very well with chocolate desserts.
Whilst it might be considered heresy by some, Pineau des Charentes can also be used in cocktails, for example –
1cl squeezed lemon juice 2cl green apple liqueur
2cl exotic fruit juice 3cl white Pineau des Charentes
2cl vineyard peach liqueur
Use a shaker to mix fruit juice and lemon. Pour in Pineau, peach liqueur and green apple liqueur. Shake and serve with a tulip-shaped glass. Decorate with the zest of a lemon and an “apple fan”.
Le Fort Boyard
7 cl Raspbery Juice
3 cl Vodka
4 cl Pineau des Charentes Blanc
Shake all the ingredients, over ice, in a cocktail shaker. Strain and serve.
Everything you need to know about PDC can be found here – Comité National du Pineau des Charentes – The CNPC. The French regulatory body for Pineau des Charentes.