Pineau des Charentes is perhaps one of the best kept secrets of Cognac, France. In all likelihood, you have never heard of this incredibly versatile fortified wine produced in the Charentes region of France for over four centuries. But I have a feeling, once more people try it, they will be as obsessed as I am with it!
Pineau des Charentes is a unique type of fortified wine made by combining freshly pressed grape juice with Cognac eau de vie that was distilled at least one year before blending.
Legend has it that in the 16th century, a winemaker poured grape must (the unfermented juice, pulp and skin of the grapes) into a barrel that he thought was empty but instead had cognac still left in it. Not realizing his mistake, the barrel was aged and it wasn’t until years later that the delicious discovery was made! The result of this serendipitous combination is a sweet, spirited, fruit-forward wine with an alcohol content of about 17%.
For hundreds of years, winegrowers and cellar masters in France’s Cognac region have produced this spirited wine for their own consumption, and have passed down their techniques through generations. Up until fairly recently, however, it was rarely seen outside of France’s Charentes region. It has since become available through a handful of brands in the states, and is already making a splash in the cocktail world.
Pineau des Charentes is incredibly versatile and food-friendly; It is made from a variety of grapes with the same terroir as Cognac, and can be white, rose or red. It will also reflect different experiences depending on its age – Young, Old and Very Old. Flavor profiles range from fresh, bright fruits to honey, baked fruit and tobacco.
To highlight the range of flavors and versatility from three different variations of Pineau des Charentes, I created three different ways to consume this adaptable elixir…
I thought an aged Pineau Blanc was the perfect choice for a pre-dinner aperitif; I used a 5-year old Pineau Rouge as a beautifully rich digestif, and a bright young Pineau Blanc as a fresh ingredient in a cocktail.
Réviseur Vieux Blanc, aged at least five years in French oak barrels, is perfect for a simple aperitif – on the rocks with just an orange twist. The age shows complexity on this golden sweet Pineau Blanc, with dried fruit, honey, nuts and savory notes coming through. The vibrant acidity balances out the sweet fruitiness to make for a delightful sipper all year round. This would also be an amazing cocktail base.
Pineau des Charentes is also an incredible after-dinner sipper. The Chateau de Beaulon 5 Year, a red Pineau, has the richness to be had on its own own, or paired with a rich dessert. Black cherries, dried apricots and honeysuckle and smoky tobacco will be reminiscent of young Port but even lighter on the palate.
For a fresh, vibrant iteration of Pineau des Charentes, I decided to use Domaine de la Margotterie Pineau Blanc Tradition, as a cocktail ingredient to elevate one of my favorite drinks. This youthful variation also has some mature aspects, such as honeyed fruit and toasty almonds. I loved this in a 50/50 martini, subbing out the dry vermouth for this sweet spirited wine. The Martini des Charentes is simplistic in terms of ingredients, but it has incredible depth of flavor. The dried fruits and acidity will bring out the botanicals in the gin to create a martini like you’ve never had before. And with a little lemon zest, this cocktail is next level.
Pour ingredients into a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass, express oils from lemon peel over glass and garnish.
Note: This post was sponsored by Pineau Academy. All bottles were supplied, however, all opinions, as always, are my own!