Pineau des Charentes is a combination of freshly pressed grape juice and cognac. It comes in two colours, white and red (sometimes known as rosé) and as with cognac, the flavour is affected by its age. Young Pineau is fruity and light whilst older Pineau offers more complex and concentrated flavours with distinctive fresh fruit tones morphing into dried fruit and nuts. Produced exclusively in France's Cognac region, it has been protected under AOC status since 1945. As a result, this spirited wine benefits from the long-standing expertise and historical know-how of Cognac cellar-masters. It is unique with its aromatic palette and versatility. Wine drinkers are seduced by white Pineau’s balanced profile, while others prefer the generosity of red. Both are food-friendly and pair perfectly with savoury dishes such as fish, white meats or seafood. Pineau’s lightness and alcohol content of 17%, also make it suitable as a digestive or aperitif. While some relish old reds that pair beautifully with chocolate, light cheese, and coffee, others fall for aged whites as great partners of blue cheeses. Alternatively, when summer has arrived, it can be enjoyed at any time as a long, refreshing cocktail such as Pineau Royale or Pinojito.
Pineau des Charentes
This summer, the Pineau des Charentes Committee launched its first marketing campaign in the US. Americans, already enjoy the truly craft, French cognac so are expected to embrace this little-known relative. Pineau des Charentes is produced exclusively in the French Charentes region and gained the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée status in 1945. There are now about 500 producers. Pineau is made by adding freshly pressed grapes to newly distilled cognac eau-de-vie, at a ratio of about 3:1. It must be aged in oak for at least a year and can be white or rosé. Some producers, such as Chateau de Beaulon, still refer to their pineau as red. Made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes, it is ruby red in colour, rather than pink.
While Pineau is fruity and light, Old and Vintage Pineau offer a complex mix of flavours such as nuts, honey and dried fruits. An artisanal, authentic drink, Pineau des Charentes is completely natural with no sugar added. It combines the fruitiness of wine with the warmth of cognac and is best served cold. Try it as an aperitif, in a cocktail or as a dessert wine.
Many of us travel to France in the summer holidays and diligently search out local products which are unique to the area we are visiting and Pineau des Charentes, with its rich and often sweet properties, is perhaps the one which interests us most. We ask “what is it?” and the answer “Pineau” does nothing to reassure us. We ask, “is it a wine or a brandy?”, ”is it like a sherry or a port?” and the answer still comes back, “Pineau”!
Pineau is unique as indeed sherry or port are in their respective countries. It is a combination of freshly distilled Cognac, which we call ‘eau de vie’, and the indigenous grapes of the area and is available as either white, red or rosé. It is made by Cognac producers, often to use up their excess of newly distilled eau de vie as there are strict limits as to how much can be aged to make Cognac. Pineau is a combination of 25% eau de vie and 75% grape juice which is then aged in oak barrels and in France it is consumed as an aperitif.
The Cognac production region is known as the Charente and Charente Maritime, a part of France which overlaps with some of the most famous wine producing regions. As a consequence, it is not unusual to find grape varieties such as Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabinet Sauvignon and Cabinet Franc in addition to some of the cognac grapes such as Ugni Blanc and Colombard, being used in the production of Pineau. The individual choice of grape can have a big inflence on the colour and taste of the final product.
Muost of the Pineau des Charentes produced is sold at the relatively young age of 3 – 5 years old. However, some is aged for longer, up to 20 years, producing much richer and intense flavours and maybe sold as vintage Pineau. Indeed one red Pineau, produced near the Gironde estuary, has been compared to a fine cold port but this is unusual as most of the red is quite light in colour. The white Pineau will darken with ageing and is sometimes mixed with citric fruit juices and cognac, as in our Pineau Royale recipe, to form a delightfully fresh and cool cocktail.
Pineau des Charentes is a product of the cognac region but there are also similar drinks made in the Armagnac and Calvados producing regions. In Armagnac the product is called Floc and it differs in that it is not aged in oak whilst in Normandy, where Calvados is produced, it is called Pomeau and is of course made from apple juice. Both of these are rarely seen outside of France and even in their respective regions can sometimes be very difficult to locate.
Sitting outside on a warm, balmy evening is the perfect time to try Pineau des Charentes. Made in the cognac producing region of France, newly distilled eau de vie is mixed with grape juice before being aged. The result is a wonderfully fresh, fruity flavour and with an abv of 17 - 18%, it is perfect for every occasion. Serve cold as an aperitif, or a dessert wine, or if you’re looking for a longer drink, it is the ideal base for a summer cocktail - try our Pineau Royale recipe for something truly sumptuous. Most of our wonderful selection of white, rosé and red pineau have age statements and remember, the older the pineau, the more intense the flavour. So celebrate the warmer weather with a taste of summer with Pineau des Charentes - view the whole range here.