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What is pineau des charentes and why should you care?

PINEAU DES CHARENTES is a delicious aperitif, which should be better known in this country. Pineau, by itself, means a type of aperitif made of wine and brandy. It becomes Pineau des Charentes when the brandy comes from Cognac (Charentais region), along with the fresh grape juice. It is served before dinner, but with its lower percentage of alcohol, around 17% as opposed to 40% for Cognac, and with its sweet fruitiness, it makes a wonderful after-dinner top-off--and no worries about ending with a higher-proof brandy.

I like to show Pineau des Charentes in my classes, and even students who are in the wine trade tell me that they have never had it before. When I ask how many like it, all the hands go up. Then I then ask how many are glad to finally know about it, and all hands go up again.

This is your opportunity to recommend a terrific "new" beverage to your customers. In the U.S., it is more appealing as an after-dinner beverage, although your more adventurous customers might serve it with foie gras, stronger cheeses like a Roquefort or aged Parmesan, or desserts.

While the product has been around since the 16th century, it was first legalized in France in1945. It may be white or rose. The laws say that the Cognac must be at least one year old, and then the blend of wines to be added, produced with either red grapes, or the more prominent whites, must be aged in Cognac casks and/or tanks for a minimum of18 months. Most brands exceed these aging requirements. Residual sugar must be 160g/L, and the minimum alcohol is 16.5% (although most brands are seen at around 17% alcohol). The white grapes may be sauvignon blanc, ugni blanc, colombard, folle blanche and/or semillon.

Rarer aged categories are Vieux Pineau, with a 5-year-old minimum, and Tres Vieux Pineau, with a 10-year-old minimum age. These may be found in the U.S. with brands such as Paul-Marie Cognacs, which have been aged upwards of 12 years, and Jacky Navarre, who starts his blends with a 6-year-old Cognac, and then keeps the whites for about 30 years.

All of these combine the sweetness

of fresh grape juice with the haunting woodiness of Cognac. Prices rise with age of the original Cognac followed by longer-aging of the blends.

Other brandy-producing examples that come from many areas of the world, are rarely seen in the U.S. From Armagnac, we could see Floc de Gascogne, Wit were available here, which it is not. ("Floc" refers to a bunch of flowers.) It is meant to be consumed young, and is never aged. From Calvados, a similar product of apple juice and apple brandy, called Pommeau, is also rarely seen in the U.S.

In Germany, when I visited As-bach-Uralt in Rudesheim, I tasted a delicious example of this type, using Rhine wines. It is not imported into the U.S. either.

A new product from the Ica Valley of Peru, made with Pisco and fresh grape juice, however, is BarSol Perfecto Amor, and it has now come to the U.S. as part of a revival of a long-standing Peruvian tradition. It is much sweeter and less woody than the French Pineaux des Charentes and has luscious almond and dried fruit aromas.

I miss brands such as Leyrat; Edmund Leyrat told me that he gave up on the U.S. market with its small demand for these Pineaux. You can still find some moderately-priced fine examples available though, such as Prunier, Pierre Ferrand, Normandin-Mercier, and A.E. Dor. Serve chilled, no ice.


HARRIET LEMBECK, CWE*, CSS** is a prominent wine and spirits educator She is president of the renowned Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman's Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years.

(* Certified Wine Educator

** Certified Specialist of Spirits)
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Author:Lembeck, Harriet
Publication:Beverage Dynamics
Date:May 1, 2014
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