When I first came to live in France, I’d never heard of Pineau….and when I did hear of it, I thought people were referring to Pinot – as in Pinot Grigio, which I love! Pineau however, is whole different ball game. Its full name is Pineau des Charentes, because the Charente region is where it’s made.
What is Pineau?
This delicious alcoholic drink is a fortified wine, like Port for example, and is made by mixing three parts freshly pressed grape must (juice, skins and stem fragments) with one part Cognac, which must me at least one year old. According to legend, Pineau des Charentes was first made in 1589 – by mistake – when a grape grower didn’t realise that the oak barrel he was going to use to make wine already contained Cognac when he added the grape must. A few years later, when his ‘wine’ should have aged, he discovered a whole new drink – fresh, sweet and fruity. From then on the recipe for making Pineau was refined and perfected and it’s become a popular and well-consumed drink ever since.
I have to admit it does taste lovely, but not really being an alcoholic drinking person, I find it very strong! The big Cognac houses here in France make the drink commercially, which is between 16% and 22% ABV, but the stuff I tried was made locally and this is much, much stronger at about 40% ABV! The locally made Pineau is much cheaper than the commercial brands, and you often see signs advertising it for sale throughout the Charente region. The local one I tried was a rich, golden honey colour and smelt delicious….but definitely has a kick to it and gives a warm feeling when swallowed.
From the research I’ve done on Pineau des Charentes, it doesn’t get better with ageing and is better stored away from light and stored upright. Once opened, it will keep for quite a while in the fridge…but I’m sure that once you get a taste for this unusual and rich drink, it won’t last long!