what is pineau? not to be confused with pinot noir, pineau is a regional aperitif found in the charente region of south west france.
pineau is a fortified wine made from fresh grape juice to which a cognac eau de vie is added and then allowed to mature.
according to legend, during the harvest of 1589, a winemaker added the grape juice to a barrel he believed was empty, but in fact contained eau de vie. this barrel was placed in the cellars for fermentation. a few years later the barrel was retrieved and was found to contain the drink that is now synonymous with this region.
the dominant white variety of pineau is made using the grapes ugni blanc, folle blanch and colombard, with occasional sémellion, sauvignon blanc and montils. the mixture is aged for at least 18 months, including a minimum of 8 months in oak barrels. it is typically two years old when bottled.
the resulting drink is between 16 and 22% abv. finer varieties are aged for over 5 years in barrel, and often for several decades. after 5 years it is called vieux pineau, and if barrel aged for more than 10 years, très vieux pineau. the red and rosé varieties, very popular locally, are made from the grapes cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and are aged for at least 14 months, including a minimum of 8 months in oak barrels. the finished drink is again between 16 and 22% abv, and varies between a deep mahogany brown colour and a very dark pink.
pineau des charentes should be served chilled (8–10 °c) in a tulip-shaped glass such as a sherry glass. the taper of this type of glass better enhances the aroma of the wine.
there are hundreds of producers within the area and within a few minutes drive of les hirondelles, all open for tasting sessions! one of our personal favourites, msr balluet at neuvicq-le-chateau, a 20 minute drive away. the chateau at neuvicq was at one time owned by the marquise de montespan, the most celebrated mistress of louis xiv