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P - PINEAU

P - PINEAU

As you drive through any of the country lanes in the Poitou-Charentes region, especially through those flanked by rows of vines, you will undoubtedly see signs, often hand-written, for ‘Pineau’ or ‘Pineau des Charentes’...

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Brandy and wine production were well-established in the region by the time a fabled winemaker poured grape juice (must) into a barrel of cognac by accident in the 16th century. A few years later, when returning to the barrel, the winemaker discovered that a new type of alcohol had been created and a new drink was born.

Grape cultivation and pineau production take up the entire year. Whilst the vines are resting in the winter, distillation and blending is taking place behind closed doors. In the middle of the winter, the vines are carefully pruned and checked, ensuring they remain in optimum health. From September, the master pineau makers wait until the grapes reach their peak. They are then harvested. White grapes are pressed immediately; red grapes are macerated and left for a few hours to leech their colour into the juice (the time left determines if the pineau is red or rosé). When pressed, the grape juice is mixed with cognac which stops it fermenting and it is then aged for at least a year.

Unlike cognac, which has very specific growing areas, there are no ‘premier cru’ areas for pineau. One of the attractions of pineau is that its flavour varies according to the individual producer. Those who make pineau must do so using their own cognac which is why the grapes used for pineau are largely the same as those used for the brandy. Pineau blanc is made from grapes such as Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Colombard, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The red or rosé form is also very popular. Both are made with red grapes, typically Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Pineau has been protected by an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) since 1945, ensuring that strict standards are adhered to. It is traditionally drunk as an apéritif before meals, but can also be drunk with dessert. It’s seen as a very versatile drink and can be taken with foie gras, with blue cheeses or even with fruit. There is a pineau for every occasion!

 

 

PINEAU VARIETIES

WHITE

How old? it is aged for a minimum of 18 months, with 12 months in oak barrels.

Colour: It ranges in colour from a pale yellow to a dark golden colour.

 

VIEUX AND TRÈS VIEUX WHITE PINEAU

How old? Aged for at least five years and 10 years respectively.

Colour: a dark golden colour

Bouquet: Honey, vanilla, prune, cinnamon aromas with nutty overtones. Aging gives both a strong flavour and what is known as ‘rancio’ (originally a Portuguese word used to describe characteristics of port wine during the maturing process), here used to describe a particular oxidized aroma.

 

RED AND ROSÉ

How old? 14 months, including at least 8 months in oak barrels

Colour: from pink to deep red

Bouquet: a fruity bouquet with elegant raspberry and cherry aromas. Red in particular has hints of ripe fruit accompanied by a touch of cinnamon,
liquorice and vanilla.

 

RED AND ROSÉ VIEUX AND TRÈS VIEUX

How old? Aged for at least five years and 10 years respectively

Colour: pink with amber and brick coloured highlights

Bouquet: Hints of oak, prune and chocolate on the nose with a long, aromatic aftertaste.

 

 

WHERE TO FIND IT

Pineau is available in all supermarkets as well as local caves or wine shops. However, if you have the time, an enjoyable way of buying pineau is to visit one of the many small producers. Visits are usually by appointment, although during the first weekend of August many producers open their doors to the public. During a visit you will be shown how it is made and be offered a tasting. As with wine you can spit out the pineau or you can drink it.

For a full list of producers see www.pineau.fr.

 

 

Interview with a producer

Emmanuel Painturaud manages the Painturaud distillery in Segonzac with his brother Jean-Phillipe.

photo-emmanuel

Could you tell us a little about your distillery?

My brother and I are the fourth generation of Painturauds to produce cognac and pineau.

We have 23 hectares of vineyards which are mostly Ugni Blanc grapes, with a parcel of Colombard. We also have some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for making our rosé pineau. And although pineau isn’t as exacting in terms of geography as cognac is, the fact that the cognac we produce and use in our pineau is a ‘grand champagne’ means that our pineau is of a very high quality too.

 

So what’s the process for making pineau?

The grapes are added to cognac in a precise proportion - about one-quarter cognac to three-quarters grape juice. It’s aged in oak barrels for a minimum of eighteen months. Our young pineaus are aged for five years, and our aged pineaus are twelve years old. Unfortunately, our exact methods are a family secret, passed down from generation to generation. so I can’t give too much away! However, it’s the science that really makes our product. When we think it is ready, it is analysed at the laboratory to ensure the percentage of alcohol is exactly right - 18% - we have to adjust with grape juice or cognac. Then when we consider that pineau is ready to be sold after 5 years aging, we usually blend it with some of our best pineau: most notably, it’s a quest for perfection and we don’t stop until it’s exactly the right blend for us. We’re almost like chefs trying to get it exactly right, or even alchemists!

 

What’s the best part of your job?

Undoubtedly it’s that quest for perfection! When we get it exactly right, that’s hugely important for me. I also love the tours and visits that we do. It’s nice to be able to talk visitors through the process and explain what we do, as well as seeing them enjoying our pineau at the end.

 

You can visit J Painturaud every day (Sundays by agreement) from 9am-12.30pm and from 2pm until 5.30pm. Tours are available in English

Address: 3 Rue Pierre Gourry, 16130, Segonzac
Tel:05 45 83 40 24
www.cognac painturaud.com