The ABCs of Spirits by Alexandre Vingtier: P for Pineau des Charentes
The ABCs of Spirits: P for Pineau des Charentes
In the Cognac region, a formidable wine liqueur is produced, namely based on wine brandy and grape must, the Pineau des Charentes, as in many French vineyards: Gascony has its floc based on armagnac, Champagne and Burgundy have their ratafia based on fine and/or marc and other wine alcohols, Jura its macvin based on marc, Languedoc has carthagena based on wine brandy… The most surprising thing is the existence of one such liqueur while cognac has for centuries been the aged spirit of reference, symbol of long controlled aging and luxury since the 18th century at least. Its base brandy is thus the most expensive available and the vineyard intended for must is in direct competition with those used for brandy, not to mention that it must be aged in oak containers. It is therefore not surprising that most of the trading houses hardly offer any in this period of Cognac splendour.
Pineau is the prerogative of small and medium-sized producers and its consumption is essentially regional, bordered to the south by Lillet in the region of Bordeaux, to the east by gentian liqueurs from the Massif Central and to the north of the Loire by Pommeaux made from cider brandy and apple must. Nevertheless, with the development of tourism on the Charente coast and the islands of Ré and Oléron, it has attracted consumers from other regions, particularly Paris. Outside France, there are only a few in French-speaking countries, a little in Switzerland or Quebec and especially in Belgium (80% of exports): it is said that after the debacle of 1940, many Belgians took refuge in the region and then developed a taste for this noble liqueur. I can reassure you that there are of course some in the main cognac importing countries, particularly the United States and China, but also the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Norway.
There is very little knowledge of its origin except through a few myths, but it is undeniably a domestic production intended for the consumption of the family of the distiller for several centuries. Its origin can be considered in the great transformation of the Charente vineyards during the 17th century and its specialisation in distillation wine, some grape varieties of the time used to produce mouth wines found themselves unsuitable for distillation, such as the chauché gris, and their must would then have been used to make a liqueur out of them. Nevertheless, a strong regional specificity emerged and some producers saw a bottled market develop at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as a unique know-how, until its recognition as an appellation in 1935. There are still rare vintages prior to this one! Enough to discover the productions of many distillers of the vintage very carefully!
Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.