Part of JoyJournist’s “great drinks you’ve never tried” series, pineau (pronounced pee-know) is a hybrid spirit from the Poitou-Charentes region of south-western France. A combination of aged, regional wine and cognac, this aperitif is a sweet but well-balanced “Vin de Liquer” or wine liquer, similar to Port, Sherry or Marsala wine.
Residents of the Charentes region say that a winemaker accidentally dropped a grape into a barrel of Eau de Vie (fruit brandy). The barrel went through the fermentation process and years later, when the barrel was retrieved, the new wine liquor, known today as pineau was discovered.
how it’s made
The liquer is available in red, rosé or white varieties. Merlot or cabernet grapes are used for red pineau, while a combination of grapes like Folle Blanche, Colombard or Sauvignon Blanc are used for white pineau. The grapes are harvested in the fall and pressed for juice. The juice is blended with cognac and aged for at least 14 -18 months, with a minimum of 8 months of that time in oak barrels. Finer vieux pineau, is barrel-aged 5 years or more while tres vieux pineau is barrel-aged for more than 10 years.
Most pineau stays in the region, although exportation, especially to the US, is growing. Some of the best pineau is produced, aged and bottled for personal enjoyment by local residents, like Jean Moreau, who planted grapes on his property more than 40 years ago.
how to serve
Pineau is best served chilled in a sherry glass, to enhance aroma. Unopened bottles should be kept in a cool, dark place and stored vertically for best results. Once opened, keep the pineau in the refrigerator.
Le Bernardin Restaurant in New York City pairs a white tres vieux with foie gras. Nuts or sharp cheeses like parmesan or blue cheese are other good accompaniments, while mussels, cooked and/or enjoyed with pineau, make a great pairing.