Pineau des Charentes is perhaps the most unique “wine” you’ll ever encounter — in part because there’s actually no wine in it. What’s Pineau? Pineau des Charentes hails from the Cognac region of France (and thereabouts), where winemakers take (typically white) wine grapes, crush them into must, then — before it ferments (and turns into wine) — add Cognac to the mix to bring it up to about 20% alcohol. Then it goes into oak barrels. Young Pineau may spend a year or two in barrel; 8 months is the legal minimum. Older ones could be in barrel for 20 years or longer. The longer it spends in barrel, as with Cognac, the darker the finished product. Most Pineau goes into bottle between 17 and 18% abv, similar with Port (to which it is invariably compared).
To complicate things, sometimes red or rose wine grapes are used to make Pineau, though as with white Pineau, it is intended to be consumed chilled.
We’ve reviewed a Pineau just once before, a 20 year old expression, in 2011. Today we have the good fortune to look at a trio of these wines, spanning a number of the above styles. Thoughts follow.
Tiffon Pineau des Charentes – Made with white wine grape must, aged at least one year. Pungent and punchy, this drinks like a young Cognac, pumped up with fresh fruit. Notes of plump table grapes, apricots, and a lingering earthiness that recalls incense, green banana, papaya, and eastern spices. A somewhat unexpected combination of flavors, with sandalwood hanging on to a lengthy finish. B / $20
Reviseur Pineau des Charentes Vieux Pineau – This Pineau is based on white grape must but is aged at least five years before release. Lightly nutty, with ample notes of golden raisins and some sherried character, there’s an austerity here, with some oxidized characters coming to the fore. The finish mixes in brown sugar, some of that spicy incense, and a sandalwood note that gives it a hint of perfume. B+ / $35
Chateau de Beaulon Pineau des Charentes 5 Years Old Rouge – A red wine-based Pineau, aged five years. The red wine grapes give this more character — not to mention a brick red color — that pumps up the body with more of a Port-like character — darker raisin and prune notes, licorice, tobacco, and plenty of baking spice. Very sweet, the finish brings on notes of cola and tea leaf, with lingering hints of cloves. One to savor. A- / $30