The Charente is famous for its food, vineyards and Cognac but not everybody knows about Pineau des Charentes, one of France’s best kept secrets that shares much of its history with Cognac.
Pineau des Charentes – the ‘sunshine aperitif’ of the Charente and Charente-Maritime
Pineau des Charentes, or pineau, is the vin de liqueur, or ‘mistelle’, of the Cognac region. Legend has it that in 1589 a winemaker accidentally dropped some grapes into a barrel containing brandy. The resulting taste was found to be so good it became a regular practice, and so Pineau des Charentes was created.
Made by combining about one-quarter Cognac to three-quarters grape juice the strong spirit prevents the grape juice from fermenting. This creates a successful blend of fresh fruit and brandy warmth with a soothing spirit-hit.
Produced from the white grapes Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche, and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 18 months, white pineau des Charentes is the most popular. Rosé or red pineau is typically made from the red grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which is then aged for a minimum of 14 months.
Initially reserved for weddings and family events, it’s now extremely popular throughout France. But after being named an appellation d’origine contrôlée wine in 1945, it began to be widely exported all around the world.
How to serve
Both usually served as an aperitif, white pineau is best served chilled between 8°C and 10°C. It’s a good accompaniment for poultry, fish, seafood and blue cheese, but also excellent with foie gras. Red pineau, on the other hand, goes extremely well with game dishes, soft cheese, fruit and chocolate puddings.
An abundance of fresh produce is available in the local markets if you want to create a traditional french meal. Royan market has an incredible selection of good quality fresh produce and is open 7 days a week from 7am-1pm. Because of its popularity with locals and tourists it’s best to get there early, when it’s at its bustling best. They all go to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, but also the freshest ‘catch of the day’. You can’t miss the modern market building with its shell-like roof!
The town of Cognac is just a 40 minute drive away. We highly recommended a visit to Cognac as it’s one of the most attractive towns in the Charente. It has two distinct areas – the modern town with its shops, boulevards and street cafes, and the old town which is much quieter. Here you will find the castle and many unusual buildings built between the 15th and 18th centuries, situated on narrow cobbled streets. The old town is also home to several distilleries who have been creating their unique blends here since the 17th century. The heavy scent of spirits evaporating from oak casks permeates the air in the town. World famous firms such as Camus, Hennessy, Otard, Rémy-Martin, Courvoisier, and Renault-Bisquit are all here. And each one has its own secret and unique process for mixing the various blends of ‘eau-de-vie’.
The one most recommended by our guests is the Hennessey Cognac tour because it’s reasonably priced, includes a short boat trip, exhibition, 90 minute tour and tastings.
Our Local Guide provides you with information about the food and drink specialities of the Charente-Maritime. Or if you need any local restaurant recommendations we are always available to give directions or to help make reservations.