I have been covering wine events for the Advice Sisters for some time now, and while there is often a particular bottle or even varietal that is surprisingly good or interesting, I am rarely surprised by something completely different and that I was totally unfamiliar with.
This changed at a wine dinner that was hosted by the Pineau Academy on June 27. The dinner, which was held at the Michelin starred restaurant, L’Appart NYC, in Battery Park City, was presented by Certified Pineau des Charentes Ambassador, Frankie Marshall. What is Pineau? I wondered the same thing, as I entered the elegant 10 table restaurant.
Pray Tell, What’s Pineau?
Pineau des Charentes (pronounced Pin-o, just like the wine Pinot Grigio) is a fortified wine produced in the Cognac region of France. It is not exactly a wine since it is not fermented, but rather a distilled beverage. It is made from either fresh, unfermented grape juice or a blend of lightly fermented grape must, to which a distillate like a cognac is added and then matured.
This is called mutage, and the cognac must be aged for at least one year and containing at least 60% alcohol. It’s added to the grape juice in a 3 to 1 ratio, to stop fermentation.
In the AOC which was established in 1945, the same producer grows the grapes, makes the wine and distills it into brandy, presses the fresh grape juice and then blends and matures the result. Maturation occurs in oak barrels, and the production rules ensure that no sugar, colorings, or additives are allowed.
The classification of the Pineau depends on the length of time in the barrel. Young Pineau is aged for not less than 12 months in oak, old Pineau is aged for 5 years, while very old Pineau need to spend 10 years.
Light to Dark
Pineau comes in a variety of forms, from light to dark. There are red Pineau’s, white Pineau’s and even rosés. White Pineau generally comes from Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard varietals and is more popular than red.
Red Pineau is generally made from Bordeaux grape varietals like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It can be used both in cocktails and can be drunk with food and as an aperitif. Generally, tulip stemware is used for Pineau.
Dinner at L’Appart NYC
The dinner at L’Appart NYC was a 5-course meal beginning with cocktails. Ms. Franky put together three Pineau des Charentes based concoctions: the P&T (or Pineau and tonic), Quai des Brumes, pairing red Pineau with Normandin-Mercier, and the Martinelle, a twist on a martini using Pineau.
I sampled the P&T and the Martinelle and both were refreshing twists on their namesake cousins, slightly on the sweeter side, and considering that the ABV of Pineau is around 17 percent much lighter.
We moved from here to the appetizer course. Passed appetizers were paired with Domaine de la Martotterie, Young White Pineau des Charentes ($17.99). The wine comes from a 3rd generation producer and was made from Ugni Blanc and Combard grapes. Papery up front. It opened to a light fruity mid-palate with honey and some citrus on the finish.
Each of the courses was made with the Pineau and paired with it as well. The second course of raw oysters and caviar were prepared with a granite made from Park Young White Pineau, pairing beautifully with the brininess of the oysters and caviar.
The third course at L’Appart NYC was a masterpiece. Foie Gras with Cherry and Cacao made to look like giant red cherries. The rich Hudson Valley Foie from Izzy’s farm blended beautifully with Reviseur Old White Pineau des Charentes ($30). With the color of a nice lager beer, the Pineau was creamy on the nose with raisin notes.
On the palate, the nutty, notes came out when paired with the foie, along with the raisin notes from the nose. Foie Gras is the classic pairing for Pineau and this was truly a treat.
We moved to the main, which was a Canadian pork loin and belly, with a glaze made from Chateau Beaulon, Five-Year-Old Red Pineau des Charentes ($30). This was my personal favorite of the Pineau’s we sampled. Made from the Merlot varietal, the wine was light red in color with black accents.
Raspberry and red fruits dominated the nose, and the wine was rich – still papery upfront, but with a fruity finish a lot like a young port. It paired wonderfully with the rich pork dish.
What French meal is complete without cheese, and the L’Appart team outdid themselves with a Chabichou de Poitou (soft goat cheese) with a jelly made from Pierre Ferrand Young White Pineau des Charentes. ($29). Made from Sauvignon and Semillion Blanc grapes, the wine had a golden color and an apple cider nose.
It was papery up front, but the palate moved to apple cider with a nice apple finish that worked so well with the cheese.
The last course was a desert was an almond mousse, covered in chocolate. It was paired with Bache-Gabrielsen, Very Old White Pineau des Charentes served perfectly in a tulip glass. Made from Ungi Blanc Colombard and Folle Blanche grapes, this was an aged product.
Orange in color with a smoky nose featuring cassis notes, the wine seemed stronger though the ABV was the same as the other Pineau’s that we tasted. Very fruit forward with a lot of citrus and stone fruit up front, the wine ended with foresty notes.
Give Pineau A Chance!
The dinner was a spectacular event in a fabulous environment. But you can, and should, give Pineau a chance in your life as well.
Note that Pineau is not a spirit and does not last once it is open – the shelf life is about 3 weeks. It can be used as a cocktail mixer and is a flavorful substitute for vermouth, but is really a great product for pairing.
Every wine and spirits lover should give Pineau des Charentes a chance. Try it! For more information on Pineau des Charentes visit www.pineauacademy.com