Pineau des Charentes Liqueurs
Pineau des Charentes is a sweet, reasonly strong "Vin de Liqueur" of the Charentais (Cognac) region of western France. It is made by adding Cognac eau-de-vie from the previous year's distillation (or older) to fresh grape must of the current vintage.
By law, the must is required to be freshly harvested and, while it may have undergone a partial fermentation, its sugar content at the moment of "mutage" (when the spirit is added) must be above 170g per liter. The Cognac itself must have an alcohol content of at least 60 percent and must have been held in barrel before use.
Pineau des Charentes
© BNIC/ Stéphane Charbeau
The use of concentrated must or of chaptalised juice is forbidden.
The resulting mixture has an alcoholic strength of 16–22 percent and a sugar content of at least 125g/L. Any fermentation will have been halted by the high level of alcohol and because the must remains essentially unfermented, it retains all of its 'grapey' flavors and – ideally – the varietal characteristics of the grapes used, which develop over time.
All Pineau des Charentes is aged at the winery, although this varies depending on the type of pineau produced. White Pineau - the most common - must spend a minimum of 18 months in the winery of which 12 months must be in oak barrels. Red and rosé Pineaux need only spend 8 months in oak barrels, and leave the winery after 12 months.
To earn the right to be labeled as "vieux" (old), the wines must spend five years or more in oak; the oldest of all are "tres vieux", which require a full 10 years in barrel.
Most Pineau des Charentes is white, but there are also red and rosé variants. The wines are made predominantly from the classic Charentais grape varieties: Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche, Jurancon Blanc, and the little-known Montils (aka Aucarot and Chalosse).
Reflecting the area's proximity to Bordeaux, the appellation laws also permit the use of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Pineau des Charentes title was introduced in 1945 and has proved a useful outlet for wines not otherwise used for Cognac. The symbiosis between Cognac and Pineau des Charentes is excellent; it allows for both hot vintages (when acid levels may fall too low to be adequate for Cognac) and cool vintages (when the grapes may struggle to ripen sufficiently for use in table wines).
Floc de Gascogne is the Armagnac equivalent of Pineau des Charentes, as is the Macvin du Jura. Both have their own appellation since 1990 and 1991 respectively.