Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served. Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Pineau de Charentes, mostly just called Pineau, will be at the top the list whenever you are offered an aperitif at the in one of the four departments of France’s Cognac region; Charente, Charente-Maritime, Deux-Sèvres, and Vienne.
The flavors of Pineau vary with the wines used in their production as well as their age. White Pineaus, really light to dark yellows, are made with the same grapes that are used for Cognac with other white wine grapes added to the blend. The rosés include some wines light enough to be called pink with others are dark enough to be called reds; they are blends of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Pineau is made in a similar manner to Port, Sherry, and Madeira.
The wine is aged in barrels, and the fermentation is stopped by adding a distilled liquor and in the case of Pineau that’s Cognac. The added Cognac boosts the final alcohol content to anywhere from 16% to 22%. Other French apéritifs made in a similar manner include Armagnac’s Floc de Gascogne, Calvados‘s Pommeau and the Jura’s Macvin; in French, these are called vins de liqueur, in English fortified wines. Unlike regular wines once bottled fortified wines age no more.
Pineau de Charentes on French menus:
La MarmiteSafranée de Veau de Chalais au Pineau des Charentes – A stew of Chalais veal colored with saffron and flavored with Pineau de Charentes. (The term Marmite is usually used for fish stews, but like this menu-listing, some marmites are made with meat and or vegetables).
Assiette de la Criée, Sauce au Pineau des Charentes – A plate of fish from the auction served with a Pineau de Charentes. (A number of fishing villages and towns have daily auctions where the fish and seafood caught are auctioned off. Whatever fish the restaurant or their wholesaler returns with will be the fish you are offered today).
Douillon de Poire à la Crème d’Amandes, Chantilly au Pineau des Charentes– Pear dumpling served with a cream of almond sauce and Chantilly cream flavored with Pineau de Charentes.
Mouclade au Pineau des Charentes – A traditional creamy mussel stew from the department of the Charentes Maritime flavored with garlic and Pineau de Charentes. (Mouclades originated on France’s Atlantic coast in the department of Charente-Maritime and there are a number of variations).
Salade de Canette Marinée au Miel & Pineau des Charentes, Œuf Poché –Salad of duckling marinated in honey and Pineau de Charentes,
The aging of Pineau.
The wines used to make Pineau des Charentes are aged, in barrels, for between one-and-a-half to three years with exceptional wines aging for five or ten years or even longer. On a French list of aperitifs, the carte du apéritifs, there may be a Pineau des Charentes Vieux, a wine’s that at least five years old. When the list offers a Pineau des Charentes Tres Vieux, very old, then the wine will have been aged for a minimum of 10 years.
For Pineaus the younger wines are enjoyable, uncomplicated and inexpensive pre-dinner drinks though the serious admirers of Pineau will argue that the five or ten-year-old wines are to be preferred. Despite my respect for age, I prefer the younger Pineaus.
Like many other wines and foods promoting the Pineau is a confrérie. Confréries are French brother and sisterhoods that popularize their favorite wines or food products. The confrérie popularizing Pineau des Charentes is the Confrérie de Franc Pineau, its members like other confréries, dress up in would-be ancient costumes, organize parades, award each other medals and make sure that no cheap imitations are being offered.
The members of the Confréries de Franc Pineau swear eternal allegiance to their favorite aperitif and then have a great time at their frequent dinners and other activities. Should you enjoy Pineau and wish to join their confrérie and spread the good word there are branches of the Confrérie de Franc Pineau outside France, from Belgium to New York, Hong Kong and more. You can also join in the annual Pineau de Charentes’ race in Bruxelles, Belgium.
The Race for the Trophée Pineau des Charentes
in Bruxelles, Belgium.
The waiters and waitresses in this competition run over 2.50 km carrying three filled glasses and one full bottle of Pineau. Running shoes are not allowed.
If you are in France and have enjoyed a Pineau as an aperitif, and wish to take a bottle home the younger Pineaus are relatively inexpensive with most costing less than US$ 15.00. Whether you prefer a young, or an older wine, there is a far greater choice in French wine shops than in the duty-free.
Storing Pineau des Charentes.
Pineau does not age in the bottle, and so it may be kept standing up or lying down; however, light can affect a Pineau’s color over time. If you are not planning to drink your Pineau within a year of purchase, keep it in a dark cupboard.
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
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