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Charentes Maritime, the home of world-famous cognac, boasts another alcoholic beverages called Pineau de Charentes that deserves a better appreciation abroad.
In the town of Segonzac, the capital of Grande Champagne appellation in Cognac, you have many opportunities to taste a range of Pineau – an invention of French viticultural genius. This delightful beverage consists of the juice of locally grown grapes and the distillate derived after it has been fermented and distilled. In other words, Pineau de Charentes is a combination of raw and the finished product. The producer fortifies grape juice with a grape distillate eliminating all yeast, thus stabilizing this versatile sweet but not cloying fortified beverage containing anywhere from 16 – 18 ABV.
Pineau is essentially a mistelle which many southern French winemakers produce, In Champagne this blend is called ratafia. Well-chilled Pineau de Charentes is an excellent aperitif, or served with seared foie gras. You will be flattering fresh ripe fruit and desserts with a glass of pineau or mistelle pending their sweetness.
Try Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola or dry goat cheese with a glass of Pineau and see how well both complement each other.
Pineau never caught on in a big way in North America and I suspect it is not because of its taste, but poor marketing. Wineries have been to busy promoting wine. There are only two wineries in Ontario that produce Pineau; Inniskillin was the first with Fleur d’Ontario and now Peninsula Ridge has started marketing its ratafia. The latter has come with the product idea because of its winemaker is French and familiar with the product.
If you happen to be in France, particularly in Paris, Charentes, Champagne or south-western France (Languedoc) try a well chilled glass of Pineau and discover yet another delightful, moderately alcoholic beverage to titillate your palate.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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