I have often wandered the high streets prior to “drink o clock” (that’s 6pm for the uninitiated), looking for good examples – or any examples – of Pineau des Charantes. So, imagine my unbridled joy at spending the summer in the Charente Maritime surrounded by the stuff! The example shown – complete with ants – is an artisan liqueur of the standard pale gold colour, although both rose’ and red varieties are increasingly common. Pineau is made by blending grape must to Cognac eau de vie, thereby arresting the fermentation by killing the live yeasts – a process known as mutage. The resulting assemblage is aged for a minimum of twelve months in cask and traditionally released in the July following the harvest. Pineau is normally served as an aperitif, chilled from the fridge or in emergencies poured over ice. Alternatively, older varieties or Vieux Pineau – which can spend up to 5 years in cask – may be enjoyed as a digestif for those who are averse to the thick head of Cognac. A dash of it may also be blended with sparkling wine as a pousse rapier!
Anyway this leads me neatly into a story concerning regionality. Invited to friends for an early evening drink, I was surprised to be offered Picpoul de Pinet. Don’t get me wrong, I am, as ever, a fan of Picpoul but we were not in the Languedoc we were on the Ile de Re! When in Rome etc., enjoy the wines of the region you are in, share them with others and urge them to do the same. Not only does it make good financial sense (local wines are cheaper and help the regional economy) but they are designed to accompany the cuisine of the region. They also do not taste quite the same in other regions or countries – if you doubt me, try drinking pastis outside La belle France.