This is my bike, or velo – a Peugeot Velo Comfort to be exact – and I have become extremely attached to it. It is not like my normal urban ride, with a different frame set up forcing you to sit more upright with the weight on your bum – hence comfort. This is a slight misnomer, as your bum ends up taking the strain, as opposed to your legs, altering your gait at the days end! I rode this bicycle the length and breadth of the Ile de Re this summer. My favourite journey was the one to the bakery each morning to buy the daily bread. I would set off early, winding my way along the rural paths, through the fields past the horses, adjusting my cornering when startled by the cock crows. Stopping at the small village of **** next to the church, I would make my way past the market traders setting up their stalls, to the boulangerie to marvel at the bewildering array of baguettes and patisseries and order my selections in my increasingly confident new language. A rare sneaky gitane in the square near the church fortified me for the return journey, where I was greeted with the happy smiling faces of my wife and children. The smiles were for the pastries but one can dream!
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.