The little brother of Cognac: What is Pineau? How is it made?

Pineau des Charentes or simply ‘Pineau’, is a French aperitif.  The drink is actually not very well known abroad, but in Charente it plays a rather important role.

Pineau is fortified wine, vin de liqueur, blended of slightly fermented grape must and eaux-de-vie (Cognac). Pineau should be served chilled, at 8 to 10 °C, in a tulip shaped glass (like the sherry glass). The shape of such a glass lets the aroma develope.

There are comparable, quite similar products in France, depending on the region. Some might confuse Pineau with troussepinette but that one is very different in its fruits notes. Comparable is also the Macvin of the Jura, or the Armagnac product Floc de Gascogne. And Pommeau is also blended apple juce with apple brandy. Those products are even less known than Pineau.

The little brother of Cognac

There is a legend about Pineau: it was discovered by accident! During the harvest of 1589, a farmer put grape must into a barrel, that he believed was empty. But actually that wasn’t the case. He forgot to empty the barrel, it contained some eau-de-vie.
A few years later cellar masters found the barrel – and discovered the highly enjoyable blend of juice and Cognac. From this day on, the Charentais people had a new drink: Pineau.

There is white and red Pineau.

White Pineau

Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard are used for the white Pineau, which is more common than the red one. Sometimes you’ll have Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Montils which is used for production. The blend must be stocked for a year and a half, including at least 8 months in an oak barrel.

The ABV of a White Pineau lies between 16 and 22%. The color, ranging from pale yellow to a dark golden colour, with thick legs. The taste of Pineau is sweet but also balanced in a way, that acid notes come through. There are lots of different Pineaus and aromas.

Some Pineaus get aged for 5 years in barrels, often even for several decades. A White Pineau can really be a nice apiritif or even used for desert, as a substitute for ice wine or sweet wine.

Red Pineau

The red Pineau is more popular in the region of Charente. This Pineau is made from dark, red grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Pineau is aged for at least a year and two months, including the same time of eight months aging in Limousin casks. The ABV is like the White one, normally it is around 17%. The color can be rosé to deep brown-red, mahogany, copper.

One word to ageing: Like Cognac, Pineau has a classification with 5 years minimum in oak barrels for Vieux and 10 years for Très Vieux.I tried it several times and it’s a great ingredient. Pineau is just great for cooking – try it with Foie Gras for instance. Of course, Pineau can be used for several Cocktails and mix drinks.

From harvest to bottle: The process of Pineau making

1. Harvest
September, sometimes October: The grape harvest lasts for two weeks
2. Pressing
White grapes get pressed, while the red grapes have to be stocked for several hours in order to gain the desired colour
3. Blending
Preventing fermentation, the grape juice is now mixed with Cognac (at least 60% ABV). The Pineau must be aged minimum 1 year.
4. Ageing
Ageing of Pineau takes place in oak barrels. The difference between white and red Pineau: While the white one ages for at least one and a half year, including one year in barell, the red and rosé Pineau are aged for one year, including 7 months in oak casks. The ageing is critical for the process – it gives the Pineau the nutty notes. Long ageing in barrels makes Pineau smooth and aromatic.
5. Bottling
Pineau des Charentes must be bottled in the region of Charente.

Cooking & Cocktails with Pineau

I tried it several times and it’s a great ingredient. Pineau is just great for cooking – try it with Foie Gras for instance. Of course, Pineau can be used for several Cocktails and mix drinks.

Pic Copyright: les Echos,

Comments (7)

  1. Richard March 16, 2010 at 1:02 am

    Hm, if it’s a Semi-Cognac, I am interested. Anyone knows a good, private pineau, perhaps a non-industrial one? Perhaps a secret suggestion?

    I would really like to get one and try it.

  2. charentelover March 16, 2010 at 10:36 am

    I had this Pineau the other day, really good: Pineau of Birius. than I found out it won a gold medal in Paris 2009.

    i drop the description in french here:

    épage : Ugni blanc
    Age: 4 ans
    Vieilli en fût de chêne et mis en bouteille au Domaine

    Arômes : Miel, amandes, noisettes, fruits secs, ananas, chocolat.
    Couleur : jaune d’or
    Description : Très fruité, doux et équilibré, bonne persistance en bouche

  3. Domaine de Birius (Elodie) December 2, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Hello “charente lover”! Thanks for your kind words 🙂

    If will be delighted to welcolme you at the family estate (english spoken with french accent!). Should you be interested, please let us know at :

  4. Clarisse April 11, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Hi, like you I am a Cognac lover and I found your article really interesting and detailed.
    As you certainly know, Cognac is not only an exquisite brandy, but also a lovely city. I strongly suggest those who love cognac and France to visit this lovely region where you will discover the origins of your favourite spirit. You will find some information on Cognac and its region on this website:

  5. Max ( November 14, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    We received this questions my a user, questions on Pineau:

    1. How long will it keep unopened?

    2. How long will it keep once opened?

    3. Does age make a difference?

  6. Fanny November 18, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    What is a good wine to mix with Chateau de Beaulonineau vieille reserve or pineau does charentes 10 year aged

  7. PXRS September 10, 2017 at 5:26 am

    Alas, petite liquor from moet is no longer produced. however, I saw a recipe for it on the net that requires pineau. And that’s how I discovered a wonderful aperitif!

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