Aperitif: Pineau des Charentes
The Cognac region of France has many great things to offer. Obviously Cognac is the most recognized product, win and champagne are also well known but there is also a product called Pineau de Charentes that is a combination of cognac and freshly pressed juice from very ripe grapes. This product is very common in the Cognac region of France, but the further you get from Cognac, the less know this product is. But really, it should be more well know because it has some great qualities and it differentiates itself from other wine based aperitifs. Best of all, it would work very well in cocktails.
The product of Pineau des Charentes, was like many things, a mistake. It was mistakenly created in 1589 when someone put fresh grape must in a barrel containing a small portion of cognac. Eventually the barrel was sampled and it was good. So good in fact that it has been produced ever since that fateful day.
The production of Pineau des Charentes is relatively simple. Very ripe grapes are harvested and pressed to produce a sweet must. This is then blended, within a few hours, with cognac to halt any fermentation of the must. The cognac must be aged at least one year to be used in the production. The final alcohol concentration must be between 16.5% and 22% alcohol to be named Pineau des Charentes. The mixture is then aged again for at least 18 months. Production is controlled under the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée 'vin de liqueur' classification, though it is not a wine in the ordinary sense.
Unlike other french aperitifs (Lillet and vermouth) this product is not wine based and doesn’t contain a bitter component. It is sweet like fresh grape juice, but with a good amount of alcohol to balance it out. There is also some acid to balance out the sweetness. It has a honey like flavour with lots of fruit notes. It finishes moderately crisp, but still sweet. Basically it is a rich, full bodied, sweet liqueur wine.
The Pineau des Charentes is not sweet like icewine, but still provides a lot of sweetness. This is what would make for great cocktails. Combining this with some sparkling wine would make a great aperitif. Using it to make a Manhattan style drink would also be interesting. It might be too sweet, but you never know until you try. Any cocktail combining fruit juices would work very well with this french aperitif. Also any wine based cocktails would be good combinations.
If you can find a bottle of this product I highly recommend picking one up.