Month: February 2014

A New Wave of Pineau Interest?

Posted on Updated on


The last time Pineau des Charentes was fashionable François Truffaut was making a little movie called Jules et Jim. Not since the 1960s has it been cool to order a pineau in Paris. Even today requesting this sweet aperitif made from Cognac and grape must you risk a waiter’s derisive snicker (this is probably true for any American trying to order in a Parisian restaurant). Although this vin de liqueur from the Cognac-producing region of western France has been around since 1589, for most of its 500-year existence it has mostly remained a regional specialty consumed by locals. Up until recently, as much as 90% of production remained in the region with Belgium drinking the rest. In the last few years, however, bottles from some top producers have been reaching foreign markets, including the U.S., where they are popping up on some highly regarded New York wine lists: Per Se, Rouge Tomate, Le Bernardin and The Musket Room.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pineau’s origin is that of a happy accident when a Cognac producer mistakenly dumped a load of grape must in a vat that still held a bit of Cognac. A year later he realized what had happened but decided that the concoction was delicious. Today it’s essentially made the same way by adding the previous year’s eau de vie (to be called Cognac it must be aged a minimum of 2 years) to freshly pressed, unfermented grape must in a ratio of 1:3, which is  technically what makes it a vin de liqueur. With fortified wines, such as port or vin doux natural, fermentation is allowed to begin but is then halted before all the sugar ferments to alcohol. This seemingly slight difference in technique has a noticeable effect on taste since the process of fermentation produces specific flavor compounds. A vin de liqueur will retain the fresh fruit flavors of the grapes. Those used in white pineau are the same as those for Cognac: Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard, with occasional Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Montils. These are all high-acid grapes, which help prevent spoilage when making Cognac. The use of sulfur is forbidden as its flavors become concentrated through distillation. The acidity is also critical to balance out the sweetness in the final wine (a common theme with sweet wines). For the red and rosé pineaus, the same grapes as those grown in Bordeaux are used: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Alcohol levels range from 16 to 20%.

Much of the complexity is derived from the aging process. The wines must be aged a minimum of 18 months, with at least 12 months spent in oak barrels, which infuses the wine with hints of vanilla and oak. Wines labeled “Vieux” have spent 5 years in oak, while those labeled “Tres Vieux” have been aged 10 years or more in barrel. Jacky Navarre and Marie-Paul & Fils age some of their pineaus for 25 and 30 years and are extraordinary wines. The French traditionally drink pineau ice cold as an aperitif, but it also makes for an exceptional after-dinner drink, especially those that have been long aged.

Here are some to try:

Bernard Boutinet Pineau des Charentes, NV, 375 ml half bottle, $15. The Boutinet family has been growing grapes and making Cognac for more than 150 years. Ugni blanc and colombard grapes are the main grapes in their Cognac, which is then blended with must from Colombard grapes to create their white Pineau des Charentes. They also produce a rosé pineau using merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

Pierre Ferrand Pineau des Charentes, NV, 750 ml, $25; 17% abv. This wine was aged the minimum 18 months, 12 of those in oak cask. It is silky smooth and mildly sweet with notes of fresh grapes, peach jam, honey, orange marmalade, prunes, vanilla and oak. All those high-acid grapes keep this delightfully refreshing.

Jean-Luc Pasquet Pineau des Charentes, NV, 750ml $30. Jean-Luc began farming organically in 1995. He uses wild yeasts and does not add sulfites. His pineau is made from ugni blanc and montils and is aged at least 18 month in oak barrels.

Navarre Pineau des Charentes Rosé, Vieux, 750 ml, $69. Jacky Navarre is a fourth-generation Cognac producer who hand harvests his grapes. One hectare out of his 11 is used for pineau production from which he makes a variety of styles. For his rosés Navarre uses cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes. The must is fortified with six-year-old Cognac (not the usual year-old eau de vie), and spends five years in barrel.

Navarre Pineau des Charentes Tres Vieux (30 years old), 750 ml $70. An extremely rare and unusual pineau. Back in 1982 Navarre mixed his newly crushed grape must with six-year old Cognac then sent the wine into barrels where they spent the next 30 years before being bottled in 2012. The result is a lusciously full-bodied, complex wine that tastes of toffee, cinnamon, baked apples, dried figs and walnuts. This is an excellent wine for dessert rather than as an aperitif.

Paul-Marie & Fils Pineau des Charentes Tres Vieux White NV, 750 ml, $75. This is the label of Nicolas Palazzi, an importer and negociant who buys Cognac and pineau and ages them, some for decades. These pineaus are remarkably complex and refined, not to mention delicious.

Paul-Marie & Fils Pineau des Charentes Hors d’Age 25 years #6, Red, 750 ml, $75. Extremely elegant wine with a lighter bodied than the Navarre 30-year-old pineau, with a more snappy acidity. The Cognac flavors are very much evident along with caramel and raisins.



A Pairing to Love

Posted on Updated on

Valentine’s day is Friday. For us it’s a night to stay in, cook up something rich and decadent and indulge in a chocolaty dessert, say, in the shape of a heart. (When else can I use all my heart-shaped bakeware?)


This year I made a flourless chocolate cake with ganache and hazelnuts and then went in search of a wine to match. This particular cake is made with dark chocolate, which keeps it from being overly sweet, and whipped egg whites so it has a surprisingly light texture. It calls for something that matches its delicacy but needs to be slightly sweeter. Port is a classic pairing, but I also love the port-like wines of Banyuls and Maury in the Roussillon region of southern France. This 1998 La Coume du Roy Maury worked perfectly.

Maury is a tiny appellation within Roussillon that sits just inland from the Mediterranean and gets its name from the picturesque village of 900 people tucked in amongst the garrigue (wild scrub) and schist-covered foothills of the Pyrenees. It’s one of the hottest, driest regions in France (325 sunny days per year) but perfect for producing lusciously ripe grapes. While dry red and white wines are made here, the region is known for its long tradition of making sweet, fortified vin doux naturel.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The process of making these wines is said to date back to 1299 when the king of Mallorca granted a patent to the Catalan alchemist Arnaldus de villanova who had perfected the method of using grape spirit to halt fermentation. At that time Roussillon was under Spanish rule and eventually became a center of production for this type of wine. One of the marked differences between these wines and Port, is that in Maury and Banyuls the wines are often aged in open oak barrels or glass demijohns, which exposes the wines to oxygen and heat and results in rancio flavors of dark fruit jam, fruit cake and walnuts. They also often have less alcohol than Port (around 16% compared to Port’s 20%).

Founded in 1850, La Coume du Roy is one of the oldest wineries in Maury and is currently being run by the sixth generation of winemakers, Agnes and Jean-François Bachelet. They make a variety of wines styles including dry red, white and rosé, sweet Muscat and both oxidized and maderized (heated) vin doux naturels. The 1998 La Coume du Roy Maury is made using 100%, late-harvested Grenache grapes. Yields are kept low at 20 hl/ha, ensuring each grape is concentrated with loads of flavor and sugar. The must then spends 10 months in fermentation tanks before being pressed and aged in oak barrels for 10 years. These wines can age for a century or more, so a mere 14 years in bottle is young. The wine still retains its dark red color, with only some of its garnet-tinged age appearing in the rim. This is delicious on its own with flavors of black cherry, plum, cocoa, and cedar, but an ideal match with this dark chocolate cake.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Toasted Hazelnuts
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced
10 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 large egg whites

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped

Whipped cream

For cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 10-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round. Place chocolate and 1 1/4 cups butter in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water; stir until mixture is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water; cool to lukewarm, about 10 minutes.

Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl until very thick and pale yellow in color, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla and salt. Gently fold chocolate mixture into yolk mixture. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 6 tablespoons sugar in another large bowl until peaks form. Fold 1/3 of beaten whites into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 45 minutes (cake will be puffed and soufflé-like while baking). Cool cake in pan on rack 15 minutes (cake will fall in center). Run knife around cake sides to loosen; press edge of cake down to make level with center. Remove pan sides and cool cake completely. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.

For ganache:
Combine chocolate and cream in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove bowl from over water; let stand until ganache cools slightly but is still pourable, about 5 minutes.

Place cooled cake on rack set over rimmed baking sheet. Pour 1/2 cup ganache over top of cake. Using offset spatula, quickly spread ganache over top and sides of cake. Freeze cake 3 minutes. Pour remaining ganache over top of cake. Working quickly but gently and grasping pan bottom and rack together, slightly tilt rack with cake from side to side, allowing ganache to flow evenly over top and down sides of cake; smooth sides with offset spatula. Press hazelnuts onto sides of cake to adhere. Chill cake until ganache is set, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and keep refrigerated. Let stand at room temperature 45 minutes before serving. Read More