If you enjoy cognac or armagnac, then you’ll really dig two regional aperitifs made from them. I’m talking about Pineau des Charentes and Floc de Gascogne. For all intents and purposes, they are quite similar, but differ slightly because of their place of production. Both are divine.
Pineau des Charentes is made in the Cognac region of France in the department of Charentes, thus the name. It is produced by combining three parts fresh grape juice with one part cognac. Although red and rosé versions exist, I believe the white is truest to the spirit because it utilizes the exact same grapes overall that are used in cognac (ugni blanc, folle blanche, and colombard). The concoction is aged for at least 18 months in oak and is usually 2 years old when bottled and about 17 percent alcohol by volume. Many are aged longer at the producers, some for decades. If aged for more than five years, it is called “vieux pineau” and those aged more than 10 years can wear the title “tres vieux pineau.”
If a year appears on a bottle, it refers to the year the cognac was created, not the grape juice. The color can be anywhere from pale yellow to golden, depending on how long it was aged in barrel. It smells and tastes of apples, nuts, flower, herbs, and sometimes oak, if it spent a long time in barrel. It’s slightly sweet, but with good balancing acidity.
An absolutely spectacular aperitf, Pineau des Charentes is also grand with foie gras, fresh ripe fruit, desserts, nuts, and stinky cheese. Also great in cocktails, it is not meant to age or keep for a long time. The fresh grape juice inhibits that. It should be stored like any other wine in a cool, dark place, but standing upright to reduce the exposed surface area. Once opened, it will keep for quite awhile in the fridge
From Cognac to Gascony
Floc de Gascogne, on the other hand, is created in Gascony, thus its name, in the Armagnac region of France. A blend of two-thirds fresh grape juice and one-third Armagnac, it’s a fine imbibe. A white and rosé version exists, but the white, like pineau, is most representative of the spirit namesake. Varieties include ugni blanc, colombard, and gros manseng. It is usually aged for about 10 months before sale and hits stores at about 17 to 18 percent alcohol by volume.
Floc, like its cognac counterpart, is also better stored standing and best consumed within a year after production. Once opened, it too will keep for several months in the fridge. This aperitif smacks of honey, black fruit, almond, roses, and jasmine and is slightly sweet like Pineau. A wonderful aperitif, it is delightful with stinky cheese, sorbets, nuts, walnut cake, and other patisseries, as well as in mixed drinks.
Both aperitifs should be served chilled, around 46 to 50 F. I personally enjoy them simply served over ice. A tulip-shaped glass tends to work best, as the tapered top of the glass allows the aromatics to be enhanced.
Unfortunately, both aperitifs have not really taken off here in North America. I suppose they are overshadowed by their better-known, older brothers, cognac and armagnac. It’s a real pity though, as most folks who try them love them.
If you’re lucky enough to be in France, you simply must give one or both a go. Here in America, you may come across them in an upscale local wine shop or you could simply ask your retailer to bring some in for you.
Either way, if you get the chance, check them out. I’m sure you will be delighted, as they are both excellent.
© Edward Finstein, “The Wine Doctor” 2015. “The Wine Doctor” is Edward Finstein, award-winning author, TV/radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine, and consultant. For more information, visit winedoctor.ca, twitter.com/drwineknow, thewinedoctor.blogspot.com, winedoctor.ca/docs-grapevine.html, or facebook.com/EdwardDocFinstein?fref=ts.