Since its conception, Pineau des Charentes, the French aperitif made from grape juice and Cognac, has been widely recognized as a wine and not much more. But as the low-ABV movement has gained traction, bartenders are becoming increasingly familiar with the fortified wine and are bringing it behind the bar. “When understood, it can be a chameleon that can elevate a beverage, a dish or an experience,” says Michael Aredes, lead bartender at Superbueno in Manhattan. “It is a completely new category to so many people, where it has existed as an outlier for so long.”
Hailing from the Cognac region in France, white Pineau des Charentes is made from grape varieties, like Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard. The unfermented grape juice is mixed with young Cognac (that has been aged for a year) in a three-fourths to one-fourths ratio. The blend is then aged in oak barrels for at least 18 months, and often times longer, where the wine takes on a heightened level of richness. “The result is a product that is lightly sweet, but balanced, and a bit higher in ABV than a wine, but much lower ABV than a distilled spirit,” says Alex Jump, a Denver-based bartender and restaurant consultant.
The varieties of Pineau des Charentes include red and vieux as well. While the notes will range depending on the specific bottle and variety, a glass of white Pineau des Charentes can typically exhibit a richness that coats the mouth, with a palate of caramel, stone fruit and dried nuts, along with a slight acidity. Red Pineau des Charentes is typically fruity, with notes of cherries and raspberries. White vieux, on the other hand, is more powerful and aromatic with notes of honey, plum and cinnamon, which develop after aging the wine in oak barrels for a minimum of seven years.
At only 17 percent alcohol by volume, the aperitif can be used across a variety of applications, beyond a neat pour. “Pineau des Charentes is so exciting because it straddles the line between spirits and wine,” says Paige Walwyn, bartender at Chicago’s Queen Mary Tavern. “Wine drinkers love it and cocktail and spirits enthusiasts do as well.” It’s a fortified wine that’s able to be enjoyed in any season, but can especially stand out in a summer cocktail.
When mixing up summer cocktails with Pineau des Charentes, Jump suggests incorporating it as you would a vermouth or sherry. “Pineau is certainly a versatile option to add to your bar cabinet, because of its ability to sub into drinks as a modifier,” she says. Its flavor profile is more subtle than its fortified wine counterparts, which can be used to complement and balance out bolder flavors, like darker-bodied spirits and bitters, to make them more suitable for summer. “Pineau is a truly dynamic and delicious category of fortified wines,” Jump says. “There’s no better time to start playing with them than now.”
So for those looking to sip on more sessionable cocktails this summer, consider replacing base spirits with Pineau des Charentes. While it can be used in more general applications, like a simple spritz with tonic and lime juice, Pineau des Charentes really shines in contemporary approaches that highlight the flavors of summer. “It’s a lower alcohol beverage which makes it more approachable and perfect for a day-drinking session,” Walwyn says. “It has a refreshing, light, and fruity taste that is perfect for hot days.”
A traditional sangria typically calls for wine, brandy and fruit. But in this iteration, Walwyn swaps out brandy for its low-ABV cousin, a white Pineau des Charentes from Fanny Fougerat, to act as the recipe’s backbone. Walwyn doesn’t add any sugar in this sangria. Instead she uses the fortified wine in conjunction with orange liqueur to lend just the right amount of sweetness. When applied in this way, Pineau des Charentes brings depth that a neutral base of granulated sugar could not.
She further enhances the sangria by incorporating sherry, then brightens it with summer flavors, like fresh berries, bouquets of mint and wheels of citrus. Rather than serving the sangria with soda, Walwyn tops each glass with dry sparkling wine. Together, the ingredients combine to create a well-balanced sangria that’s incredibly gourmand. “It has a refreshing, light, and fruity taste that is perfect for hot days,” she says.
14 ounces Fanny Fougerat Pineau des Charentes White
6 ounces sherry wine vermouth
4 ounces orange liqueur
6 – 8 fresh strawberries, destemmed and quartered
8 fresh raspberries
1 orange, thinly sliced into wheels
2 lemons, sliced into wheels
8 – 10 fresh mint sprigs
10 ounces dry sparkling wine, such as Cava
Garnish: fresh mint
- Combine all ingredients, excluding the sparkling wine, in a pitcher and let sit at room temperature for roughly 4 hours, or in the refrigerator overnight
- Before serving, stir to incorporate.
- Divide among wine glasses over ice cubes.
- Top each glass with dry sparkling wine.
- Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh mint.
The Después La Playa holds true to Superbueno’s (and Aredes’) philosophy toward cocktails: to educate guests on a category of beverage that they may not be acquainted with in a playful way. His formulation includes three distinct flavors—strawberry-infused vodka, habanero-infused bittersweet orange vermouth and a white Pineau des Charentes honey blend—that meld to create a complex, summer-forward take on a highball.
While Aredes says Pineau des Charentes has the ability to work well with a variety of liquors, in this particular cocktail, he pairs it with vodka to balance out the delicate sweetness from the honey, then kicks it up with a habanero-infused bittersweet orange vermouth. “Pineau des Charentes plays a vital role in providing body to this beautiful highball cocktail that focuses on refreshment and buenas vibras,” he says. As for the occasion? Aredes says Después La Playa is meant to be enjoyed after a day at the beach: “While the air is still warm and a crisp refreshment is needed.”
1/2 ounce Brard Blanchard Pineau des Charentes White honey blend (see Editor’s Note)
1 1/2 ounces strawberry-infused vodka essence (see Editor’s Note)
3/4 ounces habanero-infused bittersweet orange vermouth (see Editor’s Note)
1 slice Cucumber
2 basil leaves
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
4 ounces club soda
Garnish: cucumber, sliced lengthwise, fresh basil leaves, and a halved strawberry
- Combine the first seven ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake
- Strain into a highball glass with a long thin cucumber angled through the inside of the glass.
- Top with club soda.
- Garnish with a basil bouquet and a halved strawberry on the rim. Finish with flaky sea salt.
Brard Blanchard Pineau des Charentes White Honey Blend
4 ounces honey
Mix the honey and the Pineau des Charentes until incorporated.
Strawberry-Infused Vodka Essence
1/3 ounce strawberry powder
Blended together a bottle of vodka and the strawberry powder for 5 -10 minutes.
Strain through a superbag.
Habanero-Infused Bittersweet Orange Vermouth
6 habaneros, cut in half
750 mL bittersweet orange vermouth
Place the habaneros in a bottle of bittersweet orange vermouth for 90 minutes.
Strain to remove habanero pieces.
However you choose to incorporate Pineau des Charentes in a cocktail, remember: “You need to account for the lower proof and higher sugar content of the cocktail you’re workshopping,” Jump says. Follow this general guideline and you’ll end up with a light, refreshing drink that’s ideal for hot summer days.
And for the occasions that call for a drink that’s a little less involved, don’t overlook a chilled glass of Pineau des Charentes—it’s even acceptable to add a single ice cube for a more refreshing pour. “Someone can and should drink Pineau whenever they want,” Walwyn says. “There is no right or wrong way and that’s what makes it so unique.”
Tapping into the Pineau des Charentes category of fortified wines—whether it’s white, red or vieux—can unveil the playfulness of wine and the culture as a whole. “[Pineau des Charents] should be seen as a bridge to enjoy even more amazing categories of wine and spirits in this world,” Aredes says.
Art Director: Becky Joy, Meg Konigsburg
Photographer: Cody Guilfoyle
Drink Stylist: Thu Buser
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Producer: Hannah Lee