Pineau des Charentes: a hidden gem?

I was hugely excited about our trip to Cognac, and the first stop on our whistle-stop tour brought with it a bit of a revelation.

Part of Chateau d'Orignac Part of Chateau d'Orignac

Château d'Orignac, producer of The Society's VSOP Cognac, is located 50km south of the town of Cognac in the Fin Bois region. As soon as we arrived it was obvious this is very much a family home, with smiling photos jostling for space on every surface and a roaring log fire in the beautiful sitting room.

Original copper pot still at Château d'Orignac Original copper pot still at Château d'Orignac

Yvan Meyer's family have owned Château d'Orignac for several generations. While he divides his time between the family home and making wines for family-run Bordeaux négociant and grower Maison Sichel, where he is technical director, his mother and father still live in the château and run it from day to day.

Yvan, who is quite literally charm personified, took us on a tour of the cellars. He explained the importance of the white grape ugni blanc to the blend – grown in Cognac, its high acidity, low alcohol levels and neutral flavour would make for a pretty awful table wine, but make it the perfect base for distillation.

Talking to Yves in the cellar at Chateau d'Orignac Talking to Yves in the cellar at Chateau d'Orignac

He showed us round the chais (cellar) where they aged the Cognac, before leading us to another chais, where they age their Pineau de Charentes. Something of an insider's secret, Pineau de Charentes is made by adding about one part Cognac to three parts freshly pressed grape juice – Yvan's family use merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

Tasting very old Pineau de Charentes Tasting very old Pineau de Charentes

Legend has it that Pineau des Charentes was created by chance in 1589 when a winemaker accidentally dropped some grapes into a barrel containing brandy. The resulting taste after a period of ageing was found to be so good that others copied – and a new drink was born.

Yves helping himself to some more pineau, 2 Yves helping himself to some more pineau, 2

Our little group whiled away a fair amount of time in the pineau chais as Yvan dived into one barrel after another, exhorting us to try ever older and more complex examples. I am a complete convert – Pineau des Charentes is like nectar, packed with flavours of apricot, honey, raisins, and even flowers. Serve it cold over ice as an aperitif, or with blue cheese or fig tart at the end of a meal. We suspected that it was with his Pineau that Yvan's heart really lay – and indeed, the world would be a better place if everyone had a chilled bottle of Pineau to hand!

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