In announcing the new bottling, Nicolas sent a great and very practical description of pineau, how it is made, and why we don't see too much of it outside of France and Belgium. I have pasted it below.
After the general description I've pasted specifics as to the bottling that he is importing.
If you are not familiar with what Pineau des Charentes is, no worries, no-one is; only two areas in the Galaxy consume Pineau in quantities: the Cognac region itself and....Belgium (I have always found mind-bending how such a small country could absorb that much alcohol...). Anyway, Pineau des Charentes - we will call it simply "Pineau", "des Charentes" simply pointing to its provenance, from the Charentes Departments of France - is a sweet wine that can be white, red or rose and made in the Cognac region, using cognac as one of its components.
Indeed when making cognac, once the grapes are harvested in late September, they are destemmed then pressed to extract the juice. This juice will ferment (the sugar of the grapes being converted into alcohol thanks to the presence of yeasts) into a dry wine which is distilled twice in copper pot stills. The unaged eau-de-vie (water of life) is put in oak casks made of french wood; only after having spent at least two years in barrels can this spirit legally be called cognac.
Now what about Pineau? A few artisan distillers take some of this fermenting grape must and, before fermentation is over and all the sugar has been converted into alcohol, simply add cognac to it. The addition of eau-de-vie stops the fermentation immediately, the alcohol killing the yeasts.Part of the sugar is still present making for a sweet dessert wine, technically belonging to the Fortified Wine category like Port, Sherry, Madeira etc... The alcohol content of the resulting wine is usually between 17% Alc./Vol (34 % ABV) and 20% Alc./Vol (40 % ABV). Pineau is then aged in casks, usually on its lies to give it more complexity.
So why do only very few people know about Pineau? Well, in France most Pineaux available in the marketplace are young (have not been aged for a long time) therefore lacking complexity; as a result they do not attract the attention of wine or liquor enthusiasts. Because it is unrecognized, most connoisseurs never had the opportunity to taste how complex and refined a very old Pineau can be.Of course the absence of marketing make the export market completely inexistent. Thank God for Belgium and it's consumption of more than 2/3 of the Pineau output...
The provenance of the cognac used is another factor that plays an important role in the very average quality of the Pineau out there:Pineau from the Grande and Petite Champagnes can age longer and get more complexity over time than the ones made in the Bois areas of the Cognac region.Now because the demand for Pineau is small, Cognac's first and second growth - respectively the Grande and Petite Champagnes areas - rather than using part of their cognacs to make Pineau, prefer selling all of their eaux-de-vie as straight cognac which will command a higher price tag. As a consequence, makers from the Fin Bois, Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaires are the source of the majority of the Pineau production, their cognacs being less susceptible to age, therefore more affordable an ingredient to use.
Of course, a few passionate artisan cognac distillers do not follow the rule.
And now, information about the bottle Nicolas is bringing in to the US:
Case in point, my friend Dominique in the Grande Champagne; as a total Pineau geek, he has been putting as much care in his sweet wines as he does in his cognacs, aging both for decades the way his family has been doing for generations.
After tasting through Dominique's oldest barrels, I have decided to bottle one fabulous cask that has been seating in his cellar for longer than my adult life. This white Pineau took on an almost pinkish hue due to both the slow maturation in barrels (oxydation) as well as the prolonged contact with its lies; at 17.5 % Alc./Vol (35% ABV), it's residual sweetness is perfectly balanced by a high acidity that makes it one of the best sweet wines I have had the chance to taste in a long time. I have bottled a bit over 600 bottles - 679 to be precise.Let's see how it goes, those bottles are somewhere on the Atlantic ocean as I write and should arrive in NY by mid October...
Check the website for further details on this bottling.