The SOMM Journal

August / September 2018

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Page 87 of 124

{ } 87 According to Harden, the Charentes region pro- duces two basic types of its proprietary for tified wine: white, which is generally made from the same grapes as Cognac (Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanche), and vin de liqueur red or rosé (often used interchange - ably) primarily made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Reflecting the French penchant for regulation, the Cognac used for this for tified wine must generally be added in a ratio of three par ts grape juice or must to one par t Cognac, but this propor tion can change depending on quality. Moreover, both the eau-de-vie and the grapes must come from the same estate or vineyard and be made by the same producer. No sugar or other additives can be added to the mixture, and this for tified wine blend— or mutage—must be aged wholly in oak barrels. The maturation time can range from eight months to 20 years or more. The wines tasted at the seminar included Blanc, which requires a minimum of 18 months of aging, including 12 months in oak; Rouge/Rosé, a category that requires 12 months of aging, including eight months in oak; Vieux, with a minimum of five years of oak aging; and Très Vieux, with a minimum of ten years of oak aging. All end up with an alcohol content between 16–22 percent and are generally priced from $17–$50 (or more for some of the older Très Vieux wines). "Although these are sweet wines, they may start out sweet and heavy, but they don't finish that way," Harden noted during the seminar. "They have a nice, dry finish." The 18-month-old Pierre Ferrand Blanc, made from Grande Champagne Ugni Blanc grapes, indeed exhibited noticeable fruit upfront—predominantly grapefruit, peach, and plum—while the Château de Beaulon 5 Year Old Blanc had pronounced notes of apricots and honey with a surprisingly spicy finish. In all, the region currently exports 30 brands of Pineau des Charentes. In many ways, the vin de liqueur is akin to vermouth, as it can be stored for weeks after opening if kept refriger - ated. It can also be used as an imaginative cocktail ingredi- ent or served chilled as an apéritif, while the headier rosé and Vieux varieties can make for refreshing digestifs. To be sure, after 429 years, Pineau des Charentes somehow remains a wine just waiting to be discovered. A white Pineau des Charentes aged five years, Réviseur ($30) contains only one grape: Ugni Blanc. This enables it to display the rancio nature that sometimes shows itself in this fortified wine. It conjures the scent of cedar or varnish with aromas of dried raisin. LAIRD & COMPANY Aged for five years and with an ABV of 18%, Château de Beaulon is an old (vieux) Pineau des Charentes made from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and other grapes. This is a fresh, fruity example of the category with hints of honeysuckle and vanilla. The mid-palate brings in tangerine and dried apricot. IDEAL WINE & SPIRITS Cognac Normandin-Mercier ($27) is a red Pineau des Charentes made from Merlot. Aromas of hibiscus, Earl Grey tea, and dried cherry are savory and mouth-coating.

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