Raymond Ragnaud Pineau des Charentes, France (750ml)
The Raymond Ragnaud Pineau des Charentes is made by combining 2/3 unfermented grape must (containing no alcohol) with 1/3 young Cognac at about 60% alcohol. The strength of the alcohol prevents the yeasts and sugar from fermenting, stabilizing the wine between at 17% alcohol. This mixture then goes into foudre (large oak vats) to age for four years, over which time the Pineau picks up aromas that include notes of figs, pears, and nuts. The sugar from the grape must makes this sweet, while the acidity and alcohol never permits it from becoming cloying. Usually served with an ice cube in a tulip-shaped glass, this is a classic French aperitif, very popular back in the fifties and sixties and enjoying a bit of a comeback, particularly when incorporated into creative cocktails. Other uses for Pineau include basting roasted meats or thickening sauces. We enjoy it in warmer weather combined with tonic and ice in a tall glass. Add a lemon twist, squeeze of lime or orange wedge if you wish.
Of all the subcategories of the Vins de Liqueur category (sweet, fortified wines made with unfermented grape must fortified with the brandy of the given region), the Pineau des Charentes subcategory is certainly the most known around the world. Legend has it that Pineau was discovered by accident when, during a harvest in 1589, a farmer dumped grape must into a barrel he thought was empty but actually contained eau de vie du vin. Several years later he found the barrel behind some others and found the blend to be thoroughly delicious. Its reputation spread and Pineau des Charentes came to be made by many locals.
Raymond Ragnaud is one of the top Cognac producers, located in the town of Ambleville in the heart of the Grande Champagne. The family has grown grapes since 1860; in 1920, Paul Ragnaud settled at the Château de Ambleville. He was succeeded in 1941 by his son Raymond who oversaw the vineyards and began to market the cognacs he had inherited. In the early 1960’s, his wife and two children expanded their vineyard holdings to 47 hectares that covered three towns all in the Grande Champagne—Ambleville, Criteul and Lignieres-Sonneville. One of those children, Francoise Ragnaud-Bricq, has carried the family tradition of producing high quality cognac and Pineau des Charentes.