Bar Talk: Discovering Pineau

The French aperitif Pineau des Charentes is gaining ground as a cocktail component.

Andiron Steak & Sea in Las Vegas uses the French aperitif Pineau des Charentes in cocktails like the Pineapple Bump (pictured) to enhance complexity, elegance and flavor.
Andiron Steak & Sea in Las Vegas uses the French aperitif Pineau des Charentes in cocktails like the Pineapple Bump (pictured) to enhance complexity, elegance and flavor. (Photo by Bill Milne)

It may be centuries old, but Pineau des Charentes is currently having a moment. Bartenders are gravitating to the French aperitif, touting its versatility in cocktails and its ability to add flavor and richness without weighing a drink down. Made from a variety of grapes in the Cognac region, the fortified wine works well as a mixer with several spirits types, providing sweet fruit notes and acidity with low alcohol.

“Pineau des Charentes is a great way to add flavor and depth without too much sugar,” says Craig Schoettler, the property mixologist for Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. “Pineau allows us to achieve balance in dry cocktails. It’s not widely known, but it’s a great talking piece. Explaining the product and its versatility engages the guest.”

Schoettler uses Pineau des Charentes in cocktails at two of Aria’s venues. The new Bardot Brasserie by Michael Mina offers the Lost Generation ($14), a drink made with Paul Beau Grande Champagne V.S. Cognac, Paul-Marie et Fils Vieux White Pineau des Charentes, Bittermens Hiver Amer liqueur and vanilla bean–infused syrup. Meanwhile, the upscale Sage Restaurant serves the Smoke Missing Mirrors cocktail ($18), comprising Paul Beau Grande Champagne V.S. Cognac, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Hardy Le Coq d’Or Pineau des Charentes and house-made lavender bitters, served in a glass that’s been smoked with a Bourbon barrel stave.

Part of Pineau’s recent rise in popularity comes from its flexibility as a mixer, as it complements a wide range of spirits. Off the strip in Las Vegas, the new Andiron Steak & Sea restaurant in downtown Summerlin uses the aperitif in its signature vodka-based drink, the Pineapple Bump ($28), made with Absolut Elyx vodka, Normandin-Mercier Pineau des Charentes Blanc, pineapple juice, apple vinegar, lemon sour and club soda, served in a copper pineapple goblet for two. “Pineau des Charentes and other similar aperitifs add complexity and elegance to cocktails,” says beverage manager Christa Roelle. “They add dimension with acid and sweetness and they’re affordable as a cocktail modifier. Many of our guests are not familiar with Pineau, but they ask questions.”

Jeffrey Moll, head barman at the Neapolitan-style St. Louis pizzeria The Good Pie, often uses Pineau in place of white vermouth and says the aperitif works especially well in a genever-based Martini. His menu currently features The Lazy Dog ($11), a cocktail made with Ocho Plata Tequila, Purkhart Pear Williams eau de vie, Gaston Rivière Pineau François 1er Pineau des Charentes, St. George NOLA coffee liqueur and Lazzaroni amaro. Moll notes that because the drink has a lot of higher-proof components, the Pineau adds balance. “Pineau des Charentes serves as a lengthener and provides more character than a typical vermouth,” Moll explains. “Pineau’s richness holds up in cocktails, and its body helps drinks linger on the palate. These characteristics are important for drinks with fresh flavors that fade fast, spirits-driven cocktails and those with effervescent ingredients.”

In the warmer months, Pineau is especially useful because it adds dimension without too much alcohol. Michael Page, the beverage director at Acanto restaurant in Chicago, says it’s a good substitute for Sauternes in drinks because it has a similar flavor profile and alcohol content with a much lower price tag. The No. 7 cocktail ($12) on Acanto’s Italian-themed drinks menu has been made with Candolini Bianca grappa, A.E. Dor Pineau des Charentes, Regans’ No. 6 orange bitters, house-made chai syrup and lemon juice.

As Pineau gains popularity and becomes more readily available, mixologists are continuing to explore uses for the aperitif. Brian Means, bar manager at Dirty Habit in San Francisco’s Hotel Palomar, mixes Château Montifaud Pineau des Charentes into drinks with rum and whisk(e)y, using the Blanc expression for its floral notes and the Rosso variant for its spice and rich fruits.

“Pineau adds depth to cocktails with spirits like whisk(e)y or Calvados,” Means says. “I don’t think consumers really know what Pineau is yet, and it requires some selling from bartenders. But that approach worked for mezcal a few years ago, so we just need to give it some time. Consumers will know Pineau soon enough.”