Raymond Ragnaud - Pineau de Charentes
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 Chateau 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 1960s, 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. Francoise Ragnaud-Bricq has carried the family tradition of producing high quality cognac and Pineau des Charentes.
Pineau des Charentes is considered a vin de liqueur, that is a wine made with unfermented grape must (unclarified, freshly-pressed grape juice) that is muted with cognac. While many regions in France make vin de liquers (Floc de Gascogne with armagnac, Pommeau de Normandie with calvados, Macvin du Jura with marc and Ratafia de Champagne (also with marc), Pinneau des Charentes (Charente being the name of the department and river that runs through it) 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.
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 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.