Pineau d’Aunis: The Comeback Grape

How did a grape that was once the favorite of King Charles III, exported as the first “vin clairet” to the English court in the 13th century, fall from grace to almost extinction? This was a question that troubled my mind as I first dove into this elusive grape variety. I needed to know more.

Pineau d’Aunis is a red grape from the Loire Valley in France. It makes light bodied red wines, similar to Pinot Noir, and fresh roses that can rival those of Provence. It’s main growing regions are in Toraine’s AOCs of the Coteaux du Loire, where it must make up 65% of red blends and roses, and Coteaux du Vendômois, where it must make up 100% of roses and 50% of red blends. The wines are light bodied with tons of white and black pepper mixed with strawberry and rasperry.

So why hadn’t I heard of this grape variety? The trouble, as in a lot of these grape’s stories, is a finicky personality and marketing appeal. Pineau d’Aunis is highly susceptible to bunch rot, regularly produces irregular yields, and is extremely sensitive to soil condition. AKA a diva. On top of that, the Loire Valley began having much commercial success with Cabernet Franc and the regions that grew Pineau d’Aunis wanted to jump on that bandwagon. When all was said and done, only 16 hectares of the grape were grown in Coteaux du Loire by 1973.

Luckily for all of us, a group of local growers became fearful that the grape variety would disappear altogether. They shared my love for unique varieties and started to put their efforts back into this oddball grape. By 2005, plantings had increased to 71 hectares and up from there. They also had to find creative solutions to make this grape continuously profitable. I’ve mentioned before that Pineau d’Aunis is finicky. It is also late ripening. A fine red wine could not be produced from the grape every vintage, hence rose. The slightly underripe quality of the grape suits rose perfectly, making it crisp, thirst quenching, and great with food.

I’m not shy about saying that rose doesn’t always “do it for me.” So when I purchased this bottle of 2019 Domaine Courtault Tardieux Pineau d’Aunis rose, I wasn’t expecting much. I was merely interested in the grape variety. I brought it over to a girl friend’s house because, well, most girls love rose, and I considered it the perfect sunbathing wine. But when we popped it open I was very pleasantly surprised. I felt the sun in the glass as bright strawberries and cream rolled across my tongue. The acid and minerality quenched my thirst in the heat, and the white pepper was just enough to intrigue me, drawing me back for more. We quickly put together a spread because this wine had to be paired.

It screamed for salad. Slightly bitter arugula mixed with asparagus, topped with strawberries and walnuts did the trick. It paired perfectly with the strawberry fruitiness in the wine as well as its peppery, mineral qualities. The wine was still singing, though, so I wanted to play some more. In came smoked salmon and brie cheese. Yes! The wine intergrated into the richness of these foods and helped balance the creaminess and complexity. And after the meal, the wine paired perfectly with the sun!

I’d highly recommend seeking out a rose made from Pineau d’Aunis. I found mine at a local wine shop but you can also use wine-searcher or Vivino. In fact, I’m headed there right now to find a red variation. If it was good enough for King Charles III, it’s good enough for me. Cheers!

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