Offbeat grape: Pineau d'Aunis
One of the many small pleasures of wine, it seems to me, is the joy of discovery that comes from tasting a wine made from a grape variety, or a wine region, that I haven't experienced before.
I liken this to a bird-watcher's joy in spotting another species to add to his "life list," and if I don't actually keep an organized tally of all the offbeat grapes and geographical oddities I've tried, this doesn't diminish my interest when I have occasion to open a new one.
So it was a special pleasure the other day to sample an oddball item picked up for me at a NYC specialty shop by a friend: Pineau d'Aunis ("Pee-no Doh-nee") is a red grape variety once widely grown in the Loire Valley, particularly around Tours, Anjou and Saumur, but now largely ripped out to make room for more commercially attractive grapes.
The name "Pineau" rhymes with "Pinot" and comes from the same linguistic root that translates as "pine cone," presumably from the imagined shape of grapes hanging in bunches on the fine. It's not a member of the Pinot family, though; nor, says Jancis Robinson in her "Guide to Wine Grapes," is it "Red Chenin Blanc," although Loire growers sometimes give it the alternate name "Chenin Noir."
In fact, it's an individual variety all its own, bearing small black grapes and with a history in the Loire that goes back to medieval times. If casually grown and greedily harvested, it makes a lackluster wine and is mostly used nowadays, if at all, in blends with Cabernet Franc and other varieties in red Loires.
But the idiosyncratic producer Thierry Puzelat, for one, still does it the old-fashioned way, nurturing very old Pineau d'Aunis vines and pruning back to ensure very small yields of very intense grapes. The result, like most good Loire reds, might not please those who prefer big, bold, in-your-face blockbuster wines; but if you enjoy subtlety and intriguing minerality in your wine, you might find this hard-to-locate item worth the effort of searching out. My tasting note features the 2000 vintage; the currently available 2001 should be similar.
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Puzelat 2000 "La Tesnière" Pineau d'Aunis ($12.99)
This rather light copper-red wine is not much darker than a rosé; it shows a hint of haze and a distinct orange tint when it's held against the light. Remarkable aromas catch your attention as soon as you bring your nose to the glass: A whiff of white pepper is quickly followed by a lovely minerality reminiscent of rainwater washing over limestone. Fresh strawberries follow, ripe and sweet, leading into a tart, bone-dry red-berry flavor that's light-bodied but mouth-filling. Lemony acidity, subtle berries and white pepper linger in a long finish. U. S. importer: Louis/Dressner Selections, NYC. (March 31, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Crisp, tart and fruity with no hint of tannin, this made a perfect red-wine-with-fish match with the bluefish and potatoes featured in yesterday's Wine Advisor FoodLetter.
VALUE: A remarkable wine and an intriguing introduction to this historic but disappearing Loire red-grape variety, well worth the $12 toll.
WHEN TO DRINK: Now one year behind the current release, the 2000 shows no signs of fading, but I would drink it up sooner rather than later.
WEB LINK: Here's a link to the U.S. importer's Website:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: This wine was purchased from Chambers Street Wines in NYC,
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Friday, April 2, 2004