For a few decades, I have been writing about wines, concentrating especially on French wines. Hence, I was quite surprised when I recently discovered a red grape from the Loire Valley that I had never heard of—Pineau d’Aunis.
Pineau d’Aunis is an ancient variety growing in the central Loire Valley, in the areas of Anjou and Saumur and in the Touraine AOC district, dating from at least the 1200s. The reason Pineau d’Aunis has become so obscure today is that the variety suffered greatly from the phylloxera scourge of the 1860s, which wiped out most of its acreage. But today, Pineau d’Aunis is starting to make a comeback—at least in geeky wine circles.
Pineau d’Aunis makes pale but lively red wines, resembling Pinot Noir in appearance, but with their own distinctive, savory aromas and flavors. Pineau d’Aunis exhibits lively, white-pepper aromas with delicate flavors of wild berries. For those of you who enjoy your red wines chilled, Pineau d’Aunis is the wine for you, as it really comes to life with a slight chill, similar to Beaujolais. It is a versatile wine that pairs well with charcuterie and light entrées.
Pineau d’Aunis can be used to make a sparkling wine or rosé, but excels as a red wine when its terroir, around Saumur and Champigny, enjoys a warm growing season. The Pineau d’Aunis grape variety is also known as Chenin Noir, although it has no relationship, according to its DNA, with Pinot Noir or the white Chenin Blanc. It’s also known simply as Aunis, named after the Aunis Monastery between Saumur and Champigny. It is susceptible to various diseases, and grape yields must be closely controlled; quality falls steeply with overproduction.
I recently tasted four Pineau d’Aunis wines, ranging in price from $22 to $40:
Pascal Janvier, Coteaux de Loir Rouge”Cuvée du Rosier” 2018
($22): A light-bodied, chillable red, pale garnet in color. Aromas and flavors of raspberries, with a touch of white pepper. Perfect as an aperitif. Not substantial enough when served as the wine with a main course. 89
Domaine de Grandes Vignes Pineau d’Aunis 2019
($27): Les Grandes Vignes is a certified biodynamic domaine located in the eastern part of Anjou. The grapes are planted in a clay soil rich in fossilized seashells. The wine has aromas of ripe, red cherries and watermelon rind, with a touch of cracked pepper. Despite its youth, it is very drinkable now, and the best value of these four wines. 93
Le Briseau Pineau d’Aunis “Patapon” 2018
($28): This has citrusy aromas, mainly grapefruit, with a touch of cranberry and white pepper. It is marred by strong tannins, which dominate its finish. 86
Domaine de Bellivière, Coteaux du Loir “Rouge-Gorge” 2018
($40): Yes! Clearly an outstanding wine—perhaps the greatest wine made from Aunis. Concentrated, with effusive herbaceous aromas in a red, wild berry core. Flavors recall strawberries and watermelon, combined with aromas of mown grass and white pepper. Made from old vines, farmed biodynamically. 96
Based on my tasting of these four Pineau d’ Aunis varietal wines, I can conclude that that the Pineau d’ Aunis variety makes wines that are quite variable in quality, depending on the producer, and perhaps other reasons, such as vintage. As I see it, Domaine de Bellivière is clearly outstanding and Domaine de Grandes Vignes is very good, with the remaining two wines average or below average. The prices are reasonable for the quality. Pineau d’ Aunis, a newly re-discovered variety, might have a bright future. Or not.