Let’s face it France is known worldwide for its wine. So many regions throughout the country boast centuries-old wine traditions and produce some of the finest wines in the world.
From the famous vineyards of Bordeaux to the renowned Champagne region, France has a lot to offer when it comes to wine tourism.
Let’s be honest, what’s the first thing you think about when visiting France? Usually, it’s the fabulous wine, bread, cheese and pastries.
But visiting vineyards and enjoying wine tasting in this country can be overwhelming, as there are so many wine regions in France to choose from.
Some of the most famous wine regions in France include:
Bordeaux: Located in the southwest of France, near where I live, this wine region is known for its red blends made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc grapes.
Burgundy: Situated in eastern France, it’s known for producing some of the world’s best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.
Champagne: Located in northeastern France, not surprisingly, is known for producing the world’s most famous sparkling wine.
Loire Valley: Sat in central France, it’s known for producing a range of wines, including white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes and red wines made from Cabernet Franc grapes.
Rhône Valley: Located in southeastern France, this wine region is known for its full-bodied red wines made from Syrah and Grenache grapes. The region also produces white wines made from Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne grapes.
Alsace: Found in northeastern France and close to Germany, it’s known for its aromatic white wines made from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris grapes. The region is also famous for its Crémant d’Alsace, a sparkling wine made using the traditional method.
But today, we’re not focusing on any of these famous wine regions, instead, we’re going to raise a glass to the Poitou-Charentes!
This region isn’t talked about as much as some when it comes to wine, but it’s a hidden gem bursting with flavoursome wines that’ll leave your taste buds craving more.
We’re about to uncover the fascinating history of this wine region in France and discover why it’s a must-visit destination for wine enthusiasts.
So let’s take a closer look at what makes this area so unique and find out why it’s a must-visit destination for wine lovers.
Why Poitou-Charentes is one of the best regions of wine in France
Known more for its production of Cognac than wine, between the Charente and the Charente Maritime, there are around 4,500 hectares of vines.
The majority is produced on the borders of these two departments going from Aulnay in the north, through Cognac, onto Saine and then Jonzac as you go towards the south.
However, both the islands of Île de Ré and the Île d’Oléron produce great wine too. When I visited Île d’Oléron earlier this month, I drove past more vines than I care to count, which surprised me.
I’d always thought of Île d’Oléron as predominantly oyster farming, but wine is also a big part of their industry.
This history of wine in the Poitou-Charentes
Wine-making in the Charente region of France goes way back, like way, way back. We’re talking third century AD.
The Gauls started planting vines in the area after hearing about the Mediterranean region’s wine-making traditions dating back to the 6th century BC or earlier.
The residents, merchants, and growers of the area quickly realized the region’s fine climate was perfect for cultivating vines, so they got to work.
Initially, wine-making was limited to the Saintonge, the historic area that now covers the southern and western parts of the Charente-Maritime.
However, things started picking up in the Middle Ages, around the middle of the 12th century AD.
Eleanor of Aquitaine and her husband, Henry II of England, boosted trade links between England and Aquitaine. This led to an increase in wine consumption across the Channel.
As a result, more and more vines were planted, and wine-making became “big business” in the Charente region.
The River Charente played a crucial role in this trade, as its waters were used to transport the wine from the producers to ships that would export it.
The trade increased, and the quality of the wine improved as well.
By the 15th century, Dutch merchants were exporting large quantities of wine, not just to Holland but to Scandinavia and England as well.
But wait, there’s more!
This period also coincided with the rise of cognac. So, not only did the Charente region become renowned for its wine, but it also produced a brandy that people just couldn’t get enough of.
The Big Cognac Houses in the Charente
Today you’ll find many of the big Cognac houses in that region such as:
Hennessy – Founded in 1765 by Irishman Richard Hennessy, this is one of the largest Cognac houses in the world. I’ve done their tour and it’s fantastic. You get to take their boat on the river down to the cellars for a tour.
Martell – Founded in 1715, Martell is the oldest of the major Cognac houses and is known for its smooth and mellow Cognacs.
Rémy Martin – Founded in 1724, Rémy Martin produces high-quality Cognacs using a blend of eau-de-vie from the Grande and Petite Champagne regions.
Courvoisier – Founded in 1828, Courvoisier is known for its smooth and rich Cognacs, often used in cocktails.
To really immerse yourself in the history of Cognac I can highly recommend this full-day private tour which includes lunch, tastings and much more.
Pineau des Charentes, the famous wine from this French region
Pineau des Charentes is a fortified wine with origins which can be traced back to the 16th century.
Legend has it that a winemaker accidentally poured grape juice into a barrel containing cognac, and ended up leaving it there for a few years.
When he eventually tasted the blend, he discovered it had developed into a delicious and complex wine. He then began to produce the wine on purpose.
Over time, it became more popular and led to the creation of Pineau des Charentes as we know it today.
Pineau des Charentes is made by blending fresh grape juice with cognac, which is then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 18 months.
The result is a sweet smooth wine with a rich, fruity flavour and a subtle hint of oak.
I’m a sucker for a good glass of Pineau, and my neighbour, old Claud the farmer, makes his own. Trust me when I say you only want a small glass of this as it can give you rather a sore head if you don’t drink in moderation.
It’s usually served as an aperitif or dessert wine.
A little bit of trivia for you.
Anything that’s derived from the Charente tends to be classed as Charentais, and that includes wines. But it’s also used to describe the regional dialect and culture of the area.
Grape Varieties found in the French wine region of Poitou-Charentes
Charentais winemakers produce several AOC wines, and the main grape varieties found in the region include:
Ugni Blanc: This is the most widely planted grape variety in the region and is used primarily for producing cognac and other brandies. It’s a high-yielding grape known for its acidity and ability to produce wines with high alcohol content
Colombard: This grape variety is used to produce both cognac and wine in the region. It’s also known for its high acidity and citrusy flavours, which make it well-suited for producing fresh and lively white wines.
Sauvignon Blanc: Not as widely planted in the region as Ugni Blanc and Colombard, it’s still used to produce some of the region’s AOC wines.
Merlot: This grape variety is known for its soft tannins and fruity flavours. It’s used to produce some of the region’s AOC red wines.
Cabernet Franc: This grape variety is also used to produce some of the region’s AOC red wines. It’s known for its herbal notes and spicy flavours, making it perfect for producing complex and structured red wines.
The best Wineries to visit in the Poitou-Charentes
The vineyards in the Charente tend to be situated in beautiful locations, with stunning views of the countryside. The rolling hills and meadows provide such a lovely backdrop and you don’t usually encounter much traffic either.
You can drive throughout the region taking in the breathtaking scenery and enjoy a tasting or two, as long as you’re not the driver. And of course, learn about the history of each one.
There are several small boutique wineries in the region and these are three I can personally recommend.
Domaine de la Tour Vert
Located in the little village of Foussignac, not far from Jarnac in the heart of the Charente, is Domaine de la Tour Vert. It sits in the Fins Bois region aka the lands of Cognac.
Owned and operated by the Pinard family this Charentais-style farm is sat on 37 hectares, 22 of which are used for growing vines.
In 1969 the family became aware of the harmful effects on the environment caused by the chemicals they used. So they changed over 300 years of winegrowing practices and became organic winegrowers.
You can visit the cellars and the distillery all year round by reservation for tours, tastings and sales.
Check opening times here www.guy-pinard.com
Domaine Le Petit Cousinaud
In the village of Brossac in the south of the Charente in the hills of Saintongeaise is Domaine Le Petit Cousinaud. Operating 30 hectares of vines, they produce a wide range of Vins de Pays Charentais and Pineau des Charentes.
They’re in the Cognac appellation region, specifically in the Bons Bois cru also called “terroir cru”. Their Vins de Pays whites come from the Chardonnay and Colombard grape varieties, and his 2017 white won the Concours des Vins wine award.
Visiting is by appointment only and you can get more information on their website www.lepetitcousinaud.com/
Domaine Conte et Filles
Sat in the limestone valleys of the Charente in Chillac is Domaine Conte et Filles, owned and operated by two sisters, Blandine and Anne-Laure. The estate has been in the family for five generations, and their processes are full of traditions and history.
They have a full range of Cognac, wines, and Pineaux for you to taste and are open Monday – Saturday with three guided tours a day. For more information, visit their website
Deep in the heart of the Pineau des Charentes and Cognac appellation in the village of Chérac is Vignoble Grateaud. For six generations, this family have cultivated the vines passing down their knowledge from son to son.
The first pineaux were produced on the estate in 1962, which included five ageing white and three rosés. As well as their cognacs and pineaux, they offer a range of fabulous liqueurs including orange, pear, cherry, apricot and raspberry.
Pairing Pineau des Charentes with food
Speaking from experience, when pairing Pineau des Charentes with food, it’s important to consider the sweetness and acidity of the wine.
A lighter, fruitier Pineau des Charentes pairs well with lighter dishes, while a more full-bodied wine can stand up to heavier, more intense flavours.
Having tried my fair share of Pineaux over the years here is what I’d recommend:
Foie gras – a classic pairing for Pineau des Charentes, and of course, Foie gras is a French classic. The richness of the foie gras complements the sweetness of the wine, creating a perfect balance of flavours.
Cheese – Pineau des Charentes pairs well with a variety of cheeses, from mild to strong. A soft cheese like Brie or Camembert brings out the wine’s sweetness, while a more aged cheese like Comté or Roquefort pairs well with the wine’s oakiness.
Chocolate – believe it or not Pineau des Charentes is a perfect pairing with chocolate. The sweetness of the wine complements the richness of the chocolate, creating a wonderfully decadent dessert pairing.
The Poitou-Charente really is the best region of wine in France
So, there you have it! The Poitou-Charentes wine region is a hidden gem that not many people know about.
There is so much to offer for wine enthusiasts and casual sippers alike.
Whether you’re into crisp whites, sweet pineaux, or the region’s famous Cognac, there’s a wine here that will tickle your taste buds.
And hey, even if you’re not a wine lover, the region has plenty of other attractions to keep you entertained, like chateaux, historic villages, and of course, wonderful French food.
So, come for the wine, stay for the adventure, and don’t forget to raise a glass (or two) to this beautiful region.
Cheers! Santé! Tchin-tchin!