Starlight Pineau des Charentes Finished Bourbon Review
It's Starlight Sunday again in the Amongst household and I'm taking a short break from house chores to dive into a fun finish that I've been meaning to learn more about myself. Pineau des Charentes is an aperitif from western France and is rather uncommon elsewhere in the world. It is a fortified wine that can be made from either red or white grape varietals. The fortification comes from the addition of a Cognac eau-de-vie which is then matured. I actually picked up a bottle of the wine from Pierre Ferrand who lists their Pineau des Charentes as a dessert wine. I'll treat it as such and explore it once this review is over. Look for some extra notes at the bottom of the page on the wine if you are curious! Now let's dive into the whiskey.
Company on Label: Starlight Distillery
Whiskey Type: Finished Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: A blend of Starlight's 3 & 4 grain mash (51% Corn, 20% Rye, 9% Wheat, 20% Malted Barley) and (60% Corn, 20% rye, 20% Malted Barley)
Age: 4 (and a half) years
Further identification: Barrel FB233-1 was selected by one of the master distillers, Blake Huber, and was available at the gift shop to inquisitive minds back in May of 2022
Nose: Rich, thick caramel jumps out of the glass first and foremost. Warm baking spices, oiled leather and earthy orchard fruit dance with light effervescence in the nostrils. The aromas are distinctly close to the ground and I find it reminiscent of visiting a lush garden in the Spring; I smell hyacinth, lilac and daffodil. Beneath these sweet florals there's a rich base of oak that comes across heavy, dark and brooding which serves as a lovely contrast. I find some of the notes of a 'noble rot' without the potent sweetness that typically comes with it. The nose-feel is dry and laden with an intense darkness that comes with the melancholy of a rainy day. A swirl props up dry cocoa powder, walnut husk and a damp soil one might find under a log cutoff that has sat on the ground too long. The prominent note thus far has been the dark leather and earthy notes. Time for a sip!
Returning to the glass I find the earthy notes have introduced a new layer of funk attributable only to the miracle of old oak. Dusty characteristics creep into the glass as black pepper, allspice and anise form a cocoon around the whiskey I was just formerly smelling. There's a fun corn chip aroma layered in with light paprika and a tangy, light yeast smell. I thoroughly enjoy the sorghum and brown sugar undulations on the back end of a long inhale on this glass. Everything here is delectable on the nose. The empty glass smells of nutty oak, butter, and brown sugar baked apricots.
Palate: My first sip is much sweeter than the nose let on; tingling, effervescent wine grapes dance on the tongue. The mouth feel is incredibly light - almost as if nothing was there at all. The tingling sensation and lemon peel zest that rush in afterwards course corrects that fallacy. I find notes of darkly steeped black tea, allspice and potato skins. Another sip produces delicate balance as thin honey and jasmine soften the senses. Soft molasses comes to the end of a forest trail only to find the thin minty notes and a delicate balance of peach and apricot. This glass drinks glossy and sleek with very little in the way of volume, but a lot of great character. My last sip is just as delicate as the last & I'm left with the lingering impression of a relaxing day spent in good company. The linger is medium with soft vanilla, a hint of cinnamon, and a creamy cup of warm tea.
(Decent. I can go either way on it.)
Although the palate didn't offer much in the way of complexity, I do think I have an appreciation for the master distiller's intent here. I think this whiskey serves much the same purpose as the wine it was finished in: an aperitif. It's delicate and soft enough that any dinner guest would be able to enjoy it, and it certainly stirs an appetite as my Sunday stomach will attest. For that reason it earns the "Keep Amongst the Whiskey" distinction. If you were to blind this against other quality whiskeys it would certainly fall somewhere in the middle of the pack given the light flavors, but I am still thoroughly impressed with the overall experience. It's actually been quite some time since a review has earned this mark, so kudos to Starlight for continuously cranking out awesome whiskey.
As for the wine I mentioned earlier... this Pierre Ferrand smells amazingly vibrant. It's oily on the nose like a pot still Irish whiskey with intense sweetness reminiscent of a day spent apple picking in the Fall. One sip confirms the sweet suspicion as rich apple and pear notes bubble to the surface. Interestingly, I definitely find the same honey I tasted and the hyacinth I smelled on the Starlight finished whiskey. It's viscous, creamy, and perfectly balanced. I may have just found my new favorite wine (and I thought I only really loved similar forms of Cabernet Sauvignon). Goodness gracious that is good. Revisiting the whiskey after a sip of the wine tells me that perhaps the whiskey could have been finished a little longer, or perhaps it was finished too long. I wish more of the potent sweetness, that never overreaches into cloying territory, was transferred to the whiskey. The shock of the fortified wine has muted the whiskey to the point of no return - a welcome end to my imbibing for today as I prepare for the week ahead.
I hope this review was helpful - please let me know what you think about this style of whiskey (or the wine) in the comments. Cheers!