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  • IWSC 2018 Gold Outstanding Medal Winners

    IWSC 2018Another fantastic result for the Hermitage stable as three of our newest additions are awarded prestigious medals at this year's International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC 2018).  GOLD OUTSTANDING Medals were received by our latest vintages:

     

    Hermitage 1948 Grande Champagne Cognac.  Judges comments: "On the palate this cognac is extremely rich and concentrated.  Perfectly balanced."

    Hermitage 1944 Grande Champagne Cognac.  Judges comments: "Absolutely superb!  Do not wait to drink this."

     

    All three of our winners are from the top cru as a GOLD Medal was also awarded to the Hermitage 30 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac.  Judges comments: "Powerful yet elegant on the palate.  Very complex, very long finish."

  • The Role of Cellar Masters

    Probably only the big cognac houses have imported cellar masters.  Usually they are recruited from family firms whose skills and experience have, over the years, kept the industry in very good form.  Currently most cellar masters are male so, whilst explaining the role, I will use the pronoun ‘he’.

    Cellar masters

    In truth, the cellar master is a multi-skilled person whose understanding of the cognacs in his cellar starts with the fresh eau de vie. He needs to understand how it was made, including the quantities distilled, the distillation temperature and when the cut was made. This information will help him choose the correct barrels to use for both the initial storage and the long barrel ageing in his cellar. Most cognac houses have their own style of cognacs, normally recognisable by experts.  He will try to replicate that style throughout his cognacs.

     

    Modern cognacs are usually made for blending.  To do this they are poured out of their barrels into large wooden tanks which may hold as much 100,000 litres. Blending is a complex job and much emphasis is placed on the knowledge gained from the cellar’s historical background. Mixing cognacs requires a great deal of experience.  It does not follow that mixing two fine cognacs together will produce something of a similar quality. In some cases, especially when very high quality eaux de vie is used, the quality of the final blend is a total disaster.

     

    The cellar master’s role also includes an in-depth understanding of his barrels - their size, the oak used and what they have previously contained (the second stage of ageing is always in old barrels). He also needs to understand how much they were toasted and where he is going to keep them.  Many cellar masters move their barrels around the cellar to make full use of the humidity and to keep the cognac moving so it is exposed to every part of the barrel.

     

    Lastly, he tests the cognac by taking samples and checking the level of alcohol.  This is done by measuring the temperature and using an alcohol meter.  All official alcohol measurements are made at 20 degrees Celsius, so it is important to be able to calculate the actual strength at different temperatures. Small samples are taken to gauge the cognac’s maturity and balance at regular intervals as each barrel produces a cognac with a slightly different flavour and colour. The skill of bringing all these properties together takes many years to learn.  It is for this reason that the cognacs produced by family firms are often of a far higher quality than those from the big houses, which are highly blended.

  • Hermitage 1944 Grande Champagne Cognac

    1944 GC CognacWe are really excited about the latest Hermitage 1944 Cognac to make it onto our shelves.

     

    Distilled almost 75 years ago and aged for more than half a century, the Hermitage 1944 Grande Champagne Cognac is truly wonderful.  It has a rich complexity of aromas and flavours which last for ages on the palate and they are all wrapped up in a rich rancio .... what more could you wish for?

     

    This really is a little bit of cognac heaven.

  • Put A Cork In It!

    We tend to take the humble wine cork for granted but it is, in many cases, the critical factor in preserving our wines and spirits.  It protects them from the air outside their glass containers and preserves the qualities of the valuable nectars which are stored within. Many people will argue that synthetic or metal screw top closures are more effective and in the cheaper ranges, particularly of wines, they probably are.  Connoisseurs, however, still believe that natural cork has an important role to play.

    cork oak tree

    Cork is the bark of the Quercus suber or “cork oak” tree.  A medium-sized, evergreen oak that covers millions of hectares in Spain, Portugal and North Africa.  Unlike the frenzied yearly cycle of the wine industry, the evergreen oaks move like sloths, slowly expanding and growing the bark, known as orange bark. The cork oaks are first stripped of their bark 20 years after they are planted.  They are then shaved of their bark every 9 years after that for up to 200 years. The date of the last harvest is marked on each tree. The first layer is known as “virgin” cork and is used to make articles of home decoration and granulated cork for insulation. Only when the third layer is removed can it be used for making cork stoppers.

    corks

     

    On a cellular level, cork looks like a honeycomb of air pockets. These pockets make cork both watertight and fire resistant which is why it works so well to age wine.  Its molecular structure makes watertight seals easily but also lets tiny bits of air move in or out allowing the flavour and aroma to evolve and become more complex over time. This evolution can take many years but beware, whilst water molecules pass quite slowly through cork, spirit molecules are much smaller and pass through more quickly.  It is for this reason that many older cognacs always have a wax seal over the cork.  Natural ageing of cognacs must be in sealed containers as the gradual loss of alcohol can, over many decades, cause the spirit to degrade to such an extent that it can become completely undrinkable.

     

    The microcellular structure of cork enables it to retain its flexibility and elasticity so always remember to put the cork back in the bottle after use.  Also, never let the contents of your spirits bottle come into contact with the cork since this will degrade its structure more rapidly.

  • Armagnac XO Definition Changed

    Armagnac XOThe Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (BNIA) has increased the minimum age requirement for Armagnac XO from 6 to 10 years, in line with a recent change to the cognac definition (see previous news story).  The regulatory body said that it hopes the changes will help to raise the “value of the appellation” and emphasise the “real differences” between its classifications.  The minimum age of an armagnac (and cognac) is now as follows:

    VS                                                                3+ years

    VSOP                                                          4+ years

    Napoleon                                                  6+ years

    XO                                                              10+ years

  • Trellising Vines in Armagnac

    Trellising in ArmagnacJust like in Cognac, the Armagnac region suffered from the severe spring weather with the heaviest rainfalls recorded since 1952!  Thankfully the barometer has now stabilised and trellising has begun.  This essential activity supports the vegetation ensuring good aeration of the grapes and minimal shoot damage by wind.  Ripening is also optimised, as leaf exposure to the sun improves and thus, encourages photosynthesis.  Of great ecological importance is the efficiency of phytosanitary treatment - the arrangement of the leaves on trellised plants helps this to improve. Finally, trellising also facilitates passage between the vines reducing time spent on viniculture and therefore crop costs. The recent good, stable, summer weather has ensured that this year, the budding and general well-being of the vines are exceptional.  Very good news for the 2018 armagnac vintage as if the rain had not stopped, the saturated soils may well have asphyxiated the plants.

  • The Bottle Story - Comandon 2012 Cognac

    Comandon 2012 CognacThis is a very young, vintage cognac (aged for 3 years) but with an interesting history.

     

    It was produced to mimic the pre-Phylloxera style; that is using the single grape variety Folle Blanche from the Bon Bois cru.  It is also a single cask vintage with a higher that average alcohol content at 41.3% (although pre-Phylloxera cognacs were often left at cask strength).  The Folle Blanche today accounts for only 10% of grapes grown in the region as the majority were decimated in the pre-Phylloxera outbreak and the rootstocks now in use are better suited to cropping Ugni Blanc grapes.  Cognacs from Bon Bois are also now much less popular as even the big houses tend to look no further afield than Fin Bois.  That said, the Comandon 2012 Cognac is an interesting idea, which we will sadly probably never get to taste, as only 120 bottles were produced for the American market

  • The Cognac Region - Summer 2018

    storm damage in the Cognac RegionThe Cognac Region has once again been hit by severe hailstorms. At the end of May hailstones, some the size of golf balls, were seen in the south of Charente-Maritime, the Borderies, the west of Matha and the Rouillac area. In total, more than 10,000 hectares in the Cognac region were affected.  However, an original estimate that 25% of the total crop was damaged has now been revised to 5-6% maximum.  Although some areas were severely affected at the time, it now appears that the actual damage done is less than was originally anticipated.  Harvest hopes have also been given a fresh boost with the sunny weather that followed the earlier storms, allowing the crops to ripen better than normal.  It is expected that this year’s yield will be at least up to normal levels of 12 hectolitres of pure spirit per hectare. If this does prove to be the case it should help to stabilise cognac prices which have been talked up recently by fears of a small harvest.

  • Changes to the Cognac Appellation?

    new grape varieties?For years the BNIC has strictly regulated every aspect of cognac production but now the wind of change maybe starting to blow.  Recently we have seen the production of cognac finished in sherry and bourbon casks.  The appellation permits finishing as long as the cask previously contained wine or wine distillate … not sure how bourbon fits in to this?  One producer discovered that cognac was once aged in a variety of woods including chestnut, acacia, mulberry and wild cherry.  His experiments in wood finishing were successful and in keeping with the BNIC rules named his range ‘eau-­de-­vie de vin’.  Another of the big houses is asking about the prospect of introducing new grape varieties to the Cognac region as they could be more resistant to disease in the face of global warming.  Reacting to climate change surely is an area where change should be embraced?  A spokesman said that BNIC members are very focussed on the role of innovation but without losing the tradition and high quality of cognac.  To maintain the high quality any changes must be discussed at length.  “Sometimes we feel like we are a bit in the past, but I guess that’s one of the strengths of the Cognac Appellation”.  Long term management in the face of current changes is the challenge facing every organisation today but cognac must surely guard against joining the ‘innovation race’.

  • Enjoying Pineau des Charentes This Summer

    Pineau des CharentesPineau des Charentes is a combination of freshly pressed grape juice and cognac. It comes in two colours, white and red (sometimes known as rosé) and as with cognac, the flavour is affected by its age.  Young Pineau is fruity and light whilst older Pineau offers more complex and concentrated flavours with distinctive fresh fruit tones morphing into dried fruit and nuts.  Produced exclusively in France's Cognac region, it has been protected under AOC status since 1945.  As a result, this spirited wine benefits from the long-standing expertise and historical know-how of Cognac cellar-masters.  It is unique with its aromatic palette and versatility.  Wine drinkers are seduced by white Pineau’s balanced profile, while others prefer the generosity of red. Both are food-friendly and pair perfectly with savoury dishes such as fish, white meats or seafood.  Pineau’s lightness and alcohol content of 17%, also make it suitable as a digestive or aperitif.  While some relish old reds that pair beautifully with chocolate, light cheese, and coffee, others fall for aged whites as great partners of blue cheeses. Alternatively, when summer has arrived, it can be enjoyed at any time as a long, refreshing cocktail such as Pineau Royale or Pinojito.

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