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  • Addressing Environmental Concerns

    EnvironmentalSeveral environmental initiatives, designed to address climate change, have been launched recently:

    1.  In Cognac, the BNIC has introduced a ban on the chemical weeding of vineyard plots stating that winegrowers must control vegetation ‘by mechanical means’ in order to ‘preserve the terroir’s environment and resources.’  In addition, chemical weeding of field boundaries has been banned.  The new ruling must be implemented by August 2020.

    2.  Closure maker, Diam Bouchage, has announced that using cork “is a long-term contribution to climate change mitigation”.  The company claims that its cork production now absorbs more carbon dioxide than it creates.  Cork forests help to absorb CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere and the trees are only harvested every 10 years for their bark.  Demand for more corks will therefore lead to the planting of more trees.  Cork trees live for over 120 years so their effect on the atmosphere is long lived.

    3.  In an attempt to address the perennial problem of drink packaging, Carlsberg have produced a ‘paper bottle’.  Made from sustainably sourced wood fibres, it has a bio-based “inner barrier” which enables the bottle to hold beer and be fully recyclable.  Still under development it is hoped that controlled testing will begin in 2020.

  • Cognac Grapes and Wine Grapes

    cognac grapesMost people associated with cognac are aware that we make it principally with a single grape variety, the Ugni Blanc.  Indeed, more than 80% of all cognacs are made only with this grape.  However, few people are aware that this is probably the world’s most widely planted grape due largely to its big harvests and reliability against disease and adverse weather conditions.  It produces fresh, fruity, very acidic and quite unremarkable wines often used as a base wine in blends.  The Ugni Blanc is also known in France as the St Emellion du Charente but in the rest of Europe it is best known as the Trebbiano Toscano.

    The Colombard is perhaps one of the more interesting grapes also used in cognac production. It was originally planted in South Africa and known as Colombar and is an offspring of the Chennin Blanc. Some of its many synonyms include Bardino Blanc, Bon Blanc, Chabrier Vert, Colombeau, Gros Blanc Roux, Red Tendre and Quene Vert.

    The last remaining of the old varieties still used in cognac is the Folle Blanche.  Today, it is only found in France in the regions of The Charente and Gascony but can also be found in Basque country under the name of Mune Mahatsa.  It is, like the Ugni Blanc, acidic and quite unremarkable as a wine.

    Although rarely seen these days, the other grape varieties that are permitted to be used in cognac production are Juranҫon, Blanc Ramé, Bouilleaux, Balzac Blanc and Chalosse.

  • Mother's Day 2020 - Sunday 22nd March

    Mother's Day 2020Wondering what to buy for Mother's Day 2020?  We have a unique selection of brandies and dessert wines to suit every Mum ….

    Dupont Dream Calvados Cream with a deliciously clean apple flavour.  If she likes cream liqueurs she will love this!

    Grappa Torcolato is a beautiful looking addition to any drink’s cabinet.  Perfect as an after dinner ‘digestive’ or add to expresso coffee to create a 'caffè corretto'.

    Chateau de Beaulon 2000 Pineau des Charentes was created 20 years ago. Delicious and rich it’s perfect on its own or as a dessert wine.

    La Grande Josiane, orange armagnac liqueur, serve as an aperitif over ice or mix with sparkling wine for an extra special treat.

  • Spirit Trends 2020

    spirit trends 2020William Grant & Son’s Spirit Trends 2020 Report has identified some key trends in the drinks sector.  The report says that there is “an upward shift in spending on more meaningful experiences, driving premiumisation in the spirits industry”.  Nearly 90% of consumers are likely to treat themselves in the forthcoming year, supporting the upward trend of luxury brand performances across the On and Off Trade sectors.  Authenticity is also key with almost half of UK consumers wanting brands to have a point of view and to stand for something.  A heightened access to information and awareness of all matters related to health, has resulted in the customer looking for more transparency and simplicity regarding diet and nutrition.  From this report we can see it is becoming more and more important to state exactly what is in the bottle.  We have always tried to do this by ensuring that all our Hermitage Cognacs carry age statements.

  • Sixty Years Ago This Cognac Was Conceived

    Sixty Years AgoAny bottle of cognac that is date-stamped, is referred to as vintage and this bottle from 1960 is no exception.  The grapes were harvested that year, sixty years ago, and distilled the following winter before being stored in Limousin oak casks for ageing.  Only the very best cognacs are selected for long term ageing, left in damp cellars for decades.  Now it has reached its optimum maturity, it is joining the award-winning Hermitage range.

    Hermitage 1960 Grande Champagne Cognac is a beautifully complex, fine cognac from the southern part of Grande Champagne.  An initial burst of dark chocolate on the palate is followed by a host of different flavours including pork crackle, liquorice, marzipan, turmeric and kumquat. Perfect for those turning 60 in 2020.

  • Bottle Sizes

    Bottle SizesThere is often confusion over cognac bottle sizes. In fairness, there are many different shapes available today which generally hold recognized and approved quantities. But this hasn’t always been the case.  Until the middle of the last century spirit measurements were in imperial quantities and measured in fluid ounces. This was largely because most suppliers were from Britain and even the big cognac houses, such as Hennessy and Martell, had British controlling interest.

    In the mid-twentieth century though, it all changed to metric so that the UK could align itself with the rest of Europe.  The 70cl bottle was born and became the accepted size except in America, where the wine bottle quantity of 75cl was adopted. If this wasn’t confusing enough, a magnum of cognac became the same as a magnum of wine (150cl).  So, although a magnum of wine is twice the size of a wine bottle, this does not apply for spirits.    Further variations occur when cognac houses use handmade bottles (which vary very slightly in size) for special presentations.  These should all contain 70cl but, in order to keep fill levels consistent, some lucky customers may actually receive 1 or 2cl more.

    If climatic conditions change, fill levels become another variant.  Cognac, like other spirits, expands and contracts according to temperature.  Alcohol and bottle quantities are initially measured at 20 degrees Celsius, but on a hot day, the level in a full bottle may appear higher than one that has been stored in a cool place.

    In France, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), the controlling body of cognac, allows the following sizes: 10cl, 20cl, 35cl, 50cl, 70cl, 75cl (America only), 100cl and 150cl. However, some much older bottles that we have seen contain half pints, pints, imperial quarts, imperial half gallons, imperial three-quarter gallons and 25 quarts (storage jars).  So, if you want to size up a bottle, it’s probably best to check the quantity, you can usually find it in the bottom corner of the front label!

  • Shipwrecked Cognac - 100 Years On

    shipwreckedIn 1917, SS Kyros set sail for St Petersburg from France.  As it approached Sweden, the cargo ship was sunk by a German submarine UC58.  For decades the ship was assumed lost but in 1999 it was discovered 77 metres below sea level having been damaged by fishing trawlers and trawl boards.  It took 20 years to clear the shipwrecked vessel for exploration, but it was worth the wait as hidden inside were 50 cases of cognac from De Haartman & Co.  An exciting and historical find from the time when Tsar Nicholas II was Emperor of Russia.  It is difficult to estimate the current condition of the cognac as this will, in part, be dependent on the bottle seals (see this month’s Technical Topic).  Interestingly, some bottles of 1890 champagne, which had spent over a century buried in wet chalk underground after a landslide, were recently opened.  At the tasting they were deemed “still pleasant to drink” so maybe there is some hope for the turn-of-the-century cognac yet?

  • Brandyclassics News - Winter 2019

    Winter 2019 Tasting◊◊ Not only was 2019 a record year with the number of new Hermitage Cognac vintages that we took into stock, the range was also awarded an unprecedented number of GOLD Medals.  The Winter 2019 medals were received from the Global Luxury Spirits Masters in November, for Hermitage Grande Champagne 1995 and 1923 Cognacs.

    ◊◊ We have started the new decade with yet more new arrivals which will be much sought after by those celebrating a 50th or 100th anniversary this year.  Hermitage 1920 Grande Champagne Cognac was distilled 100 years ago and our new Hermitage 50 Year Old Petite Champagne Cognac is presented at 41%abv.

    ◊◊ It has also been a good couple of months for Hermitage Cognacs in the press.  Articles in The Sunday Telegraph Luxury Supplement, The Mail on Sunday’s Event Magazine and the Evening Standard just before Christmas kept us busier than ever.  David was also featured heavily in The Drinks Business and Harpers talking about the surge in interest for pre-Phylloxera cognacs.  You can read more here.

    ◊◊ Our latest tasting session, at 67 Pall Mall, show cased some of the oldest cognacs in our catalogue.

  • Sealing Your Bottle of Cognac

    Sealing cognacFor more than a thousand years cork has been used for sealing wine and spirit bottles. It is a natural product harvested from cork trees which regrow their bark every nine years.  It has been revered by traditional wine makers for centuries as the ideal seal.  However, the cork seal is not quite so ideal for use with spirits as they can, over the years, degrade the cork.  Eventually the cork will turn black and the exposed areas will become so damaged, the cork will drop into the bottle. It is for this reason that cognac producers always advise that bottles should never be laid down for storage.  Corks are also porous and allow tiny quantities of air and spirit to pass through, thereby aiding evaporation. Cognac producers have long recognised this problem so today the quality of the seal is much improved.  This has been achieved partly by the introduction of semi synthetic cork mixtures and partly by encasing the top of the bottle with some form of capping material.

    In the early twentieth century tin caps were used.  This helped protect the cork and seal the bottle further.  These caps had the added advantage of allowing producers to print their name on the top as a form of advertising.  Today, tin caps have been replaced with light alloy or plastic.  Plastic or wooden topped corks are also now used as they make the corks much easier to remove and replace.

    Top quality and old vintage cognacs are often purchased by collectors and investors.  To maintain the value of each, a complete seal is very important. Wax sealing is a good answer to this problem and one that has been used for over a hundred years, but sometimes the wax can become brittle and break off with careless handling. More modern waxes and the use of semi-synthetic corks now provide much greater stability of the cork and increase the long-term quality of the cognac in the bottle. Collectors of old vintage cognacs that have been bottled in the last quarter of a century can now expect the cognacs to remain in perfect condition for a much greater length of time.

  • The Charente Scene - Winter 2020 - BNIC Update

    BNIC UpdateTo meet the ever growing demand for cognac, an additional 10,000 hectares of vineyards will be planted over the next three years, according to a BNIC Update (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac).  Over 3000 hectares of vineyards will be planted each year to increase the production capacity of the winegrowing operations.  The BNIC has also launched its new website, designed to give Cognac a twist.  The aim of the website is to reveal cognac’s true modernity, its spirit of conquest and its dynamism by respecting a centuries-old history and roots in an authentic “terroir”.  For more information take a look at www.cognac.fr .  The region has also recently received a boost from the local authorities.  They have agreed that Cognac will become the leading city for luxury brand economic development.  Its purpose will be to encourage all luxury enterprises but specifically spirits production.

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