The last few months of 2018 were, as always, very busy here at Brandyclassics as we worked hard to meet the ever-increasing demand for brandies at Christmas. Our Hermitage Cognacs took centre stage as we enjoyed some fantastic write-ups in the national press. Articles in the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday all added to the excitement and we sold our last bottle of Hermitage 2008 Grande Champagne Cognac a few days before Christmas. Now back in stock, this latest addition to our range has been a much-featured success story. Although only 10 years old, it has a tremendous depth of flavour and all the characteristics of being much, much older. In total only 200 bottles are available so if you have not bought yours yet do hurry, it will not be around for long!
Brandy has long been used for medicinal purposes, both internally and externally. We read that it was often used in Nelson’s Navy as an antiseptic, sometimes as an anaesthetic and even before then, as a digestif to sooth the effects of eating too much or too rich food.
A ‘digestif’, taken after a meal to aid digestion, is widely regarded as a means of reducing discomfort. Indeed, good cognac, if consumed in moderation has many health benefits. Cognac contains antioxidants which can lower cholesterol levels in the blood, thus helping to keep the heart healthy. According to Lybrate, the online medical service, cognac contains polyphenol compounds which help to reduce inflammation in the cardiovascular system resulting in lower blood pressure. Unlike other alcoholic drinks, pure cognac such as Hermitage, does not contain any carbohydrates. It does not cause bloating and can be safely enjoyed, knowing that it cannot be converted into fat. However, the same cannot be said of commercially blended generic brandies which contain additives, such as sugar. It has been proven that cognac also has excellent anti-inflammatory properties making it effective in relieving respiratory issues and improving heart health. The absence of carbohydrates can help in weight management and its antioxidant properties are said to assist anti-ageing.
When Admiral Lord Nelson was killed at Trafalgar they brought him home in a barrel of brandy, I still give him a wink as I go past his column in Trafalgar Square and I will now ensure I take a small measure as my digestif every evening.
A truly amazing cognac; Hermitage 2008 Grande Champagne Cognac is an extraordinary and totally unique one in a million find. It’s rich, spicy and full of intrigue. There are flavours of dates, cinnamon, toffee and pistachio as well as exotic tones of rambutan, mango and passion fruit with a tail of sweet oranges. A masterpiece of the distiller's skills and the cellar master's experience, it was aged in a small barrique which had previously aged some very old and rare cognac. Smooth and full of rich flavours, that are undeniably worthy of a much older cognac, yet this is only 10 years old. There are less than 200 bottles available. Great balance, pure magic.
"For anyone looking for a very fine and special gift .... the smallest glass is a sublime treat." Victoria Moore, The Daily Telegraph
Brandy, or perhaps to be more precise, cognac, has become the official tipple of Christmas in most of Europe since the early 19th century. Perhaps it is worth noting that of all the European countries to take it on board, Britain has taken more of the sublime liquid than any other. The Irish too have championed various brandies, Richard Hennessy being the most renowned purveyor.In past years cognac has never really reached the same dizzy heights as the malted spirits that now dominate the shelves of the supermarkets. Christmas is usually the only time the bottle of cognac is retrieved from back of the drinks cupboard to pour over the festive pudding and set alight, a practice which only diminishes the role of cognac. We probably have Charles Dickens to blame for that as one of his characters, Mrs Cratchit, came “bowling in with a pud blazing with a half of half a quarter of ignited brandy”. Romantic as it may sound setting fire to good cognac merely diminishes the credibility of The King of all Spirits.But cognac is so much more, it is the most complicated, but most interesting, spirit produced. Even more interestingly, many of the finest have been in barrels for very many decades. Mostly, cognac comes from a single grape variety. There are more than 4000 vine growers in the Charente (the region where it must come from) but even so, every cognac has different characteristics and flavours. It is the history of each and every one, from grape to bottle, that has kept me interested for 50 or more years. I will be drinking a very special cognac at Christmas, not poured over the pudding but in a small tulip shaped glass. I won’t be hurrying it but enjoying its many complex flavours and depth of rancio.
What a year!! Not only have we received an unprecedented number of Gold and Gold Outstanding medals for our Hermitage Cognacs but our latest presentation, the Marie Louise Decanter, has just been declared 'Best Cognac in Show 2018' at The Spirits Business Cognac Masters 2018 out of over 130 entrants. This amazing news follows hot on the heels of the IWSC 2018 Awards where we were also short listed for 'Brandy Producer of the Year'.
This astonishing Marie Louise creation has been described as “lining one’s mouth with velvet” and is a precious and rare investment. At 43% abv it has all the complex aromas and flavours one would expect from such a well-aged cognac. It is offered in one litre decanters produced by Cumbria Crystal. They are the last producer of completely hand-blown and hand-cut, full-lead luxury English crystal in the UK. The intensity and depth of flavours created by its careful distillation and ageing have created a masterpiece of smoothness and an intensely rich rancio found only in the rarest of cognacs. This truly great cognac is named after Marie Louise, the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. She bore his son who was given the title 'Roi de Rome' and who later became Napoleon II.
We all know that every cognac is a brandy but not every brandy is a cognac, well most of us do, but what different brandies are there out there and what are they like?
Well, cognac is the finest of them all and the best known. It must be made in line with all sorts of regulations to ensure that quality is maintained and that it is properly distilled and aged. The other well-known French brandies are armagnac and calvados. Armagnac is distilled on a continuous still as a single distillation and tends to be quite fruity in flavour. Calvados on the other hand is made from a cider and can have quite a pear drop flavour as it is necessary to add pears for greater acidity to help the distillation. However, there are other French brandies too. One is from Alsace which is traditionally made from their Gurwüztraminer grapes and of course there is Marc made in the burgundy region usually from the heavy lees which probably include the skins, pips and any other leftovers. A little less known is Champagne Marc. This is distilled from the champagne grapes which are pressed whole and distilled. It is quite fruity and distilled at a low rate of about 52 degrees. It is quite normal to add sugar which of course can make it quite sweet. Other French Brandies come from the Cote-du-Rhône, Provence and Jura where there is a long tradition.
Next best known is Spanish brandy. This is made in the solera fashion which is a top-up system of ageing. Producers can take up to 20% off the bottom of the barrel and replace it with new eau de vie on the top. Spanish brandies are also aged in casks that have contained other drinks, usually sherry. They are said to be the oldest brandies in the world using traditions passed on by the Arabs.
The Italian brandies are relatively tightly controlled, and only specific wines can be used. They are distilled at quite low alcohol ranges to preserve the fruitiness of the brandy. Italian brandies are not to be confused with Grappa, often referred to as the peasant’s drink. Grappa was traditionally taken with coffee and used for all sorts of medicinal purposes, even disinfectant.
German brandies are made from grapes imported from either France or Germany, they often contain macerated fruits as well as caramel and sugar syrups. Probably the best known is Asbach.
American brandies are generally thought of as a fall-back beverage from the millions of bottles of wines that are produced. They are mainly made in Califonia from the generic grapes of the region and can include all sorts of additives including caramel, sugar syrup and prune juice. Consequently, they are similar in flavour to the Spanish style brandies.
In Latin America there are a range of brandies including Pisco, a pure brandy made from the indigenous grapes of the region. Pisco takes its name from ‘pisku’ which in Quechua, the language of the Incas, means flying bird. This is a good description for this light and volatile spirit.
Other brandy producing nations are Australia, South Africa and Greece (where Metaxa is produced). Also, Israel who is the only producer of Kosher brandy.
Wow, that is an impressive name for an armagnac, but what does it actually mean? The Chabot vintage, 1998 is the year the grapes used to make the armagnac were harvested. By regulation, distillation of these grapes would have been completed by the following March (1999) when it became Compte (Aged) 0. Therefore, on 1 April 2000 it became Aged 1 and so in 2018, this armagnac was Aged 19 years. An interesting fact as it was released this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong Airport. Vintage armagnacs will be aged in a number of casks (each usually holding 250 – 350 litres). This Limited Edition of 210 bottles has been drawn from just one of the 1998 casks so the contents of each bottle will be identical. Armagnac from the other casks of the same vintage will be similar but not necessarily identical. Having taken 30 litres out of one cask, the remaining armagnac may continue to age in its wood for release as a more mature 1998 vintage at a later date. A complicated explanation but it is always worth knowing what you are buying. Indeed, some very good armagnacs were made in 1998, all of which are single estate, if not single cask.
Calvados really is the finest example of apple brandy so it is a mystery that it isn’t more popular. Traditionally rustic, being based on the common old farmyard apple rather than the noble grape, perhaps it is too old fashioned for the influential trendsetters? And what about geography? Normandy is poorer and more rural than the elitist areas of Champagne and Cognac. The region staged countless wars and its fields are the final resting place of thousands of young men. But the trend is gradually changing. New calvados embassies are opening across the world. Indeed, official figures show that in 2017, 57% of the 6m bottles of calvados sold were exported. Its popularity as a cocktail ingredient has certainly helped. One of London’s most stylish and up-and-coming bars, Coupette, puts calvados cocktails at the very heart of its menu. What is a surprise though is that mixologists are using not just calvados from the top cru, Pays D’Auge, but aged and more expensive vintages too. Calvados is a delicious, versatile and refreshing spirit. It goes well with food, tastes good neat, and can be the base for sophisticated cocktails.
Following the magnificent export results for 2017 -2018, the BNIC agreed a rather high rate of harvest for the production of cognac this year at 14.64 hectolitres of alcohol pure per hectare of vineyard. In essence, this means that cognac producers in the Charente have been allowed to produce more cognac this year than is usual. The dry summer that followed the spring hailstorms was a godsend and the harvest has been fantastic. So good in fact the farmers are finding that they do not have sufficient wine tanks to hold all the eau de vie! Not only that, the quality of the wine is extremely high; it has a low alcohol content, perfect for making cognac. So, despite a shaky start to the season, it looks like 2018 will be a bumper year in the Cognac region.
1805 Cognac Massougnes fetches over £200,000 through London fine wine merchant Hedonism Wines
Hermitage Cognacs have provided one of the most expensive bottles of cognac ever sold in the UK, which has just been sold by London Fine Wine merchant, Hedonism Wines, for over £200,000. The imperial three-quarter gallon bottle of Cognac Massougnes was acquired by Hermitage Cognacs some 20 years ago from Marie-Antoinette des Allées, Comtesse de la Bourdelière, whose family owns the former Cognac producing estate.
Hermitage Managing Director David Baker takes up the story:
“In over 30 years of buying and selling cognac, this 1805 is one of the oldest and rarest I have ever come across. Massougnes produced historically famous cognacs pre-Phylloxera (the louse which devastated most of France’s vineyards in the 1860s), and we have dated their records back to at least 1730, making them the oldest known growers and sellers of brandies.
“At its peak the property covered 346 hectares, and Marie-Antoinette, who is the last remaining descendant of this famous family has written a charming note about the ‘life’ of this extraordinary cognac, which was created in the same year as the Battle of Trafalgar.”
Marie-Antoinette des Allées is a direct descendant of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their children, King Richard of England and King John.
Hermitage is focused on selling only the very best Grande Champagne cognac. Hermitage Cognacs have since 1987 established a peerless reputation as suppliers of the very finest cognacs from old family houses where traditions and skills date back over hundreds of years. It is thanks to Hermitage’s unique relationships, forged over decades, that they have access to the best examples, each one uniquely different, with examples such as this dating back to the end of the 19th Century and beyond.
This is the second such bottling from Massougnes which Hermitage have been able to source; another bottle sold for a similar sum in 2016. The identity of the purchaser has not been disclosed.