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  • 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.

  • Pre-phylloxera & Vintage cognacs “showing considerable growth” according to industry expert

    Fine wine brokers turn to spirits as Trump duty levies bite

    PrePhylloxera DemandDavid Baker, Managing Director at Hermitage Cognacs, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of fine and rare cognacs, has noted a real upsurge in interest, demand and sales for Pre-phylloxera era cognacs.

    Phylloxera, the aphid which devastated the vineyards of Europe - including its most famous regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy - from around 1863, led to vines being grafted onto American rootstocks which were resistant to it. There was considerable debate In the decades that followed and into the  20th Century as to whether quality of the wines produced after the vine-grafting was quite as high.

    Brandies produced from Pre-phylloxera vines are increasingly rare and, according to Baker, becoming very sought after in recent years. The threat to exports of French wines, and single malt Scotch whiskies, to the US due to the US Government’s latest duty tariffs is also encouraging dealers and collectors to look for other liquids to buy.

    “As well as our established market in single-estate cognacs of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, we’re now seeing a real surge in demand for cognacs from the mid and early 20th century, even some from the nineteenth century and before the Phylloxera.  Many merchants are worried about the impact of US duty on imports of champagne, wine and whisky into America, and are looking to other spirits to replace that. At the moment cognacs seem to have escaped the duty hikes. In Asia too, especially Singapore, we’re getting greater interest for the oldest Premier cru vintages.

    Baker continues: “Many of the Pre-phylloxera cognacs we have supplied this year come from very old estates, some where cognac production may have ceased years ago. The interest and historic value they hold is driving demand, and we are having to scour the cellars of the region for more rare bottles.

    “Moreover, modern cognacs are made on bigger stills where volume is important, some of the finest cognacs come from the last half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries where family producers had little pressure to produce high cognac volumes.”

    Hermitage Cognacs have a great pedigree in supplying very old cognacs – just two years ago an 1805 Cognac Massougnes supplied by them sold through Hedonism Wines in London for over £220,000.

    Find out more at hermitagecognac.com

  • Welcome To 2020, Time To Try New Vintages

    2020After the festivities of Christmas and New Year’s Eve it is time to look to the year ahead, 2020.

    We are always on the lookout for interesting cognac vintages from the top crus and the latest additions are no exception.  We have many celebration, cognac vintages ending in a zero for those turning 30, 40, 50 years old etc. and we are very excited to announce we now have one for centenarians.  Hermitage 1920 Grande Champagne Cognac was distilled a hundred years ago before being aged for over 70 years in oak casks.  The result is spectacular.

    We also have a new Hermitage 50 Year Old.  Originating in Petite Champagne it is presented at 41% abv to ensure optimum balance.  Big birthdays this year just got a whole lot easier!

  • Loud Music Suppresses Taste

    tasteA professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, has said that “venues playing their music too loud are at risk of dulling diners’ taste buds”.  He also revealed that “loud music can make it harder to discern a drink’s alcohol content, which may drive diners to buy more booze”.  Perhaps certain restaurants are using music to alter diners’ moods – fast food restaurants are known for their high-octane soundtracks which encourage diners to eat quickly and leave.  Fergus Henderson of St. John on the other hand has a no music policy at his Farringdon restaurant, and Nigella Lawson believes a thumping soundtrack is “utterly draining and drowns out the taste of the food”.  Stephen Harris from The Sportsman probably has it right.  He believes the key to a successful restaurant playlist is to pick songs that blend into the background rather than demand to be heard.  That does sound like a much more enjoyable dining experience.  Interestingly, we have previously reported that wine and spirits are described in a similar way to music, as they have different ‘notes’.  Citrus flavours are seen as high notes, while wood and chocolate are low notes. Just wondering whether the choice of background music could influence the customer's choice of cognac ...

  • Tiffon 1995 Grande Champagne Cognac

    Tiffon 1995A new release from Tiffon is the Tiffon 1995 Grande Champagne vintage.  Tiffon, which dates back to 1875, is still a family run business based in Jarnac with the family home, Chateau de Triac, just 5 kms away.  The Chateau, which was demolished in the Hundred Years War, is in Fins Bois, home to some of their 40 hectares of vines.  They have other vineyards in Grande Champagne.  This 1995 vintage comes from Grande Champagne and as with most 20 year old cognacs from the top cru, should be elegant with good length.  Before you rush out and buy it, however, take a look at another single estate, 1995, Grande Champagne cognac.  The Hermitage 1995 is approximately one third cheaper to buy and is already a Gold medal winner; clearly we are not the only ones who think it is sublime!

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