We waited with bated breath as the final details of the UK’s Brexit deal were agreed in December and were pleased to learn that there will be no tariffs due on the importation of French brandies to the UK from 1 January 2021. Adjustments will need to be made by all, to embed the paperwork now required, but that’s to be expected with such an upheaval. In the US however, the situation is not so rosy as although it is hoped that the tariff on scotch whisky will be lifted, an EU retaliatory 25% tariff has been placed on imports of cognac and brandy from 12 January 2021.
It is not the New Year 2021 many of us had hoped for but let's hope there are improvements later in the year. We would like to thank all of our customers for their business to date and hope they stay safe and well during the forthcoming months.
Brexit brought many challenges at the end of last year, we are unable to ship to the EU until further notice. We have found that there are now some shortages in supply which, along with a poor exchange rate, means that reluctantly, we will have to increase our prices from 1 February.
So .... if you have gifts to buy, or just feel the need to treat yourself, don't hang about, the New Year is well and truly upon us!
The digestif is an alcoholic drink served after dinner to aid digestion. So, one may ask, does it? Well yes it does. I guess that you would expect me to say this as luxury cognac producer, but I can support that view. I have on occasions, taken a small cognac after a meal and having done so, I experienced greater well-being than when no such digestif was available.
Indeed, I recall that my Grandmother, who was a lady in waiting for a rich socialite who lived in my hometown of Chichester, always enjoyed a cognac after a meal. Perhaps it was because of a type of social correctness or maybe because the ladies and gentlemen around the table (this would have been in the 1920s and 1930s) really did find that it helped relieve the effects of the generous portions served at that time.
There is also a certain etiquette to serving a cognac. It is, after all, the top dog of the digestif arena, best known for its high alcoholic content, a quality which promotes the production of enzymes, said to help digestion. We have more recently been bombarded with all sorts of alternative digestifs; whisky, whiskey, liqueurs, rum and even white spirits have been suggested by drink entrepreneurs as suitable ways to settle ones stomach after a heavy meal. But for me, when one drinks wine all evening, continuing with the honest grape, albeit reduced from wine by a factor of ten and aged in an oak cask for decades, cognac is the perfect and most deserving way to end the evening.
Last night I had a small glass of a very old single estate cognac and awoke in the knowledge that I had enjoyed a unique experience. Every cognac house crafts their cognacs according to their family traditions and skills, and every single estate cognac is different. When I went to bed I dreamed about the aromas and taste and the pleasure the cognac had given me and I felt great the next day. Yes, it is the perfect digestif.
Once again at this time of the year we turn our attention to the harvest, the quality and size of this year’s crop. During a visit to the Charente a couple of months ago, in Autumn 2020, I was able to see the vineyards for myself and make a judgement as to the size of the potential harvest. Even then it was apparent that it was going to be big, providing the rain came at the right time. Well, the rain did come, not quite at the right time but enough to produce a substantial harvest. Although we do not have the final quantity yet, figures of around one million hectolitres of pure alcohol are being talked about. That is around 365 million bottles of cognac at 40%! Not only are we expecting to get record quantities of grapes harvested, it is also said that both the acidity and sugar levels are very good. Apparently, many of the grapes are bigger than we have seen before. The official figures should be released at the beginning of next month, so we wait and see. Let us just hope that there is enough room to store all the new eaux de vie. DB
For Christmas deliveries to addresses in the UK please ensure your orders are with us by 10 am on Tuesday 22nd December 2020.
Generally UK orders placed before 12 noon will be delivered the following working day but please be aware that although we are able to process orders within 1 working day, Parcelforce are not always able to meet their normal delivery times at present.
Our deliveries to America are also taking longer than usual due to a shortage of flights so all orders to the rest of the world should be placed as soon as possible please. More information can be found in our Terms and Conditions.
The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) is the organisation whose role is to promote, protect and develop the Cognac Geographic Indication and its culture. In September their technical arm, Station Viticole, reported that one of their research programmes had seen new varieties of vines, resistant to mildew and powdery mildew, harvested in the region. Six experimental plots are the result of 20 years of collective research work in partnership with the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE), the French Institute of Vine and Wine (IFV), and the main producers in the cognac industry. The newly harvested grapes will now be vinified and the wines distilled to help enable a better understanding of the cultural characteristics of these new varieties as well as the oenological qualities of the grapes and the profile of the eaux-de-vie obtained. The Cognac industry has been working for many years to preserve its terroir and natural resources. This long-term research programme, developing new vine varieties, is just part of the plan and in the long term should (1) reduce, by up to 90%, the phytosanitary treatments against mildew and powdery mildew, the main diseases affecting vines (2) produce distillation wines corresponding to the qualitative requirements of cognac production and (3) anticipate the effects of climate change.
We have lots of bargains running during November which will hopefully ease the pain of another Lock Down a little. We are having our usual Black Friday Weekend Sale from 27 – 30 November inclusive. Look out for some irresistible bargains to boost your drinks cabinet this Christmas. Remember to check the website early as stocks will be limited.
Free Delivery on all UK orders over £100, including VAT, is in place again until Lock Down is lifted. Please be aware that although we are able to process orders within 1 working day, Parcelforce are not always able to meet their normal delivery times at present. Our deliveries to America are also taking longer due to a shortage of flights.
And don’t forget the usual monthly special offers, listed on the home page.
It is with great pleasure and excitement that we introduce to you Alex Johnson, our new National Accounts Manager. Alex will be responsible for building our already successful Hermitage brand and forging close, supportive customer relationships with both the On and Off Trade. He has worked in the spirits sector of the drinks industry for more than 10 years and brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge associated with brown spirits and in particular cognacs.
More online tastings have been taking place and we have enjoyed some wonderful feedback from the Press. Joel Harrison writing on the IWSC website, Douglas Blyde on Twitter and David Longfield in The Decanter have all extoled the virtues of our single estate, vintage Hermitage Cognacs, especially some of the older ones, made more than a century ago, which are now taking pride of place in our range.
► The number of licensed premises currently trading across Britain is 25,000 down on pre-Covid levels, according to the latest report from CGA & Alix Partners.
► The Cancel the Curfew campaign is being led by on-trade operators in England & Wales, who have written to the Prime Minister warning that the 10pm curfew will result in “the end of the hospitality industry as we know it”. Pubs, bars and restaurants are reporting a 63% drop in revenue since the curfew was enforced.
► It is now a legal requirement that hospitality venues in England display QR codes, for users of the NHS Covid-19 app, as part of the Track and Trace system.
► On 15 September 2020, the UK High Court ruled that Hiscox & QBE must pay out on their disputed business interruption policies. This could amount to more than £50m for unmet claims from the UK hospitality sector.
► According to the CGA, UK consumers in August 2020 favoured returning to pubs and restaurants over bars and late-night venues.
► The 2021 US Michelin Restaurant Guide has been put on hold whilst the ceremony announcing the UK & Ireland’s latest Michelin Guide has been put back to early 2021. It will also be a digital-only publication for the first time in its history.
► Despite huge increases in the sale of alcohol at UK supermarkets, where shoppers have also traded up to more expensive wines, the overall UK consumption of alcohol halved during lockdown, according to Nielsen.
► Waitrose has reported that its online wine sales have grown 238% during lockdown and claims that the trend is unlikely to be reversed post-pandemic.
► Restaurants located in London’s commuter belt have recovered more quickly than those in the city centre, since being allowed to reopen in July. More people working from home has been the key.
A little more than fifty years ago, I tasted my first early vintage cognac. It was a landmark tasting since, for the first time, I was able to understand the complexity of flavours which develop over time and create some of the most sought after cognac properties, which only a few people will ever be able to appreciate. Unlike any other spirit, the flavour of fine cognac is generated over a long period of time in a barrel. Many of the finest cognacs have been aged for 50 years or even more and in some rare cases have been slowly maturing for as long as 80 years in the same barrel. This is, of course, longer than many cellar masters live and reflects the dedication to creating perfection, investment and value for the future of their individual houses and families.
Many people invest in whisky but unlike whisky, the barrel age of cognac is of much greater significance. Cognac starts its life with very little flavour whilst a new whisky already has the background flavour of the malt which is enhanced by the ageing process. Cognac producers must wait for the flavours to develop so the investment in time is high for both the cognac itself and the cellar master who may never taste the final qualities of his spirit.
Cognac is made once a year after the grape harvest in September/October. More than 90% will be sold within the first 18 months to the big houses where it will be blended into commercial and generic blends. The very finest of the year’s production, less than 1% of that produced, will be saved and placed in cherished cellars known as “Paradis” where it will be carefully aged and looked after by generations of cellar masters for the families’ future.
The total cognac production is less than a tenth of that of whisky but many vintage cognacs will have aged in oak barrels for more than twice as long as any other spirit. They will have been aged in different cellars by different cellar masters and in different conditions. The barrels may have been toasted differently, have held different cognacs in the past and perhaps been kept in different parts of the cellar. Each different barrel condition may have a profound effect on the cognac it holds and in doing so will create qualities far beyond and uniquely different to any other spirit. Every bottle has a different story to tell, a romance between a unique liquid history and man. Cognac has a symphony of styles and flavours and a history of greatness and, after more than fifty years of tasting cognac, I am still learning and still finding something new. My investment in cognac has rewarded me hugely and is still doing so. The story of cognac still goes on and its value continues to increase.