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What is the Best Cognac?

Best CognacAs most of you know, I spend a great deal of my time tasting cognacs because as a company we believe that every cognac must be perfect for its intended type of customer. But being perfect doesn’t necessarily mean it is the cognac which excels in taste above all others.  The simple truth is that a cognac which I may consider is the best cognac may not be the same one that you like because our palates have become accustomed, over time, to different taste characteristics which our brains have accepted as good.
Perhaps the term ‘taste characteristics’ is one to associate with fine cognacs; they will differ from one cognac to another and in most producers’ opinions, their own will be better than any other available.  This is not surprising as producers spend their lifetime tasting their own cognacs, few ever venture onto another producer’s patch and few have any idea of how to compare their own production with that of their neighbours.
So, how do you know what is good and what perhaps is not so good? Well, when you have tasted thousands of different brandies you get to know when you have a really good cognac in your glass. As a professional cognac taster, I am looking for a number of different qualities. I look at the colour and how the cognac hangs on the glass, but the first real test of quality comes with the complexity of its aroma and if those aromas can be translated into taste. Finally, and perhaps the most important criteria of all is its balance; the need to maximise flavour whilst minimising the fieriness of the cognac.
The actual taste element of a cognac is personal as we all have different ideas about what we like. You might think I am lucky getting to taste so many expensive cognacs but don’t be fooled into thinking that if a cognac is expensive it is good. Even these can have sugar added as it softens a cognac but, it also gives a sort of false sweetness.  On the other hand, a cognac which has been in a barrel for 50 or 60 years develops its richness naturally, the effect is known as ‘Rancio’.  This is a very desirable but rare effect as most cognacs available today have been aged for less than 10 years old.
So, I hear you say, what is the best cognac? Well, I’ll tell you my favourite. It is a cognac which I found 4 or 5 years ago, not a million miles from our office near Segonzac, in the heart of Grande Champagne. It has aged in oak for more than 60 years and has come from a family’s private cellar.  We have the privilege of selling it under the Hermitage label; it is expensive but not as expensive as other so-called luxury cognacs.  It is perfectly balanced, complex in aroma and flavour, has a rich ‘rancio’ and won the Cognac Masters Best Cognac 2018. We call it ‘Marie Louise’.