An international group has been formed to tackle issues experienced in the complex and changeable spirits industry. Brexit, trade wars, counterfeiting and debilitating taxes are just a few of the problems that the World Spirits Alliance (WSA) is looking to address. Comprising spirits companies and trade groups the WSA will represent the industry in front of international organisations such as the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Just last month the UK launched its own Spirits Alliance with the aim of “protecting and nurturing the growth of UK spirits”. Its immediate campaign is to stop any further increase of duty on UK spirits. Currently the government states that spirits duty will go up by the retail price index (RPI) in this year’s Budget. This is extremely disappointing as 65% of the nation’s distillers have reported increased sales of spirits since chancellor Philip Hammond froze spirits duty in the 2018 Autumn Budget. Spirit duty rates in the UK have increased from £21.35 per litre of pure alcohol in 2008 to £28.74 in 2019, the fourth highest rate in Europe and one of the highest rates in the world. The price of a bottle of cognac sold at 40%abv, such as Hermitage 2005, therefore includes £8.05 duty. A spokesperson for the UK Spirits Alliance said: “From Inverness to Penderyn, spirits producers across the country are joining up to back the campaign to fix duty”.
This Christmas the big cognac houses will tell you in very general terms why you should buy their Christmas Cognac either for yourself, or as a gift. The differences in taste and price between one and another will not be significant. The attractive presentation of each cognac will, however, undoubtedly attract millions of customers, but the question I would ask is:
“Do I want to buy an attractive looking presentation or, do I want to buy a cognac that is memorable for its taste and quality and provides great satisfaction when it is drunk?”
To answer this let’s look at the facts behind the production and ageing of blended and single estate cognacs. In order to meet production and sales objectives the large cognac houses blend hundreds of different, young cognacs, made by hundreds or even thousands of different producers. This produces generic blends referred to as VS, VSOP or XO where the highest quality is only required to have been in the barrel, ageing, for ten years. The youthfulness of these blended cognacs means that sugar syrup and caramel will have to be added to hide their fiery qualities.
Single estate cognacs, on the other hand, come from a single producer who ages his cognacs in his own cellar. They will often carry an indication of barrel age, which is likely to be significantly older than ten years and as a result, most will not contain any sugar syrup or caramel.
At Hermitage we take the selection of our cognacs further. We seek pure cognacs from the top cru, Grande Champagne, that have been aged for a minimum of ten years. Hermitage Cognacs are also carefully selected for their individual qualities, lack of fieriness (as this improves balance), and great taste. They don’t cost any more than the heavily blended VSOPs or XOs, but they are a little more difficult to find. Each one must meet our very high standards and may only come as a single batch of a few hundred bottles.
“So, will you buy your cognac this Christmas for the shape of the bottle or the bottle’s contents?”
The Hermitage 45 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac is one of David's favourite cognacs of all time so this year, we are offering it in a Christmas Gift Set comprising a 20Cl bottle and one of our exclusive Hermitage Cognacs tulip-shaped tasting glasses. It is a wonderful opportunity to try one of our Gold medal winning cognacs at a fraction of the price. These sets are in very limited supply so don't hang about, order yours today.
The Hermitage 45 Year Old is a cognac of great distinction which must not be hurried as the many aromas and flavours need to be discovered slowly. Presented at 44% abv, it is a fabulous Christmas present for the cognac connoisseur.
Scientists have produced an artificial tasting tongue. It is made from sub-microscopic slices of gold and aluminium which create ‘tastebuds’ that are around 500 times smaller than the human equivalent. Subtle differences in how the metals absorb light allow the ‘tongue’ to identify individual spirits with more than 99% accuracy. Picking up differences in complex chemical mixtures, sometimes resulting from barrel type and length of maturation, it is hoped that the ‘tongue’ will be used to identify counterfeit products. Artificial tongues have been produced before, but this is the first time that two different types of nanoscale metal ‘tastebuds’ have been used so the results are faster and more accurate. So, is this a threat to our industry’s sommeliers? Perhaps not. It may well be more sensitive than the most highly tuned palates, but it cannot describe taste nor identify balance, skills which we specialise in here at Hermitage Cognacs. Those skills are of course subjective but put together with experience and knowledge of the marketplace our sommeliers and competition judges are certainly not out of a job yet. However, those who choose to undermine the industry by flooding the market with fake goods should take note.
The Charentais have returned from their holidays confident in the knowledge that last years’ exports of cognac reached record highs. They are now busy worrying about when they can start the cognac harvest. The weather has been good and the vines have ripened well, the sun is shining and there is every prospect of another good harvest in Autumn 2019. Harvesting machines are at the ready and the grapes have been tested for their pH and sugar content, so what’s stopping them? Well, for one cognac producer, the discovery of 140 million year old dinosaur bones under the vines of his vineyard near Angeac has resulted in a group of scientists moving in. It is believed that the bones are from one of the biggest dinosaurs ever found in France and are just a little older than the oldest Hermitage cognac currently available on the market!
We have spent many years searching for a 40 Year Old Cognac that meets our standards and so it is very exciting to report that the Hermitage 40 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac has arrived. A great cognac for any occasion but especially for those celebrating a 40th Anniversary or 40th Birthday. If you are looking for 40th Birthday Gifts for next year, two other new arrivals that you may wish to consider are the Baron de Saint-Fauste 1980 Bas Armagnac and the Chateau de Beaulon 1980 Fins Bois Cognac, both distilled 40 years ago. Before you choose though, do check out all our brandies from 1980, we have vintage cognacs, armagnacs and calvados.
For many years we have been using a very impressive aroma wheel, set up by the BNIC, to help us describe the different aromas detected in cognac. I suppose it was inevitable that the Armagnaҫais would come up with something similar. So, instead of a wheel, armagnac aromas have been described in a round seashell with a collection of fruit, herbs, nuts and flowers floating mysteriously from the shell aperture. There are a number of other surprises too since the shell is split into three sections. The inner section denotes a range of ages, 4, 10 and 20 years, and linked to each a number of general types of aroma such as heat, cooking, plants, woods, animal and rancio. The outer section lists detailed aromas associated with each. Some are familiar smells such as dates, cedar, cinnamon and plums but those of ether, pharmacy, soap, resin, sap, stables and varnish are much less appealing. I’m not sure how much I would be tempted to taste an armagnac exhibiting any of these aromas!
Even more surprisingly, the chart seems to suggest that certain aromas are linked to armagnac ages. Prune is perhaps the most common aroma and taste found in armagnac but it only appears on the chart alongside the oldest. The concept is good, but come on BNIA, you can do better than this.
Not only have we had a record year with the introduction of new Hermitage Cognac vintages, the range has also been awarded an unprecedented number of GOLD Medals. The latest, received from the Luxury Spirits Masters 2019, are for:
Hermitage 1923 Grande Champagne Cognac. A particularly fine example of a 1920s cognac that has taken many decades to reach perfection.
"This has a gorgeous flavour, somewhere between a sultana and a sun-dried apricot with the spirit framing the layers with impeccable integration." Olly Smith, Wines & Spirits Expert
Hermitage 1995 Grande Champagne Cognac. This wonderful cognac comes from the same distillery as our award-winning 1999 vintage but has aged for a longer period, enabling a greater complexity of flavours. It is a rich and beautifully finished cognac, fit for a king.
Exsto Cognac has been created by two French women, sommelier Julie Dupouy and entrepreneur Sabrine Duong. Their idea was to make a cognac from a “female point of view”, not “an old man’s type of drink” nor made in a traditional way through the sole vision of a family-run cognac maker. They picked 8 eaux-de-vie from 15 small cognac producers and were assisted by Vallantin-Dulac’s seventh generation master blender. Their aim was to produce a more elegant spirit with a more fruit-forward style. At the end of the process, they had created two blends: Elixir and Or Imperial. The bottles feature the hand-drawn multi-ringed topography of Cognac’s grape-growing areas - a visual that Dupouy likens to a Mastryoshka doll – while the caps, which include air-tight Vinalok seals, are designed by French glass artists Eve and Laurent George. It will be interesting to see if a new approach to cognac production, unencumbered by family traditions, can produce a different style of cognac. Whether the female influence will result in increased popularity with the ladies remains to be seen.
While Baijiu is the undisputed national spirit of China, cognac is the drink of choice for the country’s elite imbiber. This tradition started about 200 years ago when Shanghai became a treaty port and some of the first companies to take advantage, were cognac producers. In traditional China, drinking, eating, and socialising are all closely tied together and the tendency is for cognac to be consumed neat and in large quantities. There is frequent toasting during which everyone participating is expected to empty their glass or else they will lose face. Cognac isn’t served in snifters, but in small shot glasses or teacups and a Chinese saying directs that it should be drunk ‘as if it were water’. In general, it is the ‘old school’ Chinese who have made it such a popular drink. They are traditional in their habits and interests, taking long, slow lunchtimes and playing Mahjong. The Chinese also care as much about the packaging as they do the liquid inside the bottle. The revealing of a very elaborate and fancy-looking bottle shows respect for their relationships with a group. With cognac now ingrained into so many aspects of their culture, it is not surprising that this French product has become such a mainstay of Chinese life. However, if this enormous demand is to be sustained, the younger generations need to get as excited about the spirit as the old-school set, and that’s a problem that has yet to be solved.