The Cognac Region has once again been hit by severe hailstorms. At the end of May hailstones, some the size of golf balls, were seen in the south of Charente-Maritime, the Borderies, the west of Matha and the Rouillac area. In total, more than 10,000 hectares in the Cognac region were affected. However, an original estimate that 25% of the total crop was damaged has now been revised to 5-6% maximum. Although some areas were severely affected at the time, it now appears that the actual damage done is less than was originally anticipated. Harvest hopes have also been given a fresh boost with the sunny weather that followed the earlier storms, allowing the crops to ripen better than normal. It is expected that this year’s yield will be at least up to normal levels of 12 hectolitres of pure spirit per hectare. If this does prove to be the case it should help to stabilise cognac prices which have been talked up recently by fears of a small harvest.
For years the BNIC has strictly regulated every aspect of cognac production but now the wind of change maybe starting to blow. Recently we have seen the production of cognac finished in sherry and bourbon casks. The appellation permits finishing as long as the cask previously contained wine or wine distillate … not sure how bourbon fits in to this? One producer discovered that cognac was once aged in a variety of woods including chestnut, acacia, mulberry and wild cherry. His experiments in wood finishing were successful and in keeping with the BNIC rules named his range ‘eau-de-vie de vin’. Another of the big houses is asking about the prospect of introducing new grape varieties to the Cognac region as they could be more resistant to disease in the face of global warming. Reacting to climate change surely is an area where change should be embraced? A spokesman said that BNIC members are very focussed on the role of innovation but without losing the tradition and high quality of cognac. To maintain the high quality any changes must be discussed at length. “Sometimes we feel like we are a bit in the past, but I guess that’s one of the strengths of the Cognac Appellation”. Long term management in the face of current changes is the challenge facing every organisation today but cognac must surely guard against joining the ‘innovation race’.
Pineau des Charentes is a combination of freshly pressed grape juice and cognac. It comes in two colours, white and red (sometimes known as rosé) and as with cognac, the flavour is affected by its age. Young Pineau is fruity and light whilst older Pineau offers more complex and concentrated flavours with distinctive fresh fruit tones morphing into dried fruit and nuts. Produced exclusively in France's Cognac region, it has been protected under AOC status since 1945. As a result, this spirited wine benefits from the long-standing expertise and historical know-how of Cognac cellar-masters. It is unique with its aromatic palette and versatility. Wine drinkers are seduced by white Pineau’s balanced profile, while others prefer the generosity of red. Both are food-friendly and pair perfectly with savoury dishes such as fish, white meats or seafood. Pineau’s lightness and alcohol content of 17%, also make it suitable as a digestive or aperitif. While some relish old reds that pair beautifully with chocolate, light cheese, and coffee, others fall for aged whites as great partners of blue cheeses. Alternatively, when summer has arrived, it can be enjoyed at any time as a long, refreshing cocktail such as Pineau Royale or Pinojito.
Another company seeking to recreate a cognac from a past era (see The Bottle Story) is Larsen. A barrel of their 40 year old Cognac has been transported to a 20-metre-high sea fort, at the mouth of the River Charentes, where it will remain for several months. The aim is to replicate the ageing conditions that Cognac would have undergone hundreds of years ago and see how maritime weather affects the finished product. Larsen’s Cellar Master said: “Traditionally, in the 18th and 19th centuries, shallow boats were loaded with barrels of Cognac before crossing oceans to markets all over the world. The sea and sea travel had an unquestionable influence on the final ageing of the eaux-de-vie.” This barrel will form part of Larsen’s new ‘Hymne au Voyage’ range, which aptly translates as ‘tribute to travel’. Although this latest idea has been dubbed experimental, remember that ‘early landed’ cognacs, which mature in UK cellars, have also made a sea voyage to their final ageing destination.
At Brandyclassics our philosophy has always been to provide as much support and guidance to our customers as possible. After months of planning we have relaunched our website, displaying images both larger and differently and with a clearer background. We hope the easier navigation will help you find the information and products you need and will be especially useful for those wanting to buy our cognacs and brandies on their portable devices.
To top it all, we have added more exciting, award winning brandies to our shelves. The ever increasing range of cognacs, armagnacs and calvados, are there to help you choose the perfect bottle(s) for you needs.
We have a fantastic range of cognacs, armagnacs and calvados, any one of which would make the perfect present this Father’s Day. Vintages from 1930 – 2000 let you select the one that’s most meaningful. How about Dad’s year of birth? Or what about your year of birth?
Whichever you choose, vintage brandies are gifts that keep on giving. Dad will be able to savour his delicious amber nectar on many occasions, keeping it for as long as he wishes.
And if you’re running out of time to buy your Father’s Day Gift, don’t panic. Your order will be delivered the following day (if placed before noon) or you can select Saturday delivery.
We are delighted to announce that three of our Hermitage Cognacs range were awarded medals at the recent Spirits Business Cognac Masters Competition. Almost 40% of our Hermitage range now have a Masters or Gold Medal.
Our highly-prized Hermitage Cognac Marie Louise was presented with a Masters Medal in the Vintage - Single Estate category. The judges commented that “when a cognac is done well, it is exceptionally good at ageing”.
Gold Medals were also awarded to two other vintages. Our Hermitage 45 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac clearly wowed the judges as well as ourselves, as did the Hermitage 1958 Borderies Cognac. The judges particularly enjoyed the “toffee, tobacco and toast” aromas which led to “bread, peach and butterscotch” on the palate.
There are many producers of cognac in the legal production area of France known as The Charentes and Charentes Maritime. Each one of them, quite naturally, believes that their cognacs are the best. The truth, however, is rather different. Producers don’t advertise their presence so most have probably only ever tasted different cognacs in bars and restaurants. Indeed, I have spoken to some producers who didn’t even know that they had a distillery next door. This lack of local industry awareness has, over the years, resulted in the development of our own cognac quality control.
There are of course standards to which all cognac houses must rigidly adhere. Variations in the product occur naturally with changes in the terroir, vines, distillation, cellars etc. These changes can dramatically change the quality of each cognac. As a rule, the higher the cru, the better the cognac, but one cannot rely on this as a guarantee of quality.
As negoçiants we try to limit the cognacs we buy to those produced in the top cru, Grande Champagne. Here, hundreds of cognacs are produced, and each has a different taste, age, style, colour, method of production, ageing process, strength and balance. On top of that, our customers have varying tastes and needs and we try to accommodate them all. Finding the right cognacs is objective since we have our own cognac quality control standards which we have developed over the years. These standards are not necessarily subjective however, since more than a third of all our cognacs have won gold medals or above in cognac competition.
Making sure that our customers really do get the best means that, after we have decided on a potential cognac, we still need to do several tests. The first is of course tasting. It is difficult to say how many cognacs we taste but on some days, it may be twenty or even thirty, others, maybe only one or two. One tends to gather considerable experience when tasting many different cognacs. Then we check the cognac for balance which means balancing the fieriness against flavour. Sometimes we need to reduce the cognac slightly which in some cases take quite a long time. We also check it for sediment as some distillers don’t filter their cognacs before we receive them at our bottling plant. The alcohol level is also tested as legally, this must be quoted on the label. This process also involves checking the level of obscuration (factors which mask the true alcohol content). There is always some natural obscuration which cannot be avoided but in modern blends, the addition of sugar and caramel increases the level considerably.
We really do try hard to provide our customers with the very best and we are proud of our collection of Hermitage Cognacs. Being a small, artisan producer is a huge benefit to everybody. If we were big, we would have to blend to supply cognacs with more commercial affordability. Each cognac would lose its individuality and we would probably have to rely on younger cognacs to produce the required quantity. We know Hermitage is always the best cognac available for our customers’ needs but it can be difficult to easily communicate that with every bottle we sell.
Due to the alcohol laws in America, the States that we can ship our brandies to have recently changed.
USA Shipping is ALLOWABLE to the following States. Delivery usually takes 5 working days.
California Connecticut Delaware Florida
Idaho Louisiana Maine Maryland
Massachusetts Nebraska New Jersey New Mexico
New York Oregon Rhode Island Texas (7 – 10 days)
Vermont Virginia Washington District of Columbia Wyoming
Sustainable and taint-free corks are the latest innovations to hit the ‘spirit stoppers’ market. Distillery by-products such as grape marc from cognac, barley malt from whisky and juniper from gin make up 50% of the raw materials used to produce ‘Abor’ corks. Manufacturers, the Tapi Group, are “seeking to create brand awareness in an eco-sustainable way” with their ‘green’ and sustainable new closures. Cork Supply, by contrast, have just released a range of ‘taint-free’ corks with a money-back guarantee. Their vision was to “produce quality closures that add value to the industry”; taint-free cork stoppers will surely have a place in the world of cognac. Unlike wine, cognac should always be stored in an upright position to minimise any effect the cork might have on the spirit liquid and vapours - a problem that can occur, especially in older vintages.