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.
Rémy Cointreau is in negotiations to buy Maison J.R.Brillet, a family-owned cognac business founded in the 17th century. In addition to the company, the deal is thought to include the family’s vineyard estate and their stock of well-aged eaux de vie. It is located in the village of Graves-Saint-Armant, on the border of Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne, the top cognac crus. Announcing the planned takeover, Rémy Cointreau said that it will provide an ‘opportunity to integrate spirits with genuine development potential into its portfolio and to increase, over time, the value of an inventory of eaux-de-vie and vineyards of the highest quality’. It is always a shame to see another of the small, high quality, independent, family-run cognac producers subsumed into one of the ‘Big 4’. A piece of Cognac history will come to an abrupt end and the firm’s precious old nectars will probably be blended beyond all recognition.
Scottish whisky blender, Compass Box, has released a new spirit drink comprising calvados & whisky. The calvados, from the Christian Drouin distillery, has been blended with whiskies aged in French oak casks and Sherry butts. Compass Box’s founder said “We have been blending calvados and Scotch whisky at home for years, enchanted by their complementary qualities. Although one of the world’s greatest spirits, calvados is also one of the most underappreciated”. The result is said to possess ‘layers of apple character married beautifully with malty, vanilla and spice-like notes’. Compass Box is not the only firm to recognise the success of this flavour combination, though. Sweden’s Mackmyra distillery has just released a single malt whisky, finished in ex-calvados casks. Perhaps such ideas will help calvados get the appreciation it so deserves?
The IWSC 2019 Awards have just been announced and we are delighted to report that Hermitage Cognacs are once again amongst the winners with three cognac gold medals.
Leading the way is the Hermitage 1950 Grande Champagne Cognac which was awarded a GOLD OUTSTANDING medal. ‘Classically good old cognac. Rancio to the fore, with a quite wonderful palate’ Judges' comments
GOLD Medals were also awarded to two other Grande Champagne Cognacs:
Hermitage 1940 Cognac ‘Wonderfully powerful aromas that absolutely typify good, old cognacs’ Judges' comments
Hermitage 1945 Cognac ‘The real personification of just how good and elegant old cognac can be’ Judges' comments
Craft Vintage Cognacs are rare and finding them is a specialist business as they are unique, and the level of luxury sought is only found in a few of the very finest and oldest cognac firms. Vintage Premier Cru cognacs are in extremely limited supply. Very good, award-winning cognacs are even more rare which is why Hermitage Premier Cru Vintages are not generally available in the wider volume markets. The secret is to find the cellars that still house some of the oldest and rarest nectars still in existence. Many of them belong to families who have, for generations, been producing cognacs. These cognacs have been allowed to gradually mature through the ages, masterpieces forgotten in time. Each special vintage is highly valuable and sealed in glass to preserve its greatness and value for future generations - a superb cognac investment.
Today, increasing demand in the rapidly growing cognac market means that single estate vintages from the top crus are largely swallowed up into generic blends of indeterminate age and quality, their youthfulness obscured by syrups and caramel additives. Less is kept back by individual producers for the family cellars and much of that which is retained, is sold at a relatively early age.
Recent sales of some rare vintages have only served to highlight the value of old vintage cognacs. Prices of more than £200k a bottle were achieved on two occasions and we have seen other mouth-watering prices being paid. But not only have the prices of early pre-Phylloxera cognacs increased, so have the prices of more recent vintages and well-aged cognacs of 60 – 80 years as their availability decreases. It is clear to the experienced cognac specialist that availability of the older ages is on the decline with some of the ‘grand marques’ supplied by the big houses already using lower aged cognacs from lesser crus in their blends. Over the last 5 - 10 years, we have also seen the prices of some well-known commercial cognacs double. Bottles of Remy Louis XIII, which doesn’t even have an age statement, sold for about £1200 six or seven years ago but can now fetch more than £2500. Richard Hennessy sold with a trade price in 2017 of around £1500 sells today at £3500 again, it has no age statement. Clearly this is working to the producers’ advantage as the cognac barrel ages are almost certainly in decline.
Premier cru cognacs from the Champagnes are slow in ageing and naturally aged cognacs from this area will take fifty or more years in cask to develop their natural qualities. Some form of age statement will provide the clearest indication of quality, and therefore value, since age and value are inextricably linked. It is little wonder that clients with larger disposable assets are now investing in these extremely rare, older vintage cognacs. The time to do this is now for we do not know how much longer will we continue to find these old ‘rancio’ brandies that have matured to a rich and valuable glory.