It seems that we haven’t got enough variations on the theme of cognac as Courvoisier are extending their range of cask finished cognac drinks. Of course, any cognac which is produced outside the rules established over the last hundred or so years, cannot be called cognac. However, consumers have come to recognise the big brand labels and happily buy what they believe to be cognac, when it has actually been finished in a cask that has held a different alcoholic beverage. Courvoisier, in their plight to obscure the taste of their cognac, have recently added a bourbon cask finish cognac drink to their sherry cask cognac drink. One wonders how long it will be before we see port finished cognac drinks, sauterne finished cognac drinks and perhaps even a Caribbean rum finish. Do they really need to hide the flavour of their cognac so badly?
We are truly at the height of summer here in the UK. France has experienced extremes of weather again this year, but the growing season is going well. As ever DB has been searching out new cognacs for you to enjoy and recently, he added four new vintages to the Hermitage stable. From the top cru, Grande Champagne, comes Hermitage 1940 Cognac. A beautifully balanced amber nectar, with aromas of chestnuts and truffles, it was produced in the year Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister and ordered the Dunkirk Evacuation. Also from Grande Champagne comes Hermitage 1950 Cognac - a real joy to taste with flavours including plum crumble with a blood orange peel finish. Hermitage 1970 Fins Bois Cognac was harvested in the year Concorde made its first supersonic flight. It is rare to find cognacs from the Fins Bois in the Hermitage range but this one is really very special. And finally, our highly prized, much sought after Hermitage 1999 Grande Champagne Cognac has nearly run out but fortunately we have found an equally magnificent Hermitage 1995 Grande Champagne Cognac with which to replace it. Aged for a longer period, it has a greater complexity of flavours including butterscotch, cocoa, walnuts and baked apples. We are very excited by our latest find. It is rich and beautifully balanced, ..… you will not be disappointed.
We also continue to increase our range of vintage cognacs, armagnacs and calvados. Our stock now includes vintage brandies from every year from 1928 – 2002 & a few more besides. If you are looking for a specific year, just search on our website or give us a ring (01225 863988).
Did you know it was National Cognac Day last month? A relatively new addition to the annual calendar and originating in the United States of America, it is celebrated on the 4th of June. As with all popular, American activities it has become a worldwide event, so mark it in your diary ready for 2020! This year Jeanne O’Brien Coffey came up with 5 reasons to drink cognac and we pretty much agree with all of them:
1. It takes a lot of time and money to produce fine cognac which is why it tastes so good. 2. There is a cognac for every palate. 3. It’s cocktail-friendly (but we do not recommend using our vintages for this)! 4. It pairs with everything and can be drunk at any time of the day. 5. It has a unique flavour profile with a myriad of flavours in a single bottle.
In many ways, the concept of a fine cognac is down to the taster’s perception based on what he has tasted in the past and the flavours to which he has become accustomed in his daily life. But defining those flavours is secondary to understanding what is required of a cognac in order to describe the various properties that bring that flavour about. However, it is probably fair to say that we all like smooth and individual cognac flavours, uninterrupted by other, less desirable properties such as aggressiveness, bland flavours and overpowering sweetness caused by syrups. When judging cognac professionally, the key skill is understanding of the desirable and not so desirable properties that can be found in it. Excluding the initial considerations of colour and aroma, my first consideration is the balance, followed by the complexity and concentration and depth of flavour. All of these are critical in defining what we seek to provide; award winning cognacs.
A cognac that is unbalanced has many aggressive and fiery qualities that hide the style and flavour. In some cases, it may be very difficult to create balance as this is usually created by long ageing in the barrel where it gently mellows. Young cognacs will not have developed flavour nor had time for the alcohol to reduce naturally, so will not be balanced. Where this happens, additives are used to hide the strength but, they also add sweetness to the brandy.
The term “complexity” is often taken negatively. In fact, it refers to a very varied mix of flavours which develop as a result of the reaction between the wood (tannins) and the alcohol in the cognac. Over time, more and more flavours will develop but it is not enough to just have a wide range of flavours, we also look for depth and concentration. It is the depth of the cognac that provides us with the most exciting tastes which are often referred to as “Rancio”. This is a richness but also an intense mustiness that one might associate with an old Madeira wine.
Much of what we do here at Hermitage is to seek out cognacs with all these characteristics. We look to achieve Gold Medals with all we supply but it is not easy as the availability of cognacs which meet this high level of perfection is very limited. Our cognacs are at the very top of the luxury group, there are other groups with much lower standards, many being associated with generic blends and we judge them on a completely different level. There will be good cognacs at every level but there comes a point which is difficult to exceed.
Aged with great care and expertise, this wonderful Grande Champagne cognac has been in an oak barrel for 40 years slowly maturing to its optimum condition. Flavours of plum and vanilla expand into lychee, pear, hay, plum and dried mandarin demonstrating complexity and individuality.
Described as a ‘cognac-based spirit drink’ Martell Blue Swift is made of VSOP Cognac that has been matured in French oak casks and finished in Kentucky Bourbon casks. Far from ‘reinventing the cognac category’, it does not meet the regulations to be labelled ‘Cognac’. Cognac must be aged in French oak casks and any finishing casks cannot have held anything other than wine or wine-based spirits. Many cognac products with ‘a finish’ have been released over recent months so it is good to see the regulations being categorically defined.
For many, Spanish brandy is something drunk on holiday, in its country of origin, but its quality can be just as good as any brandy in the world. Made from a different grape variety (Jerez) and using the solera top up system, it is often aged in old sherry casks. Spanish brandies can often provide better value for money than French brandies such as cognac and armagnac but they have a reputation for exclusivity which Spanish brandy has yet to earn. Addressing this issue, Spain is beginning to focus on creating premium and ultra-premium brandies in the hope that they will be able to compete with the more famous varieties. With consumer trends moving towards products that are legitimate, relevant, have a history and added value, Spanish Brandy could be the next big thing.
The strength of carbon emissions created during the wine fermentation process is “five times more concentrated than planes and cars” according to UC Davis professor, Roger Boulton. “We should be capturing carbon in wineries, so they become carbon neutral. A litre of juice produces 60 litres of carbon dioxide. As a winemaker, if you want to be a serious leader in sustainability then you have to do this – a good way is to turn it into chalk,” he said. Consumer pressure to protect our environmental future by manufacturing in a more environmentally friendly way is becoming widespread. Also speaking in New Zealand, Villa Maria Estate’s viticulturist, Jonathan Hamlet, derided the use of chemicals in the grape growing process. “The way we grow grapes today will not be acceptable in the future. We need to respect the land, learn to adapt, and stop using pesticides and herbicides. We live in a world of conscious, value driven consumers who want products that reflect their values.” It will be interesting to see how long it takes for these views to be echoed in the Northern Hemisphere.
Read more about possible changes to the cognac production process here, where we discuss the future need to accommodate climate change.
The term “brandy” refers to a spirit distilled from a fruit. This includes armagnac and cognac as well as a host of other wine brandies made from the indigenous fruits of the region from whence they come. The rigorous controls produced by the various regulatory bodies of each of the two main French wine brandies mean that their products will always be of a recognised quality. Unfortunately, this is not the case with grape brandies which have no rules to follow. Most are distilled on large commercial stills from unspecified grape varieties and sold after as little as one year’s ageing. In addition, their distillation range is not controlled, any grapes can be used and, in some cases, only the residue of the skins, pips and leftover flesh is distilled.
Many years ago, brandies were made in the wine producing regions, around Bordeaux and Saintonge, where wines were plentiful. The resulting wine brandies were of lower strengths, as the grape varieties used lacked acidity, and they failed to meet with the approval of the traders buying for their European customers. Only the wine brandies from the Charente, ie cognacs, were of an acceptable standard as rigorous quality controls were already in place. Over the years these regulations have been continued to be refined to meet increasingly higher standards.
It is right, therefore, that Lucien Bernard, in his discussion with Vinexpo News recently, seeks to create standards that enable us to compare the quality of all wine brandies. We see in the marketplace many cheap grape brandies poorly made with all manner of different grapes, methods of production and storage. We also see some brandies being passed off as cognacs. This is particularly true in China where counterfeit brandy is shipped in volume, mixed with small quantities of cognac and falsely labelled with respectable cognac producer’s names. Sadly, we will never be able to control these rogues and it is down to local governments to bring them under control.
However, there are also some very fine brandies on the market. Some of the Spanish brandies, made under the Solera system, a method which allows for the topping up of barrels which may have contained their famous sherries, are superb. Other good brandies, such as those from Greece and America and the Italian Grappa, also have production controls. Controls on the production of wine brandies is therefore both necessary and desirable as it will improve the quality of the brandies produced and reduce the rogues who seek to cash in on the market that deserves so much better. I’m with you Lucien!
Looking for inspiration for Father's Day gifts? Look no further - we have a vast range of French and Spanish brandies to suit every taste.
Cognac, armagnac, calvados, pineau, liqueur and eau de vie fill our shelves with lots of individual, exciting flavours to satisfy every palate. If you are not sure which one to buy, just give us a ring and a member of the small, Brandyclassics team will be delighted to help – 01225 863988.
We have vintages from every year of birth from 1928 to 2002 and a few more besides. There is no better way to say “thank you “ than with a Father’s Day present from Brandyclassics.