The very strict regulations surrounding the production of cognac have been in place since the BNIC’s inception at the end of WWII. However, recent changes in the economic and geographic environments are forcing these age-old practices to be reviewed. Burgeoning exports have seen cognac sales increase for the last 4 years so cognac changes are afoot. It has just been agreed that the area of vineyards in the appellation next year will rise by 3500 hectares(ha). This follows an increase of 1500 ha last year. Global warming is also influencing vineyards across the country. As temperatures rise the grapes ripen earlier and the harvest is brought forward. In the cognac region there are consequences for the process that follows this earlier harvest. Crushing the grapes and fermentation then take place when daytime temperatures are still too warm and night time temperatures are not low enough. If the temperature of the grape juice during fermentation exceeds 80 ˚F, the classic cognac taste will be distorted. A new research laboratory has just been set up by China and France to investigate the creation of new grape varieties that are better adapted to climate change. Some ‘super’ grapes, that are resistant to rot, have already been cultivated. Perhaps they should also look to Japan who always have to cope with hot, moist conditions? They employ innovative techniques such as wax paper hats over the bunches of fruit, plastic sheets to protect from excessive rainfall and fans to stimulate air conditioning.
M Restaurant has announced that it is to sell its bottle of 1894 cognac for over £6000 for a 25ml shot - that's the price of cognac history. The bottle is reputedly the first blend ever produced by Jean Fillioux, who founded the Fillioux cognac house. Snippets of history such as this are often priceless in the cognac world. Over the years we have sold many such historically important bottles to luxury hotels in London. The ultimate in super-premium spirits, these too have been sold by the measure for thousands of pounds. But to command this sort of price tag, each must have a story attached. Many were produced in the pre-Phylloxera era (pre 1875), when cognac production was considerably different from today, and produced by old family firms that may no longer be in existence. The vintage may also be attached to an event in history, such as the beginning of the French revolution in 1789, which adds to its interest and value. Selling very old cognac is a proven way of increasing bar takings but beware, establishing authenticity is a specialist business; we have been undertaking it for decades.
March is very much the month for celebrations, not just Mother's Day 2019.
The patron saint of Wales, Saint David, is remembered on the 1st of the month with the Irish Saint Patrick's Day being commemorated on the 17th. Daffodils and shamrocks will no doubt be seen in abundance during their respective celebrations.
Shrove Tuesday falls on the 5th of March when pancakes will be the order of the day. Following the French tradition of flambéing crepes, how about serving yours with cognac or armagnac to light up the evening?!
International Women’s Day is always on the 8th of March – a suitable precursor to Mother’s Day on Sunday 31st March – so March is a great month to celebrate the women in your life. Cognac, often thought of as a man’s drink, is also enjoyed by many of our female customers. Those who prefer a fruitier brandy will certainly be delighted with a bottle of our vintage armagnac. We have every year of birth from 1928 to 2001 so it’s easy to buy an extra special Mother's Day Gift this year.
Commonly known as ‘Duty Free’, the Travel Retail Sector has long been the testing ground for new brandy releases - presumably travelling customers are more adventurous than those shopping from home? Often it is the packaging that is markedly different; the big houses like to involve famous artists in their limited edition, presentation designs. Just recently though, we have seen a real change in approach from some of the smaller houses. Prunier, one of the oldest independent cognac houses, has just released The Age Statement Collection. It comprises 8 guaranteed age cognacs, from 10 to 80 years old. Prunier’s President said “Our commitment is to offer the most natural cognacs with no artificial colouring, no sugar and no added wood extract. We are a very small company and perhaps make our cognac in old-fashioned ways, but we have a lot of experience in age statements and vintages and believe in being different.” We could not have put that better ourselves! It’s good to see another quality cognac house following in Hermitage’s footsteps, even if their price range of 130€ – 6999€ seems rather steep to us.
Another new Duty Free product comes from William Grant & Sons who have, for the first time, released a range of cognacs. They have teamed up with La Guilde du Cognac to produce a terroir driven collection. Called the Single Village Collection, each bottle is in fact a vintage with the village of origin and cru designated on the label. Clearly, William Grant’s have, like Hermitage, recognised the increasing desire of customers to know exactly what is in their bottle of cognac rather than accepting a generic blend. The marketing is clever using a new expression ‘single village’ to describe the purity of its product and it is interesting that 4 of the cognac crus, rather than just the top 2, have been represented. And it is not just cognac that is testing the Travel Retail Sector. Calvados producers 30&40 have also created a new range of limited edition, single cask, products. Each is described by its cru and age meaning that they are all calvados fermier - spirits made entirely by a single farmer. We are delighted to see the travel retail market moving in this direction. Numbers on bottles has been our mantra for over a quarter of a century.
The concept of barrel ageing is said to have been conceived by wine merchants when shipping their wines from the harbour at La Rochelle. The weak and commonly sweet wines that were shipped along the Charente from Cognac often became rancid. The wine merchants therefore reduced their volume by distillation, before shipping abroad in oak barrels. After their arrival in foreign ports it was noticed that the clear distillates within had coloured and gained in flavour.
Many centuries later we have learnt much about ageing our cognacs. The considerations of barrel age, size and wood are regarded by many as secondary to the dampness and location of the cellar. Dampness in the cellar helps the cognac to mature in the barrel for longer as it reduces evaporation of the spirit through the wood. There are thousands of cellars in the Cognac region which also hosts two major rivers. The Charente passes through the middle and the Ne passes round the southern half of the top cru Grande Champagne. It is therefore reasonable to believe that many of the finest cognac cellars are situated close to these rivers, taking advantage of the increased humidity.
However, ideal damp conditions can be created in other ways. Many old stone-built stores were converted outhouses which had had their floors ripped out, thereby removing any damp course between the building and the earth. New custom-built stores, mainly owned by the big houses, are complete with humidifiers which regulate the atmosphere. A more questionable method of creating damp barrels is to spray them with water but this is usually only employed during very hot conditions.
Of course, wherever they are kept, the atmosphere inside a sealed barrel is unlikely to change. The temperature may alter slightly, and the amount lost to evaporation (known as the Angel’s Share) may differ but otherwise the quality of the cognac should remain the same.
Official figures for the bumper 2018 harvest have yet to be published but it is anticipated that for the first time ever, the quantity of eau de vie produced will exceed 1 million hectolitres of pure alcohol. Despite the much-publicised growth in cognac sales over recent years, sales over the last 3 months, including Christmas, have been down, year on year. In particular, exports to North America and China have been affected with the latter seeing a 4% reduction. The authorities in China are trying to reduce their imports across the board so this is likely to be a contributing factor. Interestingly though, Bordeaux wine has also seen a drop of 13% in sales worldwide during the Winter 2019.
It’s that time of the year again when St Valentine's Day gives us all the ideal opportunity to show our loved ones just how much we care. And a bottle of the very best brandy certainly is a gift that keeps on giving. Whether you are eating in or eating out on February 14th, a bottle of our vintage cognac, armagnac or calvados is the perfect finish to your meal. All aged to perfection, our selection of the finest French brandies are luxurious in every way and we have Gifts for Him and Gifts for Her.
Make that special someone’s day this Valentines.
The last few months of 2018 were, as always, very busy here at Brandyclassics as we worked hard to meet the ever-increasing demand for brandies at Christmas. Our Hermitage Cognacs took centre stage as we enjoyed some fantastic write-ups in the national press. Articles in the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday all added to the excitement and we sold our last bottle of Hermitage 2008 Grande Champagne Cognac a few days before Christmas. Now back in stock, this latest addition to our range has been a much-featured success story. Although only 10 years old, it has a tremendous depth of flavour and all the characteristics of being much, much older. In total only 200 bottles are available so if you have not bought yours yet do hurry, it will not be around for long!
Brandy has long been used for medicinal purposes, both internally and externally. We read that it was often used in Nelson’s Navy as an antiseptic, sometimes as an anaesthetic and even before then, as a digestif to sooth the effects of eating too much or too rich food.
A ‘digestif’, taken after a meal to aid digestion, is widely regarded as a means of reducing discomfort. Indeed, good cognac, if consumed in moderation has many health benefits. Cognac contains antioxidants which can lower cholesterol levels in the blood, thus helping to keep the heart healthy. According to Lybrate, the online medical service, cognac contains polyphenol compounds which help to reduce inflammation in the cardiovascular system resulting in lower blood pressure. Unlike other alcoholic drinks, pure cognac such as Hermitage, does not contain any carbohydrates. It does not cause bloating and can be safely enjoyed, knowing that it cannot be converted into fat. However, the same cannot be said of commercially blended generic brandies which contain additives, such as sugar. It has been proven that cognac also has excellent anti-inflammatory properties making it effective in relieving respiratory issues and improving heart health. The absence of carbohydrates can help in weight management and its antioxidant properties are said to assist anti-ageing.
When Admiral Lord Nelson was killed at Trafalgar they brought him home in a barrel of brandy, I still give him a wink as I go past his column in Trafalgar Square and I will now ensure I take a small measure as my digestif every evening.
A truly amazing cognac; Hermitage 2008 Grande Champagne Cognac is an extraordinary and totally unique one in a million find. It’s rich, spicy and full of intrigue. There are flavours of dates, cinnamon, toffee and pistachio as well as exotic tones of rambutan, mango and passion fruit with a tail of sweet oranges. A masterpiece of the distiller's skills and the cellar master's experience, it was aged in a small barrique which had previously aged some very old and rare cognac. Smooth and full of rich flavours, that are undeniably worthy of a much older cognac, yet this is only 10 years old. There are less than 200 bottles available. Great balance, pure magic.
"For anyone looking for a very fine and special gift .... the smallest glass is a sublime treat." Victoria Moore, The Daily Telegraph