Cognac rebrands. Its regulatory body, the BNIC, has just unveiled a new brand identity for the appellation which was officially recognised over a hundred years ago. The logo depicts a rich, copper still-coloured map of the growing region. Bordering the Atlantic ocean, the appellation is bisected by the river Charente and comprises 6 cognac crus. The newly designed logo reminds us that the King of all Spirits is the product of one place only. It is designed to be inspiring, like cognac itself. It should also convey to consumers the wonderful history of the region and craftmanship of the producers. Even the font used has historic connections. It was created by Claude Garamount in the 16th century, when Charente wine was first distilled. Speaking at the launch, Claire Caillaud, BNIC Director of Comms said ”[The logo] will reinforce cognac’s image as a product of guaranteed provenance and authenticity”.
Does this bottle shape remind you of something? It looks remarkably like the iconic Louis XIII Cognac presentation from Remy Martin to us! So why would Camus choose to put their latest release in a copy of such a well-known carafe? Perhaps they are hoping it will make consumers look twice? The new Camus XO presentation also contains a new product. Still blended, and only aged for a minimum of 6 years, this release comes from a single estate in the Borderies cru. Although only the 3rd cognac cru, Borderies can produce some wonderfully flavoured cognac. But in our experience, this only occurs after decades of ageing - take our Hermitage 1914 for example.
We are really looking forward to 2018 as two more Hermitage celebration vintages are added to our stores. An exceptional Borderies 1958 cognac was the first to arrive and it has just been joined by a rare, Grande Champagne gem from 1938. Wonderful, single estate, vintage cognacs but particularly special for those with a 60th or 80th celebration this year.
The full range of Hermitage celebration vintages comprises:
And if it’s armagnac you’re after, we have the following vintages in stock:
For the 3rd year running, cognac exports have increased with a 10% growth in volume and a 15% growth in value. The US retained its position as the largest cognac market. China has led the return to growth in the Far East. Prosperity in Europe has also returned thanks mainly to renewed interest from Russia and the Baltics. Naturally, this good news has led to speculation of more cognac house takeovers in the Cognac region. Some major non-cognac companies may be looking to extend their portfolio in this area as a good investment. It is also understood that hefty price increases should be expected this year, especially amongst the older cognacs. Beware, new price lists are imminent!
Why is it that cognac attracts so many rappers to promote its cause? Maybe they are attracted to the meticulous craft it embodies or the respect it commands in the spirits world? Courvoisier recently launched a new campaign starring American rapper A$AP Rocky. Called ‘Honour Your Code’ it embodies the brand’s values of ‘dedication, vision and respect for tradition’. “I think your code is equivalent to your standards and your morals. It’s whatever you believe in and you should always stand by it.” said A$AP Rocky. It was a similar view that drew Jay-Z to Château de Cognac 6 years ago. His proposition to create a new blend that would not only honour the region’s history but push the boundaries of traditional consumption resulted in the production and partial ownership of D’ussé Cognac. So, these rap artists’ foray into the world of cognac not only helps to expose the spirit to a younger audience, they associate it with many traditional values. More recently Jay-Z has been involved in the Hurricane Maria relief effort. D’Ussé cognac was given away to all those donating items or money to the fund. Now that is community spirited!
Thankfully the Brexit talks finally seem to be getting somewhere as for the wine and spirits trade, no deal will be a bad deal. The representative body of the EU drinks industry has called upon the EU and UK to agree to a ‘gold standard agreement’ and so minimise the Brexit Effect. This will preserve tariff-free trade for wines and spirits to ensure fair competition and consumers’ confidence. A good outcome if agreed, but it is unlikely to be secured by March 2019.
In contrast, a positive forecast comes from the Travel Retail sector. This term emerged when duty-free shopping within the EU was abolished 18 years ago. Suddenly, the well-known British practice of hopping across the Channel to stock up on duty-free goods had gone. And as a consequence, a substantial amount of business was lost. So, when the UK exits the EU on 29 March 2019, this market should be reinstated. The UK will become a ‘third country’. Under current EU law, European travellers can take advantage of duty-free sales if travelling to a third country. However, for UK travellers to also benefit, a change in UK law will be required. The UK Travel Retail Forum are lobbying hard for this and very strong support has been received from the spirits industry. That said, we would still prefer to see a free trade agreement in place.
The cognac wheel that was introduced by the BNIC has proved to be an ideal source of information when considering aromas from a given cognac or brandy. It divides aromas into seasons considering each in terms of: Spring delicacy, Summer fullness, Autumn richness and the hardness of Winter. Flavours can be defined in a similar manner but perhaps with more defined headings. For years I have considered cognac tastes as falling into 4 different categories. The definitions are more easily defined than those of aromas. Of course, there are thousands of different perceptions of flavour which are recognised in the tastes of cognac. I have taken some of the flavours which have the widest description of each taste. My 4 brandy and cognac taste categories are: Fruit, Savoury, Sweet & Rich, and Nuts & Spice. These can be subdivided to help identify the most likely descriptions of brandy flavours. Tasting brandies can be subjective. This list is designed to provide a level objectivity with which to identify different cognac flavours.
The Mail on Sunday's drinks writer and well known TV personality, Olly Smith, has featured a few products from the Brandyclassics website in his column over recent months. He began with recommending our Hermitage Provenance 10 Cognac for Bonfire Night suggesting that one should "Dive into this liquid flame, whose quality will set your very soul alight". He is not the only one to enjoy this wonderful cognac. It has been flying off our shelves ever since!
With Christmas approaching Olly moved into our Armagnac range. Firstly he advocated the ever popular Delord 20 Year Old Bas Armagnac describing it as his Top Pick - "plums and almonds rolled in cinnamon, the scent of sheer Christmas!". A long time favourite of ours this Armagnac is pleasingly presented in a green basquaise bottle.
And finally last weekend, he chose to feature our Blanche de Cassagnoles. A white armagnac from the Tenareze region it has beautiful prune flavours despite the water-clear appearance. Ideal for Christmas cocktails, flambés and other sorts of cooking.
Our latest release, Hermitage Cognac Marie Louise, is a 60-Year-Old Grande Champagne from one of the region’s top artisan producers. This astonishing creation has been described as “lining one’s mouth with velvet” and is a precious and rare investment. At 43% abv it has all the complex aromas and flavours one would expect from such a well-aged cognac.
It is offered in a limited first run of 50 one litre decanters produced by Cumbria Crystal. They are the last producer of completely hand-blown and hand-cut, full-lead luxury English crystal in the UK. The intensity and depth of flavours created by its careful distillation and ageing have created a masterpiece of smoothness and an intensely rich rancio found only in the rarest of cognacs. This truly great cognac is named after Marie Louise, the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. She bore his son who was given the title 'Roi de Rome' and who later became Napoleon II.
Our finest release to date, Hermitage Cognac Marie Louise made it into the Saturday Telegraph two months in a row. Initially, on 4 November, Victoria Moore wrote a fascinating piece about our MD, David Baker, Hermitage Cognacs and of course Cognac Marie Louise. On 2 December she included details of the wonderful 60 plus year old cognac in the Luxury supplement.
Hermitage Cognac Marie Louise is available from Hedonism Wines, Corney and Barrow, Chelsea Vintners and our Brandyclassics website and is proving to be a real hit this Christmas.
The taste of any drink or food differs from one taster to another so it is difficult to be precise on an interpretation of flavour. However, most people do understand general flavours that they regularly experience. For example, milk, coffee, orange and tea are all daily experiences but defining any one of these flavours is daunting. Perhaps even more so, is the conversion of aroma to taste. For example, we often describe a cognac as oak flavoured. We may have tasted oak-smoked salmon but how do we explain the taste of oak by itself? Much of what we taste can be described by our perception of the aroma but even this can be misleading. Many people are put off drinking gin by the aroma but when tasted, perhaps with tonic, their perception of the taste changes.
Several years ago the BNIC produced a cognac aroma wheel. It has often been used to help describe flavour but it includes such aromas as wild carnations, oak moss and cigar box. Converting that into taste is complicated so we try and use more familiar tastes. In desperation, however, we have resorted to many continental flavours such as rambutan, mangosteen and kumquats. We also use some old English flavours such as medlar, marrow and thyme. Sometimes, when tasting cognac the flavours will change. This is particularly true of cognacs from the top cru, Grande Champagne. Here we often find nutty, rich fruity flavours which tail off to leave citrus flavours of orange or grapefruit peel. These flavours often mature after many years to provide a much desired 'rancio' effect. This is probably best explained as a type of maderisation. It has a slightly musty but rich, pineapple syrup and roasted nut flavour that lasts on the palate.
If flavours are difficult to describe, some of the jargon used in the professional tasting world can be almost unintelligible. We talk about 'the nose' when describing an aroma, 'a finish' when considering how the flavour ends in the mouth or 'a tail' when we consider how a flavour extends to the finish. The term 'flatness' is used when the cognac is largely neutral in flavour and when sugar has been added, it is identified as being 'sticky'. 'Oily' is used to describe water in cognac that hasn't mixed properly with the spirit and 'dead' when all you can taste are the additives.
Many years ago I was asked by a famous cognac author to describe the flavour of a cognac that has 'gone off'. This describes a cognac where most of the alcohol has evaporated and a watery and mouldy residue is left. After a lot of consideration, I told him that it was rather like drinking water in which you have washed some dirty old leather boots! He laughed like a drain and included it in his last book as another way of accounting for taste. I should add that I have only ever tasted this effect a handful of times in 30 or 40 years of tasting. Should you ever be in doubt about a cognac's suitability for drinking, do not worry. There is never any doubt about one that has gone off!
Next month we will try and explore as many flavours as possible.