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  • The Place of Regulatory Bodies e.g. BNIC

    The Cesium Thought Leadership (CTL) panel met recently to discuss the role industry bodies play in shaping the drinks industry. They concluded that these bodies have 4 areas of influence: education, interdependency, unified thinking and lobbying. The regulatory body for cognac is BNIC logothe Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) whose mission is ‘to develop and promote cognac, representing the best interests of all cognac professionals including growers, merchants and members of other activities related to the cognac trade’. They control all stages of cognac production including the regulations required to manage the growing, wine making, distillation and ageing. Over the years their powers have increased and they now control market and sales information (both country by country and by product type) enabling them to manage government taxes and duties. In short, the BNIC manages every stage of cognac, from the vineyards to the end buyer and certainly covers the 4 areas of influence recognised by the CTL. This level of control definitely protects the industry from rogue trading but has also been criticised for stifling innovation. We wait to hear what the BNIC thinks about ‘Adding a Finish’ as suggested by Martell (see previously) – will others dare to follow?

    Read more about the BNIC on our Brandy Education page.

  • More Cognac Labelling Requirements - Calories and Nutrition?

    An EU Commission report has been welcomed by the drinks industry as, 2 years after MEPs voted for compulsory calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks, they have called upon the drinks trade to present a self-regulatory solution. Within 12 months calorie and nutritional information must be available to alcohol consumers - a ruling that came into effect for all other food and Cognac Labelling - Hermitage 1993beverages in 2011.  Will cognac labelling have to change?  Aware that label space is an issue, the WSTA is suggesting that hosting the information on-line rather than on-pack will be the most effective solution. It has offered alcohol calorie information on its website for the past 2 years. Nutritional information will perhaps be more of a challenge – should it include the ingredients that go into the production of the spirit or just the elements that can be identified in the bottle prior to sale? For small craft cognac producers, this will be an onerous task as each individual vintage or batch will have to be tested. For the big cognac houses, who produce masses of one blend, the task is relatively straight forward. However, they will no longer be able to hide from consumers the number and quantity of additives such as sugar syrup and caramel that are present.

  • Duck Season - Eating, Drinking & Other Misadventures in Gascony

    Gascony, FranceDavid McAninch has written this highly entertaining book about Gascony – “France’s Last Best Place” after an 8 month stay in the region. With interesting quotes such as “the quantity of armagnac produced in any given year is equivalent to the angel’s share—the volume of spirit lost to evaporation—of a year’s production of cognac” and “armagnac is to cognac what the Rolling Stones were to the Beatles” it makes fascinating reading for all fans of the amber nectar. Originally sent to research a story about a duck, his love of the local inhabitants and duck-rich cuisine led him to realise what he and so many other tourists had been missing.  Take a look at our vast range of vintage armagnacs and bring a piece of Gascony to your home.

  • Frapin VSOP Decanter

    FrapinFrapin has released its VSOP in a new decanter – taller and narrower than the original, it has different detailing on the neck and stopper. One could argue that it looks more like a bottle than a decanter. Frapin is the largest single estate in Grande Champagne (240 hectares) with a family history dating back to 1270. They are known for producing fruity, balanced cognacs but without age statements. A VSOP only has to be aged for 4 years – quite young for the price tag of £55. Compare this with our new VSOP arrival which has been aged for 8 years – Jean Fillioux La Pouyade – retailing at just £46.51. For presentation though you cannot beat our extremely elegant carafes containing Hermitage 20 and 25 year old Grande Champagne Cognac.

  • Cognac In India?

    Cognac in IndiaOne of the 4 key spirit trends for 2017 is Cognac, according to The Drinks Business.  Its resurgence in China and the US was the story of last year and this year it is forecast to ‘continue shaking off complacency while creating the template for urgently needed further geographic diversification’.  One potential new market is India where historically they enjoy brandy in the south and whisky in the north.  In the last few years, the luxury market in India has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate of approximately 25%, reaching about $18 billion in 2016.  The country has many active wines and spirits clubs and there is an appreciation of brands with true heritage. The brand ambassador for Remy Martin has been investigating the Indian market. He comments that globally, Millienials are looking for rich, authentic spirits with a story behind them. Cognac in India is beginning to appeal so let’s hope that Remy are knocking on the right door.

  • New Hermitage Vintage Cognac Releases

    David has been in France again looking for more wonderful cognacs to add to the Hermitage Vintage Cognac stable. The latest introduction is a fabulous 30 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac with rich nut, spice and coffee flavours.

    straight sided still head producing vintage cognac

    He also sourced a superb 1987 vintage which was distilled 30 years ago and is now released at the slightly higher strength of 47%.   Retailing at about £130 it compares very favourably to the recently released Hine 1987 which has an RRP of £245. Both were produced when a very cold winter was followed by a wet spring and scorching summer - perfect conditions for producing great vintage cognac. Our latest Hermitage Cognacs were produced on a narrow, straight-sided still head which minimises rectification and maximises flavour.


  • Martell Aim to Be Different

    cask finishPreviously we reported that Martell had introduced their first non-chill filtered cognac. Since then they have also released an ‘Intense Heat Cask Finish’. Adding a finish to cognac is new territory for the industry as the production process is heavily regulated by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC). Martell, however, have produced their ‘finish’ within current rules. Their ‘Intense Heat Cask Finish’ refers to the intense burning of the oak barrels used for ageing. The result is a cognac with intensely woody tones. Toasting the oak barrels to varying degrees has always been an accepted part of cognac production so this ‘Intense Heat Cask Finish’ should be allowable. In the spirits industry, the phrase ‘Adding a Finish’ usually applies to the use of other used barrels e.g. ones previously containing sherry – we wait to hear the BNIC view on that!

    Another first for Martell is the launch of their single estate cognac – something that we have always championed. It is from Domaine de Charbonnière in the Borderies cru and available only at Hong Kong International Airport. Sadly it is neither a vintage nor does it have an age statement so whilst it may be single domain, it remains a blend of unknown age.

    Our own single estate cognac from the Borderies cru is a vintage from 1914 :

  • Centenarian 1917 Cognac

    1917 Limited Edition CognacFor those with a century to celebrate this Limited Edition Hermitage 1917 Cognac is a must. Harvested during the First World War, this Grande Champagne cognac is powerful and complex and will delight any cognac lover. Only 27 bottles are available and for the month of April 2017, each one has an astonishing £100 OFF. Other vintages available for special anniversaries or birthdays this year include Hermitage 1967 Petite Champagne Cognac, Chateau Montifaud 1977 Petite Champagne Cognac and Hermitage 1987 Grande Champagne Cognac.  If 1947 is the vintage you're after, it will be arriving on our shelves very soon.  For even more choice, take a look at our vast range of vintage armagnacs and calvados too.

  • Cognac Crus

    Cognac is produced in the delimited region of France known as the Charente and Charente Maritime which borders on the Atlantic Ocean.  To the west the region borders on the Gironde estuary and includes the islands of Ré and Oléron and to the east it neighbours the region of Angoulême and the foothills of the Massif Central.  The production area also covers some areas of the Dordogne and Deux Sévres.  The total area of vineyards currently covers 79,636 hectares (ha), close to 200,000 acres, of which 95% is used for cognac production.  The Cognac production area was delimited by decree of 1st May 1909 and ratified by decree in 1938.  Cognac can only be described as such if it has been made in one of the cognac crus within this region.

    crus of CognacThere are six growing areas (crus) which are based on the soil features as described by the geologist Henri Coquand in 1860 and ratified by decree in 1938.  They are Grande Champagne the second smallest cru with a growing area of 13,159ha, Petite Champagne with 15,246ha and Borderies the smallest cru with 3,987ha of vines. Fins Bois has 31,001 ha of vines, Bons Bois 9,308ha and Bois Ordinaires 1,100ha which includes the islands of Ré and Oléron.

    The two top cognac crus, Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne, have clayey, chalky thin GC & PC Soilsoils on top of soft chalk from the Cretaceous.  The limestone content from the surface down is said to be in excess of 60% in some places. Montmorillonite clay provides fertile soil with good structure and a high water reserve.  Wines from these crus provide light, floral cognacs which require long ageing in casks to achieve full maturity.  It is generally regarded that the cognacs from Petite Champagne are similar to those from Grande Champagne but with a little less finesse.

    Cognacs from the Borderies grow on soil containing more clay and flint.  These cognacs are generally nuttier and often have toffee flavours with tones of violets on the nose.  They age somewhat quicker than those from the Champagnes and can often be at their optimum quality in as little as 30 - 40 years.

    Fins Bois and Bons Bois effectively surround the Champagnes and Borderies.  The soil is made up of heavy, clayey, chalky soil with many stones originating back to the Jurassic period. Bons Bois soil also has a high sandy content.  Many other crops grow in the Bois along with pine forests and chestnuts.  Modern cognac blends contain substantial quantities of Fins Bois and even some Bons Bois can be found in the bigger blends.

    The lowest cru of Cognac is Bois Ordinaire and cognacs from here are said to have “the taste of the sea”.  Much of the eaux de vie from here is used for making liqueurs containing macerated fruits; the cognacs are unspectacular.

    All Hermitage Cognacs are individually selected for their quality and flavour.  Most come from Grande Champagne but there are some notable exceptions from  the Petite Champagne and Borderies crus.  Read more Technical Topics on our Brandy Education page.

  • Why Buy Vintage Cognac?

    There are said to be 5000 cognac producers in the Charente, the vast majority make cognac for the big cognac houses and sell it to them within a couple of years.  But some, perhaps around 10%, have learnt to wait until their heavenly nectars have matured for longer.  Locked away in dark cellars they gradually develop the individual and very personal qualities of their makers. When you buy a specifically aged or vintage cognac, you are buying the makers’ skills and experiences that have been honed over generations into a single taste experience.  Every cognac distillation is different. The very finest come from Grande Champagne and those kept as vintage stock will age for much longer than any generic blend and will develop far greater natural flavours during their long sleep in oak casks.

    Blended cognacs are produced to feed the insatiable greed for mass volume sales. The big cognac houses produce very little of their own cognac. More than 99% of the cognacs used in their blends are supplied by the thousands of small growers and distillers in the Charente region.  Not only are these cognacs young and still relatively tasteless, when they are mixed with up to 2000 others to provide one generic blend it is impossible to distinguish individual flavours.  A blend, even in its finest form (XO), needs only to have been aged in a barrel for 6 ½ years.  It is therefore little surprise that every generically blended cognac relies heavily on the addition of sugar syrup and caramel to obscure the fiery and tasteless spirits.

    Jean Monnet, the famous cognac producer and politician, once said “The great thing about making cognac is that it teaches you above everything else to wait, but time and God and the seasons have got to be on your side”.  I would add to that by saying “Very few know where to find the finest and most individual Premier Cru Cognacs and Hermitage is one of them”.

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