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.
The whole cognac industry began with the little guy, tending his vines and creating outstanding eau-de-vie. Today these small cognac producers, often family run houses, struggle to remain in business, such is the competition they face from the ‘Big 4’. These 4 companies are now so large that each has a brand ambassador, presumably to reflect their core values. Interestingly, Hennessy, Courvoisier and Remy Martin have all chosen a trendy rap star, clearly trying to appeal to the younger market. Martell, on the other hand, has gone for a more stylish, feminine image by choosing Diane Kruger. But what about the smaller cognac producers who use their generations of knowledge to produce the very best, single estate, vintage cognacs – who should they choose? Surely it must be royalty – rare, elegantly presented and steeped in history. Or do you have a better idea?
During the years after the gold rush in the 1850s, brandy became the most popular spirit in Australia. French companies were quick to seize the opportunity and in 1870 Prunier opened a branch there. A loyal following for the brand was built by their salesman, Émigré Ambroise Lamande. He lived in Melbourne with his pet kangaroo and it is this marsupial that is thought to have been the inspiration behind Maresté's poster and 1929 advertising film. Reputed to be the first cinema advertisement for cognac ever made, it featured a cartoon kangaroo discovering cases of cognac washed up on a beach and gleefully stuffing her pouch with the bottles! However, the global economic depression of the time and rising tensions in Europe led to a dramatic decline in demand for cognac in Australia. In 1938 Prunier closed its Melbourne branch and within a decade or so the brand had all but disappeared. That is, until very recently, when a customer walked into a new wine & spirits shop and enquired about Prunier cognacs. The owner had never heard of them, so he did some research. Impressed by the brandies and the historical connection he decided to start stocking the range. The reaction has been overwhelming, and he now sells more of Prunier's rare and very expensive vintage cognacs than any other outlet in the world. Another good example of how superior quality and historical knowledge increases the value and pleasure derived from your cognac.
The cognac industry is quite touchy about the appearance of a bottle of cognac. In the world of high value spirits, sediment is not desirable as it can either lie on the bottom of the bottle or cause cloudiness of the spirit. But is it really a problem?
Well, we all understand that cognac is aged in oak casks. Initially it is put into new ones and then, after about 6 – 12 months, it is transferred into old ones. When the casks are new, they are toasted to destroy the harmful tannins in the wood. At this stage, only the good tannins are available in the wood allowing the cognacs to develop their colour and flavour. Many cognac producers will ask for a specific grade of barrel toasting to suit the desired quality of the finished cognac. Repeated use of the new barrels means that over time, they will become old barrels and so used for long term cognac storage. However, as the tannins in the wood are used up, the inside surface of the barrel will gradually degrade leaving a cloudiness in the cognac.
The level of cloudiness will depend on the age and size of the barrel, the type of oak used and the level of toasting initially agreed between the cooper and distiller. The strength and cru of the cognac are also factors. Cognacs produced from the Champagnes mature more slowly than those from other crus. The spirit remains stronger in the barrel for longer, producing a cloudy effect and in some cases, containing minute particles from inside the barrel. As a result, older cognacs, which may have been in their barrels for 40, 50, 60 or more years, may have levels of sediment in them and must be filtered. In most cases, sediment appears at the tail end of the barrel and because it can be very fine, can be missed when bottling. No producer wants to see sediment of any level in his cognac although it is harmless and will gradually settle in the bottle over time.
When filtering is used to remove the sediment it can be costly as it is slow and some of the cognac is lost during the process. All cognacs do have a minute solids content which is not visible but is part of the cognac. But remember, the longer it has been in the barrel the finer the cognac will be!
Across our website we have very special gifts and present ideas for all years of birth but these latest vintage cognacs to arrive in the Hermitage range will be perfect for those celebrating 50, 70 or 80 years in 2020.
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.
The trade association Spirits Europe has launched a new website giving consumers access to nutrition and spirits ingredients information on all spirit drinks legally sold in the EU. The new site provides information on all of the EU’s 47 spirit drinks categories including cognac, armagnac and calvados and can be found at www.responsibledrinking.eu . Calorie information per 100ml and per serving size for each spirit is listed. The ingredients, a full nutrition declaration (including allergens) and additional information on the production process are also included. The website comes as part of the spirits industry’s endeavours to increase availability of nutrition and ingredients information and so deliver on the commitment submitted to the European Commission in 2018. This commitment to update Spirit Drinks Regulations aims to bring the industry in line with the 2009 Lisbon Treaty and with the developments in managing geographic indicators (GIs) for food products. It also includes a pledge by the sector to make consumer information directly available from bottles via smartphone QR codes by 2022. These European directives are far more progressive than those in the US where the Alcohol & Tobacco Trade & Tax Bureau is being heavily criticised for not making the display of nutritional information, including alcohol content, mandatory in its recent modernisation of alcohol labels.
Whilst in France recently, I found an air of wellbeing amongst the cognac producers of the Charente. Last year’s super harvest, coupled with the current demand for cognac, means that their pockets are rather fuller than is usual for the season. That said, this year the harvest could already be in trouble as the region is experiencing some very hot weather. The grapes may have to be harvested early and their sugar content may also become too high. In the town of Cognac I also found a new 5-star hotel with 2 restaurants and all the perks that go with 5-star luxury. The Chais Monnet Hotel is named after the ex-mayor of Cognac and founder of Monnet Cognac. It will no doubt be popular with many visitors, but I will continue to stay at the Chateau L’Yeuse. It is less than half the price of Chais Monnet and I enjoy the warmth and personality of its more intimate and peaceful surroundings.