Just like in Cognac, the Armagnac region suffered from the severe spring weather with the heaviest rainfalls recorded since 1952! Thankfully the barometer has now stabilised and trellising has begun. This essential activity supports the vegetation ensuring good aeration of the grapes and minimal shoot damage by wind. Ripening is also optimised, as leaf exposure to the sun improves and thus, encourages photosynthesis. Of great ecological importance is the efficiency of phytosanitary treatment - the arrangement of the leaves on trellised plants helps this to improve. Finally, trellising also facilitates passage between the vines reducing time spent on viniculture and therefore crop costs. The recent good, stable, summer weather has ensured that this year, the budding and general well-being of the vines are exceptional. Very good news for the 2018 armagnac vintage as if the rain had not stopped, the saturated soils may well have asphyxiated the plants.
This is a very young, vintage cognac (aged for 3 years) but with an interesting history.
It was produced to mimic the pre-Phylloxera style; that is using the single grape variety Folle Blanche from the Bon Bois cru. It is also a single cask vintage with a higher that average alcohol content at 41.3% (although pre-Phylloxera cognacs were often left at cask strength). The Folle Blanche today accounts for only 10% of grapes grown in the region as the majority were decimated in the pre-Phylloxera outbreak and the rootstocks now in use are better suited to cropping Ugni Blanc grapes. Cognacs from Bon Bois are also now much less popular as even the big houses tend to look no further afield than Fin Bois. That said, the Comandon 2012 Cognac is an interesting idea, which we will sadly probably never get to taste, as only 120 bottles were produced for the American market
The Cognac Region has once again been hit by severe hailstorms. At the end of May hailstones, some the size of golf balls, were seen in the south of Charente-Maritime, the Borderies, the west of Matha and the Rouillac area. In total, more than 10,000 hectares in the Cognac region were affected. However, an original estimate that 25% of the total crop was damaged has now been revised to 5-6% maximum. Although some areas were severely affected at the time, it now appears that the actual damage done is less than was originally anticipated. Harvest hopes have also been given a fresh boost with the sunny weather that followed the earlier storms, allowing the crops to ripen better than normal. It is expected that this year’s yield will be at least up to normal levels of 12 hectolitres of pure spirit per hectare. If this does prove to be the case it should help to stabilise cognac prices which have been talked up recently by fears of a small harvest.
For years the BNIC has strictly regulated every aspect of cognac production but now the wind of change maybe starting to blow. Recently we have seen the production of cognac finished in sherry and bourbon casks. The appellation permits finishing as long as the cask previously contained wine or wine distillate … not sure how bourbon fits in to this? One producer discovered that cognac was once aged in a variety of woods including chestnut, acacia, mulberry and wild cherry. His experiments in wood finishing were successful and in keeping with the BNIC rules named his range ‘eau-de-vie de vin’. Another of the big houses is asking about the prospect of introducing new grape varieties to the Cognac region as they could be more resistant to disease in the face of global warming. Reacting to climate change surely is an area where change should be embraced? A spokesman said that BNIC members are very focussed on the role of innovation but without losing the tradition and high quality of cognac. To maintain the high quality any changes must be discussed at length. “Sometimes we feel like we are a bit in the past, but I guess that’s one of the strengths of the Cognac Appellation”. Long term management in the face of current changes is the challenge facing every organisation today but cognac must surely guard against joining the ‘innovation race’.
Pineau des Charentes is a combination of freshly pressed grape juice and cognac. It comes in two colours, white and red (sometimes known as rosé) and as with cognac, the flavour is affected by its age. Young Pineau is fruity and light whilst older Pineau offers more complex and concentrated flavours with distinctive fresh fruit tones morphing into dried fruit and nuts. Produced exclusively in France's Cognac region, it has been protected under AOC status since 1945. As a result, this spirited wine benefits from the long-standing expertise and historical know-how of Cognac cellar-masters. It is unique with its aromatic palette and versatility. Wine drinkers are seduced by white Pineau’s balanced profile, while others prefer the generosity of red. Both are food-friendly and pair perfectly with savoury dishes such as fish, white meats or seafood. Pineau’s lightness and alcohol content of 17%, also make it suitable as a digestive or aperitif. While some relish old reds that pair beautifully with chocolate, light cheese, and coffee, others fall for aged whites as great partners of blue cheeses. Alternatively, when summer has arrived, it can be enjoyed at any time as a long, refreshing cocktail such as Pineau Royale or Pinojito.
Another company seeking to recreate a cognac from a past era (see The Bottle Story) is Larsen. A barrel of their 40 year old Cognac has been transported to a 20-metre-high sea fort, at the mouth of the River Charentes, where it will remain for several months. The aim is to replicate the ageing conditions that Cognac would have undergone hundreds of years ago and see how maritime weather affects the finished product. Larsen’s Cellar Master said: “Traditionally, in the 18th and 19th centuries, shallow boats were loaded with barrels of Cognac before crossing oceans to markets all over the world. The sea and sea travel had an unquestionable influence on the final ageing of the eaux-de-vie.” This barrel will form part of Larsen’s new ‘Hymne au Voyage’ range, which aptly translates as ‘tribute to travel’. Although this latest idea has been dubbed experimental, remember that ‘early landed’ cognacs, which mature in UK cellars, have also made a sea voyage to their final ageing destination.
At Brandyclassics our philosophy has always been to provide as much support and guidance to our customers as possible. After months of planning we have relaunched our website, displaying images both larger and differently and with a clearer background. We hope the easier navigation will help you find the information and products you need and will be especially useful for those wanting to buy our cognacs and brandies on their portable devices.
To top it all, we have added more exciting, award winning brandies to our shelves. The ever increasing range of cognacs, armagnacs and calvados, are there to help you choose the perfect bottle(s) for you needs.
We often have requests to do a Brandy Bottle Valuation and whilst sometimes a bottle can have a high value, most brandy valuations will disappoint most people.
The term brandy is generic and covers any alcoholic drink reduced or distilled from a fruit. This includes Spanish brandies, grappa, marc and grape brandy (which can be used for semi-production purposes, for example fortifying port or sherry). This group of brandies will usually include the name brandy on the bottle but by law cannot include the names armagnac, calvados or cognac. If no identifying descriptions appear on the label we can assume it is a grape brandy which is not controlled by an authority and has minimal value.
The main French brandies have tight controls on their production and storage. For this reason, we know that if a bottle is labelled cognac, armagnac or calvados it will have been produced and aged in the approved manner.
Cognac ageing to its optimum quality in oak casks can take many years. In the case of cognacs from the top crus this can be up to 90 years. Armagnacs and calvados take rather less time. The requirement for this long barrel ageing increases its cost of production and therefore value. New oak casks cost around 700 euros each and storing the older casks, used for extensive ageing, requires sizeable, quality cellars. On the other hand, grape brandies may only be aged for a year and heavily diluted with water. Consequently, even quite good grape brandies only cost a couple of euros per litre to produce.
A highly valued cognac, armagnac or calvados will have one of these appellations named on the label together with an age statement or vintage. The level of the brandy in the bottle, the quality of the seal, the shape, size and type of bottle, the colour and the clarity of the spirit are also important. Then of course there is the name of the producer or negoçiant and the region where the brandy was produced. Much information about its value can be gained by knowing how it was distilled, the quality of the strata and sub-strata as well as the cellar in which it was aged. If the bottle owner can provide a provenance for it, that also helps.
If, on the other hand, your old bottle of brandy that has been stored for the last 50 years, does not mention cognac, armagnac or calvados on the label and does not provide an age statement of any sort, I am afraid that your bottle will be virtually worthless. It is also worth noting that retail values of old brandies are more than twice the trade or auction values since it can take many years to sell even a top quality bottle of fine cognac.
If you have a bottle of brandy that you would like valued, please refer to our Valuation Service which can be found on the home page of our website.
We have a fantastic range of cognacs, armagnacs and calvados, any one of which would make the perfect present this Father’s Day. Vintages from 1930 – 2000 let you select the one that’s most meaningful. How about Dad’s year of birth? Or what about your year of birth?
Whichever you choose, vintage brandies are gifts that keep on giving. Dad will be able to savour his delicious amber nectar on many occasions, keeping it for as long as he wishes.
And if you’re running out of time to buy your Father’s Day Gift, don’t panic. Your order will be delivered the following day (if placed before noon) or you can select Saturday delivery.
We are delighted to announce that three of our Hermitage Cognacs range were awarded medals at the recent Spirits Business Cognac Masters Competition. Almost 40% of our Hermitage range now have a Masters or Gold Medal.
Our highly-prized Hermitage Cognac Marie Louise was presented with a Masters Medal in the Vintage - Single Estate category. The judges commented that “when a cognac is done well, it is exceptionally good at ageing”.
Gold Medals were also awarded to two other vintages. Our Hermitage 45 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac clearly wowed the judges as well as ourselves, as did the Hermitage 1958 Borderies Cognac. The judges particularly enjoyed the “toffee, tobacco and toast” aromas which led to “bread, peach and butterscotch” on the palate.