International Shipping to over 50 countries     |     Trade Customer?    Placing a large order?    Just need advice?    Please call +44(0) 1225 863988

  • How Did Double Distillation Become Part Of The Cognac Process?

    double distillationThere are all manner of theories, assumptions and legends relating to the actual birth of cognac. Many relate to Chevalier de la Croix Maron, an aristocratic wine taster and Lord of Segonzac. Legend has it that on returning home from the Crusades, he found his wife in bed with his neighbour. He shot them both. But afterwards Maron could not sleep as he was plagued by dreams of Satan coming from the dark and roasting him not once but twice over a fire. One night after waking from another roasting he sat on the edge of the bed, his fingers wound round a glass of his favourite drink, burnt wine. He wondered if this recurring nightmare might be a message from above.  Looking into his drink he asked his servants to distil the wine again and so provided it with a magical smoothness.  Another story tells of the Chevalier finding a hidden barrel of peasant brandy in the corner of his cellar. It was too crude for his aristocratic palate, so he ordered it to be distilled again.  The pure fruitiness of the double distilled brandy delighted him, and the practice of double distillation had begun.

    It is probable that the second story is nearer to the truth. The art of distillation was founded by the Moors as they travelled from the South through France. Originally, they distilled perfumes in pot stills, but they taught the peasants in Gascony how to distil their wines.  Using pots heated by wood fires they extracted the vapours and then allowed them to condense back into strong and fruity spirits.

    The Cognaçais also learnt the skills of distillation in order to prevent their wines from becoming rancid during the long journey along the Charente river to the port of La Rochelle.  On reaching their destination they were bartered for leather, timber and copper (which was used to make their burnt wines). Wines were also distilled to reduce their volume prior to shipping to foreign ports.  It was found that distilling them a second time not only reduced them further but also gave them a higher quality and finer taste.

    It is also said that Chevalier de la Croix Maron took some barrels of the double reduced wine, or brandy as we know it today, to the local monastery. The monks tried some but disliked its fiery taste. Years later they opened another barrel and found that the brandy had turned golden and the flavour had changed to be rich and fruity.  The benefits of barrel ageing had accidentally been discovered.  It seems that the Chevalier de la Croix Maron has much to answer for in the origins of cognac!

  • New Hermitage Cognac Vintages

    Hermitage Cognac VintagesWe are always looking for more fantastic, single estate cognacs with age-statements to add to our Hermitage Cognac Vintages range and these latest three are really amazing:

    Hermitage 1923 was produced in a year when Warner Brothers was established, Insulin was first used to treat Diabetes and the refrigerator became available to buy in Sweden.  This wonderful cognac is from Grande Champagne and has a fine and intense rancio, the result of more than 60 years in an oak barrel.

    Hermitage 1945 was harvested the year that marked the end of the second World War.  It is beautifully balanced with flavours of lychee, passion fruit, rosemary, cocoa and a long grapefruit tail.

    And finally we also have a new vintage from Petite Champagne; Hermitage 1969 is an unusually fine, balanced and well-aged cognac from the heart of this amazing, but lesser known cru.

  • Cognac Changes - it's Moving with the Times

    Cognac ChangesThe 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.

  • The Bottle Story - Laguille 2010 Bas Armagnac

    Armagnac producers Domaine Laguille have just released a Limited Edition of 350 bottles of their Laguille 2010 Bas Armagnac finished in a  whisky cask.  Following the latest trend by cognac producers to give their cognacs a ‘finish’, Laguille wants to show that even armagnac, the oldest French brandy of them all can move with the times.  Strict regulations state that armagnac must be aged in French oak – the oak barrel used had previously been used to age a peated scotch from the Isle of Mull.  The result is an armagnac with many of the peated notes associated with Scottish whisky.  It is hoped that this will appeal to different, younger audiences.  Laguille’s Commercial Director said “It’s now or never for armagnac.  It’s a time when people are looking for smaller productions and everyone speaks about craft.  It’s a moment that armagnac must not miss.  The problem with armagnac has never been the product.  The product is wonderful.  The problem is how to sell it and how to market it."

    The youngest vintage armagnac we sell is almost 20 years old and makes a good comparison:

  • The Price of Cognac History

    cognac historyM 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.

  • The Effect of the Cellar on Ageing Cognac

    CellarsWe place much emphasis on the ageing of cognacs as it is critically important that they gain the maximum maturity whilst in their oak casks. We have spoken before about the barrel size, shape and type of oak but the actual cellar chosen for storage is also vitally important.  The conditions of storage can make, or break, a fine cognac.

    French cellars used to house cognac are typically quite small, perhaps only housing a couple of hundred barrels.  Most are also old and damp, often old stores or farm buildings, perhaps old chapels or buildings that would normally be thought unsuitable for storing such valuable spirits.  Many do not even have a proper floor, just the earth, perhaps where animals have been kept during cold winter months, but it is these old buildings that provide the finest conditions for cognac ageing.

    Good barrel ageing extracts the useful substances from the oak barrels. Tannins form around 5% of these substances but others, including lignin and hemi-cellulose, are also useful.  As these substances gradually dissolve in the maturing spirit, they impart the agreeable sweetness found in some older cognacs. It is therefore very important that cognac spends as much time as possible in contact with these useful elements found in the wood.

    There is of course a limit as to how long these substances last in the relatively neutral oak barrels so it is important to ensure that the barrels are stored in the finest conditions.  The humidity of the old stores in the Charente ensures that the barrels are largely damp on the outside.  This prevents the smaller spirit molecules from escaping and retains them in the oak for a longer period.

    An agreeable climate in the Charente provides more suitable ambient storage in these old stores than in purpose made warehouses on other shores.  ‘Early landed’ cognacs are brandies which are stored in bonded warehouses abroad and have customs documents proving when they were made.  The provision of this additional storage may be an advantage but both the length of time the cognacs are stored and the conditions in bond may fall some way short of ideal.  Only by constant, expert monitoring can it be established when a cognac is ready for bottling and indeed if the storage conditions have allowed the cognac to gain the full benefit from the barrel.

    We hear of all sorts of ideas for brandy storage but whatever is happening on the outside of the barrel, there are only two factors which affect ageing inside: temperature and humidity.  It is the reaction of the old oak barrel and the cognac that will provide us with the finest cognacs.  It therefore seems strange to me that some brandy houses want to age their cognacs in unusual places. A rather well-known Norwegian house has chosen to age a barrel of their 40 year old cognac in a fort in the mouth of the Charentes for a few months “to see how maritime weather affects the finished product”. If the barrels are stored correctly and tightly sealed with a cork which is waxed over to prevent the ingress of air, what difference will the maritime weather make?

  • Mother's Day 2019 - Sunday 31st March

    Mother's DayMarch 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.

  • The Travel Retail Sector

    Travel Retail SectorCommonly 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 Importance of the Cognac Cellars

    Cognac CellarsThe 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.

  • The Charente Scene - Winter 2019

    Cognac regionOfficial 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.

31-40 of 519