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.
There are many producers of cognac in the legal production area of France known as The Charentes and Charentes Maritime. Each one of them, quite naturally, believes that their cognacs are the best. The truth, however, is rather different. Producers don’t advertise their presence so most have probably only ever tasted different cognacs in bars and restaurants. Indeed, I have spoken to some producers who didn’t even know that they had a distillery next door. This lack of local industry awareness has, over the years, resulted in the development of our own cognac quality control.
There are of course standards to which all cognac houses must rigidly adhere. Variations in the product occur naturally with changes in the terroir, vines, distillation, cellars etc. These changes can dramatically change the quality of each cognac. As a rule, the higher the cru, the better the cognac, but one cannot rely on this as a guarantee of quality.
As negoçiants we try to limit the cognacs we buy to those produced in the top cru, Grande Champagne. Here, hundreds of cognacs are produced, and each has a different taste, age, style, colour, method of production, ageing process, strength and balance. On top of that, our customers have varying tastes and needs and we try to accommodate them all. Finding the right cognacs is objective since we have our own cognac quality control standards which we have developed over the years. These standards are not necessarily subjective however, since more than a third of all our cognacs have won gold medals or above in cognac competition.
Making sure that our customers really do get the best means that, after we have decided on a potential cognac, we still need to do several tests. The first is of course tasting. It is difficult to say how many cognacs we taste but on some days, it may be twenty or even thirty, others, maybe only one or two. One tends to gather considerable experience when tasting many different cognacs. Then we check the cognac for balance which means balancing the fieriness against flavour. Sometimes we need to reduce the cognac slightly which in some cases take quite a long time. We also check it for sediment as some distillers don’t filter their cognacs before we receive them at our bottling plant. The alcohol level is also tested as legally, this must be quoted on the label. This process also involves checking the level of obscuration (factors which mask the true alcohol content). There is always some natural obscuration which cannot be avoided but in modern blends, the addition of sugar and caramel increases the level considerably.
We really do try hard to provide our customers with the very best and we are proud of our collection of Hermitage Cognacs. Being a small, artisan producer is a huge benefit to everybody. If we were big, we would have to blend to supply cognacs with more commercial affordability. Each cognac would lose its individuality and we would probably have to rely on younger cognacs to produce the required quantity. We know Hermitage is always the best cognac available for our customers’ needs but it can be difficult to easily communicate that with every bottle we sell.
Not every cognac house has a Paradis – a designated area in the innermost recess of their cellar – but those that exist are steeped in history. Back in the early eighties, having discovered a cognac which I really liked, I went to the Charente to try and discover its origin. I ended up in Cognac’s twin town, Jarnac, standing in front of an elegant wrought iron gate with an imposing key. Behind it were about 100 very dusty bonbonnes, each with a chalk board describing what was in them. What an eye opener - they contained cognacs which dated from as early as 1805. Each bonbonne (a sort of demijohn in a basket), contained about 30 litres of prized spirits and was sealed with wax to maintain its superior qualities.
Many cognac families select a few of their finest cognacs for storage in the Paradis. The point when a cognac has gained all the benefit it can from the wood depends on many factors but ultimately, it is when the cellar master decides that it has reached its optimum quality. At this stage the cognac is put into glass bonbonnes and sealed so that the generations of gentle maturation in the barrel are preserved. A cognac that has lasted in oak without deterioration for perhaps 60, 70, 80 or even 90 years is going to be good, very good and will have developed the much sought after rancio.
There is little doubt that these cognacs will be superb masterpieces and truly exceptional amongst other cognacs, perhaps worthy only of paradise – the English translation of Paradis. I am sure that these fine old nectars should be preserved and locked away until their greatness can be recognised by true connoisseurs. The Angels have had their 'share', what’s left is worthy of far higher. If, when you next visit the Cognac region you visit an old cognac producer, ask if you can taste a cognac from their Paradis. If such a request is granted, savour it. The cognacs in the Paradis will be the very finest that the house has ever made. If, on the other hand, your request is denied, try our Hermitage Marie Louise. It’s a very fine example and has already won a number of very prestigious awards.