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  • Put A Cork In It!

    We tend to take the humble wine cork for granted but it is, in many cases, the critical factor in preserving our wines and spirits.  It protects them from the air outside their glass containers and preserves the qualities of the valuable nectars which are stored within. Many people will argue that synthetic or metal screw top closures are more effective and in the cheaper ranges, particularly of wines, they probably are.  Connoisseurs, however, still believe that natural cork has an important role to play.

    cork oak tree

    Cork is the bark of the Quercus suber or “cork oak” tree.  A medium-sized, evergreen oak that covers millions of hectares in Spain, Portugal and North Africa.  Unlike the frenzied yearly cycle of the wine industry, the evergreen oaks move like sloths, slowly expanding and growing the bark, known as orange bark. The cork oaks are first stripped of their bark 20 years after they are planted.  They are then shaved of their bark every 9 years after that for up to 200 years. The date of the last harvest is marked on each tree. The first layer is known as “virgin” cork and is used to make articles of home decoration and granulated cork for insulation. Only when the third layer is removed can it be used for making cork stoppers.

    corks

     

    On a cellular level, cork looks like a honeycomb of air pockets. These pockets make cork both watertight and fire resistant which is why it works so well to age wine.  Its molecular structure makes watertight seals easily but also lets tiny bits of air move in or out allowing the flavour and aroma to evolve and become more complex over time. This evolution can take many years but beware, whilst water molecules pass quite slowly through cork, spirit molecules are much smaller and pass through more quickly.  It is for this reason that many older cognacs always have a wax seal over the cork.  Natural ageing of cognacs must be in sealed containers as the gradual loss of alcohol can, over many decades, cause the spirit to degrade to such an extent that it can become completely undrinkable.

     

    The microcellular structure of cork enables it to retain its flexibility and elasticity so always remember to put the cork back in the bottle after use.  Also, never let the contents of your spirits bottle come into contact with the cork since this will degrade its structure more rapidly.

  • Armagnac XO Definition Changed

    Armagnac XOThe Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (BNIA) has increased the minimum age requirement for Armagnac XO from 6 to 10 years, in line with a recent change to the cognac definition (see previous news story).  The regulatory body said that it hopes the changes will help to raise the “value of the appellation” and emphasise the “real differences” between its classifications.  The minimum age of an armagnac (and cognac) is now as follows:

    VS                                                                3+ years

    VSOP                                                          4+ years

    Napoleon                                                  6+ years

    XO                                                              10+ years

  • Trellising Vines in Armagnac

    Trellising in ArmagnacJust 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.

  • The Bottle Story - Comandon 2012 Cognac

    Comandon 2012 CognacThis 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 - Summer 2018

    storm damage in the Cognac RegionThe 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.

  • Changes to the Cognac Appellation?

    new grape varieties?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’.

  • Enjoying Pineau des Charentes This Summer

    Pineau des CharentesPineau 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.

  • Ageing Larsen Cognac At Sea

    Fort BoyardAnother 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.

  • New Look Website - Brandyclassics

    new websiteAt 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.

  • Brandy Bottle Valuation

    Brandy Bottle ValuationWe 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.

    1887 Favraud

    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.

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