Why is it that cognac attracts so many rappers to promote its cause? Maybe they are attracted to the meticulous craft it embodies or the respect it commands in the spirits world? Courvoisier recently launched a new campaign starring American rapper A$AP Rocky. Called ‘Honour Your Code’ it embodies the brand’s values of ‘dedication, vision and respect for tradition’. “I think your code is equivalent to your standards and your morals. It’s whatever you believe in and you should always stand by it.” said A$AP Rocky. It was a similar view that drew Jay-Z to Château de Cognac 6 years ago. His proposition to create a new blend that would not only honour the region’s history but push the boundaries of traditional consumption resulted in the production and partial ownership of D’ussé Cognac. So, these rap artists’ foray into the world of cognac not only helps to expose the spirit to a younger audience, they associate it with many traditional values. More recently Jay-Z has been involved in the Hurricane Maria relief effort. D’Ussé cognac was given away to all those donating items or money to the fund. Now that is community spirited!
Thankfully the Brexit talks finally seem to be getting somewhere as for the wine and spirits trade, no deal will be a bad deal. The representative body of the EU drinks industry has called upon the EU and UK to agree to a ‘gold standard agreement’ and so minimise the Brexit Effect. This will preserve tariff-free trade for wines and spirits to ensure fair competition and consumers’ confidence. A good outcome if agreed, but it is unlikely to be secured by March 2019.
In contrast, a positive forecast comes from the Travel Retail sector. This term emerged when duty-free shopping within the EU was abolished 18 years ago. Suddenly, the well-known British practice of hopping across the Channel to stock up on duty-free goods had gone. And as a consequence, a substantial amount of business was lost. So, when the UK exits the EU on 29 March 2019, this market should be reinstated. The UK will become a ‘third country’. Under current EU law, European travellers can take advantage of duty-free sales if travelling to a third country. However, for UK travellers to also benefit, a change in UK law will be required. The UK Travel Retail Forum are lobbying hard for this and very strong support has been received from the spirits industry. That said, we would still prefer to see a free trade agreement in place.
The cognac wheel that was introduced by the BNIC has proved to be an ideal source of information when considering aromas from a given cognac or brandy. It divides aromas into seasons considering each in terms of: Spring delicacy, Summer fullness, Autumn richness and the hardness of Winter. Flavours can be defined in a similar manner but perhaps with more defined headings. For years I have considered cognac tastes as falling into 4 different categories. The definitions are more easily defined than those of aromas. Of course, there are thousands of different perceptions of flavour which are recognised in the tastes of cognac. I have taken some of the flavours which have the widest description of each taste. My 4 brandy and cognac taste categories are: Fruit, Savoury, Sweet & Rich, and Nuts & Spice. These can be subdivided to help identify the most likely descriptions of brandy flavours. Tasting brandies can be subjective. This list is designed to provide a level objectivity with which to identify different cognac flavours.
The Mail on Sunday's drinks writer and well known TV personality, Olly Smith, has featured a few products from the Brandyclassics website in his column over recent months. He began with recommending our Hermitage Provenance 10 Cognac for Bonfire Night suggesting that one should "Dive into this liquid flame, whose quality will set your very soul alight". He is not the only one to enjoy this wonderful cognac. It has been flying off our shelves ever since!
With Christmas approaching Olly moved into our Armagnac range. Firstly he advocated the ever popular Delord 20 Year Old Bas Armagnac describing it as his Top Pick - "plums and almonds rolled in cinnamon, the scent of sheer Christmas!". A long time favourite of ours this Armagnac is pleasingly presented in a green basquaise bottle.
And finally last weekend, he chose to feature our Blanche de Cassagnoles. A white armagnac from the Tenareze region it has beautiful prune flavours despite the water-clear appearance. Ideal for Christmas cocktails, flambés and other sorts of cooking.
Our latest release, Hermitage Cognac Marie Louise, is a 60-Year-Old Grande Champagne from one of the region’s top artisan producers. This astonishing creation has been described as “lining one’s mouth with velvet” and is a precious and rare investment. At 43% abv it has all the complex aromas and flavours one would expect from such a well-aged cognac.
It is offered in a limited first run of 50 one litre decanters produced by Cumbria Crystal. They are the last producer of completely hand-blown and hand-cut, full-lead luxury English crystal in the UK. The intensity and depth of flavours created by its careful distillation and ageing have created a masterpiece of smoothness and an intensely rich rancio found only in the rarest of cognacs. This truly great cognac is named after Marie Louise, the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. She bore his son who was given the title 'Roi de Rome' and who later became Napoleon II.
Our finest release to date, Hermitage Cognac Marie Louise made it into the Saturday Telegraph two months in a row. Initially, on 4 November, Victoria Moore wrote a fascinating piece about our MD, David Baker, Hermitage Cognacs and of course Cognac Marie Louise. On 2 December she included details of the wonderful 60 plus year old cognac in the Luxury supplement.
Hermitage Cognac Marie Louise is available from Hedonism Wines, Corney and Barrow, Chelsea Vintners and our Brandyclassics website and is proving to be a real hit this Christmas.
The taste of any drink or food differs from one taster to another so it is difficult to be precise on an interpretation of flavour. However, most people do understand general flavours that they regularly experience. For example, milk, coffee, orange and tea are all daily experiences but defining any one of these flavours is daunting. Perhaps even more so, is the conversion of aroma to taste. For example, we often describe a cognac as oak flavoured. We may have tasted oak-smoked salmon but how do we explain the taste of oak by itself? Much of what we taste can be described by our perception of the aroma but even this can be misleading. Many people are put off drinking gin by the aroma but when tasted, perhaps with tonic, their perception of the taste changes.
Several years ago the BNIC produced a cognac aroma wheel. It has often been used to help describe flavour but it includes such aromas as wild carnations, oak moss and cigar box. Converting that into taste is complicated so we try and use more familiar tastes. In desperation, however, we have resorted to many continental flavours such as rambutan, mangosteen and kumquats. We also use some old English flavours such as medlar, marrow and thyme. Sometimes, when tasting cognac the flavours will change. This is particularly true of cognacs from the top cru, Grande Champagne. Here we often find nutty, rich fruity flavours which tail off to leave citrus flavours of orange or grapefruit peel. These flavours often mature after many years to provide a much desired 'rancio' effect. This is probably best explained as a type of maderisation. It has a slightly musty but rich, pineapple syrup and roasted nut flavour that lasts on the palate.
If flavours are difficult to describe, some of the jargon used in the professional tasting world can be almost unintelligible. We talk about 'the nose' when describing an aroma, 'a finish' when considering how the flavour ends in the mouth or 'a tail' when we consider how a flavour extends to the finish. The term 'flatness' is used when the cognac is largely neutral in flavour and when sugar has been added, it is identified as being 'sticky'. 'Oily' is used to describe water in cognac that hasn't mixed properly with the spirit and 'dead' when all you can taste are the additives.
Many years ago I was asked by a famous cognac author to describe the flavour of a cognac that has 'gone off'. This describes a cognac where most of the alcohol has evaporated and a watery and mouldy residue is left. After a lot of consideration, I told him that it was rather like drinking water in which you have washed some dirty old leather boots! He laughed like a drain and included it in his last book as another way of accounting for taste. I should add that I have only ever tasted this effect a handful of times in 30 or 40 years of tasting. Should you ever be in doubt about a cognac's suitability for drinking, do not worry. There is never any doubt about one that has gone off!
Next month we will try and explore as many flavours as possible.
Our range of Hermitage Cognacs is ever increasing so we have designed some new cognac presentations to suit.
The latest addition is a bespoke presentation box for our extremely popular Hermitage Cognac Café 20 - the perfect accompaniment to coffee, it can also be enjoyed at any time of the day. The Café 20 now comes packaged in a 'wedgewood' blue box depicting early 20th century French café culture.
Our Hermitage 20 Year Old Grande Champagne and Hermitage 30 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognacs are both supplied in the extremely elegant 'Helios' carafe. Their new presentation box features the Alembic still, an iconic symbol of the cognac production process.
We hope you like them too.
The name 'Hardy Legend 1863' sounds as if it is an exceedingly valuable pre-Phylloxera cognac from the nineteenth century. (The Phylloxera outbreak swept through French vineyards in about 1875). Cognacs produced before this time were made with Folle Blanche and Colombard grapes. Today they are extremely rare and valuable. The name of this new, US release refers to the year the firm Hardy was established. The bottle contains cognac aged for up to 12 years and is a blend of Petite Champagne and Borderies. It is made from the more modern Ugni Blanc grapes. Still a family firm, A Hardy has been around a long time. This bottle costs about £50 so do not be duped into thinking it is a bargain from years ago - our pre-Phylloxera cognacs retail at £6000 upwards. Compare it also to our single estate, Grande Champagne 10 Year Old Cognac, Hermitage Provenance 10, which is priced at just £46 a bottle.
The 2017 International Wine & Spirits Competition held in London this summer revealed how our drinking tastes are evolving, reports The Telegraph. Expert spirits writer Neil Ridley says that our understanding of what we are drinking is constantly improving and he named the top 5 trends to look out for. One of those is the slow but steady rise in demand for French spirits. The increase in Armagnac popularity is particularly evident. "It is a misunderstood French brandy with huge amounts of history and provenance. It sits somewhere between single malt whisky and cognac and has a lot to offer a connoisseur or someone new. You can find amazing, aged armagnacs at a fraction of the price of an aged whisky or rum" says Ridley. It certainly matches our experience that vintage armagnacs are becoming increasingly popular. Of course, this means that the prices are gradually increasing too.
We have most Armagnac vintages from 1930 - 1994 and a few others too.
This summer, the Pineau des Charentes Committee launched its first marketing campaign in the US. Americans, already enjoy the truly craft, French cognac so are expected to embrace this little-known relative. Pineau des Charentes is produced exclusively in the French Charentes region and gained the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée status in 1945. There are now about 500 producers. Pineau is made by adding freshly pressed grapes to newly distilled cognac eau-de-vie, at a ratio of about 3:1. It must be aged in oak for at least a year and can be white or rosé. Some producers, such as Chateau de Beaulon, still refer to their pineau as red. Made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes, it is ruby red in colour, rather than pink.
While Pineau is fruity and light, Old and Vintage Pineau offer a complex mix of flavours such as nuts, honey and dried fruits. An artisanal, authentic drink, Pineau des Charentes is completely natural with no sugar added. It combines the fruitiness of wine with the warmth of cognac and is best served cold. Try it as an aperitif, in a cocktail or as a dessert wine.