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cognac

  • Cognac Grapes and Wine Grapes

    cognac grapesMost people associated with cognac are aware that we make it principally with a single grape variety, the Ugni Blanc.  Indeed, more than 80% of all cognacs are made only with this grape.  However, few people are aware that this is probably the world’s most widely planted grape due largely to its big harvests and reliability against disease and adverse weather conditions.  It produces fresh, fruity, very acidic and quite unremarkable wines often used as a base wine in blends.  The Ugni Blanc is also known in France as the St Emellion du Charente but in the rest of Europe it is best known as the Trebbiano Toscano.

    The Colombard is perhaps one of the more interesting grapes also used in cognac production. It was originally planted in South Africa and known as Colombar and is an offspring of the Chennin Blanc. Some of its many synonyms include Bardino Blanc, Bon Blanc, Chabrier Vert, Colombeau, Gros Blanc Roux, Red Tendre and Quene Vert.

    The last remaining of the old varieties still used in cognac is the Folle Blanche.  Today, it is only found in France in the regions of The Charente and Gascony but can also be found in Basque country under the name of Mune Mahatsa.  It is, like the Ugni Blanc, acidic and quite unremarkable as a wine.

    Although rarely seen these days, the other grape varieties that are permitted to be used in cognac production are Juranҫon, Blanc Ramé, Bouilleaux, Balzac Blanc and Chalosse.

  • Shipwrecked Cognac - 100 Years On

    shipwreckedIn 1917, SS Kyros set sail for St Petersburg from France.  As it approached Sweden, the cargo ship was sunk by a German submarine UC58.  For decades the ship was assumed lost but in 1999 it was discovered 77 metres below sea level having been damaged by fishing trawlers and trawl boards.  It took 20 years to clear the shipwrecked vessel for exploration, but it was worth the wait as hidden inside were 50 cases of cognac from De Haartman & Co.  An exciting and historical find from the time when Tsar Nicholas II was Emperor of Russia.  It is difficult to estimate the current condition of the cognac as this will, in part, be dependent on the bottle seals (see this month’s Technical Topic).  Interestingly, some bottles of 1890 champagne, which had spent over a century buried in wet chalk underground after a landslide, were recently opened.  At the tasting they were deemed “still pleasant to drink” so maybe there is some hope for the turn-of-the-century cognac yet?

  • The Charente Scene - Winter 2020 - BNIC Update

    BNIC UpdateTo meet the ever growing demand for cognac, an additional 10,000 hectares of vineyards will be planted over the next three years, according to a BNIC Update (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac).  Over 3000 hectares of vineyards will be planted each year to increase the production capacity of the winegrowing operations.  The BNIC has also launched its new website, designed to give Cognac a twist.  The aim of the website is to reveal cognac’s true modernity, its spirit of conquest and its dynamism by respecting a centuries-old history and roots in an authentic “terroir”.  For more information take a look at www.cognac.fr .  The region has also recently received a boost from the local authorities.  They have agreed that Cognac will become the leading city for luxury brand economic development.  Its purpose will be to encourage all luxury enterprises but specifically spirits production.

  • World And UK Spirits Alliance Formed

    UK Spirits AllianceAn international group has been formed to tackle issues experienced in the complex and changeable spirits industry.  Brexit, trade wars, counterfeiting and debilitating taxes are just a few of the problems that the World Spirits Alliance (WSA) is looking to address.  Comprising spirits companies and trade groups the WSA will represent the industry in front of international organisations such as the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations.  Just last month the UK launched its own Spirits Alliance with the aim of “protecting and nurturing the growth of UK spirits”.  Its immediate campaign is to stop any further increase of duty on UK spirits.  Currently the government states that spirits duty will go up by the retail price index (RPI) in this year’s Budget.  This is extremely disappointing as 65% of the nation’s distillers have reported increased sales of spirits since chancellor Philip Hammond froze spirits duty in the 2018 Autumn Budget. Spirit duty rates in the UK have increased from £21.35 per litre of pure alcohol in 2008 to £28.74 in 2019, the fourth highest rate in Europe and one of the highest rates in the world. The price of a bottle of cognac sold at 40%abv, such as Hermitage 2005, therefore includes £8.05 duty.  A spokesperson for the UK Spirits Alliance said: “From Inverness to Penderyn, spirits producers across the country are joining up to back the campaign to fix duty”.

  • The Charente Scene - Autumn 2019

    Autumn 2019The Charentais have returned from their holidays confident in the knowledge that last years’ exports of cognac reached record highs.  They are now busy worrying about when they can start the cognac harvest. The weather has been good and the vines have ripened well, the sun is shining and there is every prospect of another good harvest in Autumn 2019. Harvesting machines are at the ready and the grapes have been tested for their pH and sugar content, so what’s stopping them?  Well, for one cognac producer, the discovery of 140 million year old dinosaur bones under the vines of his vineyard near Angeac has resulted in a group of scientists moving in.  It is believed that the bones are from one of the biggest dinosaurs ever found in France and are just a little older than the oldest Hermitage cognac currently available on the market!

  • Why Is Cognac So Popular In China?

    ChinaWhile Baijiu is the undisputed national spirit of China, cognac is the drink of choice for the country’s elite imbiber.  This tradition started about 200 years ago when Shanghai became a treaty port and some of the first companies to take advantage, were cognac producers.  In traditional China, drinking, eating, and socialising are all closely tied together and the tendency is for cognac to be consumed neat and in large quantities. There is frequent toasting during which everyone participating is expected to empty their glass or else they will lose face.  Cognac isn’t served in snifters, but in small shot glasses or teacups and a Chinese saying directs that it should be drunk ‘as if it were water’.  In general, it is the ‘old school’ Chinese who have made it such a popular drink.  They are traditional in their habits and interests, taking long, slow lunchtimes and playing Mahjong.  The Chinese also care as much about the packaging as they do the liquid inside the bottle.  The revealing of a very elaborate and fancy-looking bottle shows respect for their relationships with a group.  With cognac now ingrained into so many aspects of their culture, it is not surprising that this French product has become such a mainstay of Chinese life.  However, if this enormous demand is to be sustained, the younger generations need to get as excited about the spirit as the old-school set, and that’s a problem that has yet to be solved.

  • National Cognac Day - 4th June

    National Cognac DayDid you know it was National Cognac Day last month?  A relatively new addition to the annual calendar and originating in the United States of America, it is celebrated on the 4th of June.  As with all popular, American activities it has become a worldwide event, so mark it in your diary ready for 2020! This year Jeanne O’Brien Coffey came up with 5 reasons to drink cognac and we pretty much agree with all of them:

    1. It takes a lot of time and money to produce fine cognac which is why it tastes so good.  2. There is a cognac for every palate.  3.  It’s cocktail-friendly (but we do not recommend using our vintages for this)! 4. It pairs with everything and can be drunk at any time of the day. 5. It has a unique flavour profile with a myriad of flavours in a single bottle.

  • Sediment in Cognac

    The cognac industry is quite touchy about the appearance of a bottle of cognac.  In the world of high value spirits, sediment is not desirable as it can either lie on the bottom of the bottle or cause cloudiness of the spirit. But is it really a problem?

    sediment in cognacWell, we all understand that cognac is aged in oak casks.  Initially it is put into new ones and then, after about 6 – 12 months, it is transferred into old ones.  When the casks are new, they are toasted to destroy the harmful tannins in the wood.  At this stage, only the good tannins are available in the wood allowing the cognacs to develop their colour and flavour. Many cognac producers will ask for a specific grade of barrel toasting to suit the desired quality of the finished cognac. Repeated use of the new barrels means that over time, they will become old barrels and so used for long term cognac storage.  However, as the tannins in the wood are used up, the inside surface of the barrel will gradually degrade leaving a cloudiness in the cognac.

    The level of cloudiness will depend on the age and size of the barrel, the type of oak used and the level of toasting initially agreed between the cooper and distiller. The strength and cru of the cognac are also factors.  Cognacs produced from the Champagnes mature more slowly than those from other crus.  The spirit remains stronger in the barrel for longer, producing a cloudy effect and in some cases, containing minute particles from inside the barrel.  As a result, older cognacs, which may have been in their barrels for 40, 50, 60 or more years, may have levels of sediment in them and must be filtered. In most cases, sediment appears at the tail end of the barrel and because it can be very fine, can be missed when bottling. No producer wants to see sediment of any level in his cognac although it is harmless and will gradually settle in the bottle over time.

    When filtering is used to remove the sediment it can be costly as it is slow and some of the cognac is lost during the process. All cognacs do have a minute solids content which is not visible but is part of the cognac.  But remember, the longer it has been in the barrel the finer the cognac will be!

  • 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.

  • Mother's Day and Spring Celebrations

    March has lots of reasons to celebrate. The Celts can enjoy St David’s Day or St Patrick’s Day with daffodils and shamrocks symbolising the onset of spring. This floral theme is perfect also to celebrate International Women’s Day and of course Mother's Day on 26th March. All our March Offers have floral tones too - Raymond Ragnaud 35 Grande Champagne Cognac has been aged for 35 years and developed magnificent floral and rich, woody qualities. The visually stunning Pomme Captive Calvados has aromas of green apple, geranium and mint whilst the 5 year old Pineau des Charentes Rosé from Bertrand fills the air with a sweet aroma of rose hips.

    Fabulous gifts for those wanting to buy something extra special with just a hint of flowers.

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