The American Chemical Society has identified a few compounds, not previously known, which contribute to an aged cognac’s complex aromas. Using cognacs ranging from about 10 – 50 years old, a combination of gas chromatography/olfactometry and mass spectrometry separated, smelled and identified their various components. Of the many found, several terpenoids (which give wine its floral notes) were identified for the first time. A sensory panel then looked at how, when mixed, these cognac compounds contributed to ageing aromas eg they found that whisky lactone and β-damascenone enhanced the sensation of a mix of terpenes found in aged distillates but not in younger ones. The report suggests that these findings could help producers develop cognacs with better flavours, although it only refers to blended cognacs. So, our single cask Hermitage Cognacs will continue to receive their wonderful aromas and flavours from the oak.
Over the years we have built many relationships with suppliers and friends in the Charente and particularly in Grande Champagne. Although it is some months since we have been able to travel to France, we still talk frequently to them by phone and they, like ourselves, are having to cope with the difficulties that the coronavirus has created this Spring. Cognac producers and bottlers are having to prove that they are producing to get paid as the French authorities are worried about the cost to the country. Talking to one organisation, their concern is the receipt of orders as much of their business comes from the Far East. However, they are delighted to have received their first orders from Taiwan and Japan. Delivering orders is another challenge as European distribution organisations are finding that crossing borders takes longer than usual. All the big houses are continuing to bottle and ship cognac, except Hennessy. Their employees have gone on strike for safer working conditions. The industry has so far lost sales of over a million cases which of course has affected the side industries such as barrel producers and bottle suppliers. And if these problems were not enough, many producers woke up at the beginning of March to a covering of snow! The air force base in Cognac has also been helping during the crisis; 2000 extra staff have been taken on to ship food in and in some cases, cognac out. So, if things get desperate, we can always ask for direct supplies from Cognac to be parachuted in!!!
As most of you know, I spend a great deal of my time tasting cognacs because as a company we believe that every cognac must be perfect for its intended type of customer. But being perfect doesn’t necessarily mean it is the cognac which excels in taste above all others. The simple truth is that a cognac which I may consider is the best cognac may not be the same one that you like because our palates have become accustomed, over time, to different taste characteristics which our brains have accepted as good.
Perhaps the term ‘taste characteristics’ is one to associate with fine cognacs; they will differ from one cognac to another and in most producers’ opinions, their own will be better than any other available. This is not surprising as producers spend their lifetime tasting their own cognacs, few ever venture onto another producer’s patch and few have any idea of how to compare their own production with that of their neighbours.
So, how do you know what is good and what perhaps is not so good? Well, when you have tasted thousands of different brandies you get to know when you have a really good cognac in your glass. As a professional cognac taster, I am looking for a number of different qualities. I look at the colour and how the cognac hangs on the glass, but the first real test of quality comes with the complexity of its aroma and if those aromas can be translated into taste. Finally, and perhaps the most important criteria of all is its balance; the need to maximise flavour whilst minimising the fieriness of the cognac.
The actual taste element of a cognac is personal as we all have different ideas about what we like. You might think I am lucky getting to taste so many expensive cognacs but don’t be fooled into thinking that if a cognac is expensive it is good. Even these can have sugar added as it softens a cognac but, it also gives a sort of false sweetness. On the other hand, a cognac which has been in a barrel for 50 or 60 years develops its richness naturally, the effect is known as ‘Rancio’. This is a very desirable but rare effect as most cognacs available today have been aged for less than 10 years old.
So, I hear you say, what is the best cognac? Well, I’ll tell you my favourite. It is a cognac which I found 4 or 5 years ago, not a million miles from our office near Segonzac, in the heart of Grande Champagne. It has aged in oak for more than 60 years and has come from a family’s private cellar. We have the privilege of selling it under the Hermitage label; it is expensive but not as expensive as other so-called luxury cognacs. It is perfectly balanced, complex in aroma and flavour, has a rich ‘rancio’ and won the Cognac Masters Best Cognac 2018. We call it ‘Marie Louise’.
The results are out! We entered 4 of our ever-expanding range of Grande Champagne cognacs into The Spirits Business Cognac Masters this year and came away with 2 x GOLD medals and 2 x MASTER medals. These could be our best results yet.
GOLD medals were awarded to:
MASTER Medals were awarded to:
Hermitage 40 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac - “Wonderfully complex” Judges comments and Hermitage Eleanor 60 + Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac “Stunning palate … long finish” Judges comments. Price and availability of Hermitage Eleanor in on application.
The level of Duty imposed on alcohol purchases is always a hot topic. Before the recent UK budget, a group of WSTA SMEs wrote to the chancellor asking for a 2% cut in order to help small British companies, like Hermitage Cognacs, invest and grow. Currently the UK has some of the highest alcohol taxes in the world. As we now know, Rishi Sunak did not cut alcohol duty but neither did he increase it by the proposed 2.2%. Something to be thankful for especially since earlier in the year, some UK health organisations were lobbying the government to put Duty up by 2 % above inflation. They argued that alcohol places an undue burden on public services so the extra funds collected could be used to boost the number of nurses or policemen. One really hopes that following the Covid-19 crisis the public will be far more aware of the effect of unnecessarily burdening our public services.
◊◊ Not only was 2019 a record year with the number of new Hermitage Cognac vintages that we took into stock, the range was also awarded an unprecedented number of GOLD Medals. The Winter 2019 medals were received from the Global Luxury Spirits Masters in November, for Hermitage Grande Champagne 1995 and 1923 Cognacs.
◊◊ We have started the new decade with yet more new arrivals which will be much sought after by those celebrating a 50th or 100th anniversary this year. Hermitage 1920 Grande Champagne Cognac was distilled 100 years ago and our new Hermitage 50 Year Old Petite Champagne Cognac is presented at 41%abv.
◊◊ It has also been a good couple of months for Hermitage Cognacs in the press. Articles in The Sunday Telegraph Luxury Supplement, The Mail on Sunday’s Event Magazine and the Evening Standard just before Christmas kept us busier than ever. David was also featured heavily in The Drinks Business and Harpers talking about the surge in interest for pre-Phylloxera cognacs. You can read more here.
◊◊ Our latest tasting session, at 67 Pall Mall, show cased some of the oldest cognacs in our catalogue.
After the festivities of Christmas and New Year’s Eve it is time to look to the year ahead, 2020.
We are always on the lookout for interesting cognac vintages from the top crus and the latest additions are no exception. We have many celebration, cognac vintages ending in a zero for those turning 30, 40, 50 years old and so on.. and we are very excited to announce we now have one for centenarians. Hermitage 1920 Grande Champagne Cognac was distilled a hundred years ago before being aged for over 70 years in oak casks. The result is spectacular.
We also have a new Hermitage 50 Year Old. Originating in Petite Champagne it is presented at 41% abv to ensure optimum balance. Big birthdays this year just got a whole lot easier!
This year we have had an amazing number of new Hermitage Vintage Cognacs added to the range. We have been thrilled to find so many exquisite and unique cognacs packed with wonderful aromas and flavours for you to enjoy. Many are now Gold medal winners as blind judging panels across the globe have also recognised their superior qualities.
We have not had the chance to tell you about these three yet:
Hermitage Paradis 1893 Grande Champagne Cognac. This was an extremely lucky find as it is regarded by many as one of the finest vintages to come from this important period.
Hermitage 1970 Fins Bois Cognac. It is rare to find cognacs from the Fins Bois in the Hermitage range but this one is special.
Hermitage 1991 Grande Champagne Cognac. Our last 1991 vintage ran out so we were delighted to find such a magnificent replacement with this one from Chez Richon.
In many ways, the concept of a fine cognac is down to the taster’s perception based on what he has tasted in the past and the flavours to which he has become accustomed in his daily life. But defining those flavours is secondary to understanding what is required of a cognac in order to describe the various properties that bring that flavour about. However, it is probably fair to say that we all like smooth and individual cognac flavours, uninterrupted by other, less desirable properties such as aggressiveness, bland flavours and overpowering sweetness caused by syrups. When judging cognac professionally, the key skill is understanding of the desirable and not so desirable properties that can be found in it. Excluding the initial considerations of colour and aroma, my first consideration is the balance, followed by the complexity and concentration and depth of flavour. All of these are critical in defining what we seek to provide; award winning cognacs.
A cognac that is unbalanced has many aggressive and fiery qualities that hide the style and flavour. In some cases, it may be very difficult to create balance as this is usually created by long ageing in the barrel where it gently mellows. Young cognacs will not have developed flavour nor had time for the alcohol to reduce naturally, so will not be balanced. Where this happens, additives are used to hide the strength but, they also add sweetness to the brandy.
The term “complexity” is often taken negatively. In fact, it refers to a very varied mix of flavours which develop as a result of the reaction between the wood (tannins) and the alcohol in the cognac. Over time, more and more flavours will develop but it is not enough to just have a wide range of flavours, we also look for depth and concentration. It is the depth of the cognac that provides us with the most exciting tastes which are often referred to as “Rancio”. This is a richness but also an intense mustiness that one might associate with an old Madeira wine.
Much of what we do here at Hermitage is to seek out cognacs with all these characteristics. We look to achieve Gold Medals with all we supply but it is not easy as the availability of cognacs which meet this high level of perfection is very limited. Our cognacs are at the very top of the luxury group, there are other groups with much lower standards, many being associated with generic blends and we judge them on a completely different level. There will be good cognacs at every level but there comes a point which is difficult to exceed.
Across our website we have very special gift ideas and presents for all years of birth but these latest vintage cognacs to arrive in the Hermitage range will be perfect for those celebrating 50, 70 or 80 years in 2020.
From the top cru, Grande Champagne, comes Hermitage 1940 Cognac. A beautifully balanced amber nectar, with aromas of chestnuts and truffles, it was produced in the year Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister and ordered the Dunkirk Evacuation. Also from Grande Champagne comes Hermitage 1950 Cognac - a real joy to taste with flavours including plum crumble with a blood orange peel finish.
Hermitage 1970 Fins Bois Cognac was harvested in the year Concorde made its first supersonic flight. It is rare to find cognacs from the Fins Bois in the Hermitage range but this one is really very special.