In 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?
very old cognac
Fine wine brokers turn to spirits as Trump duty levies bite
David Baker, Managing Director at Hermitage Cognacs, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of fine and rare cognacs, has noted a real upsurge in interest, demand and sales for Pre-phylloxera era cognacs.
Phylloxera, the aphid which devastated the vineyards of Europe - including its most famous regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy - from around 1863, led to vines being grafted onto American rootstocks which were resistant to it. There was considerable debate In the decades that followed and into the 20th Century as to whether quality of the wines produced after the vine-grafting was quite as high.
Brandies produced from Pre-phylloxera vines are increasingly rare and, according to Baker, becoming very sought after in recent years. The threat to exports of French wines, and single malt Scotch whiskies, to the US due to the US Government’s latest duty tariffs is also encouraging dealers and collectors to look for other liquids to buy.
“As well as our established market in single-estate cognacs of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, we’re now seeing a real surge in demand for cognacs from the mid and early 20th century, even some from the nineteenth century and before the Phylloxera. Many merchants are worried about the impact of US duty on imports of champagne, wine and whisky into America, and are looking to other spirits to replace that. At the moment cognacs seem to have escaped the duty hikes. In Asia too, especially Singapore, we’re getting greater interest for the oldest Premier cru vintages.
Baker continues: “Many of the Pre-phylloxera cognacs we have supplied this year come from very old estates, some where cognac production may have ceased years ago. The interest and historic value they hold is driving demand, and we are having to scour the cellars of the region for more rare bottles.
“Moreover, modern cognacs are made on bigger stills where volume is important, some of the finest cognacs come from the last half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries where family producers had little pressure to produce high cognac volumes.”
Hermitage Cognacs have a great pedigree in supplying very old cognacs – just two years ago an 1805 Cognac Massougnes supplied by them sold through Hedonism Wines in London for over £220,000.
Find out more at hermitagecognac.com
Craft Vintage Cognacs are rare and finding them is a specialist business as they are unique, and the level of luxury sought is only found in a few of the very finest and oldest cognac firms. Vintage Premier Cru cognacs are in extremely limited supply. Very good, award-winning cognacs are even more rare which is why Hermitage Premier Cru Vintages are not generally available in the wider volume markets. The secret is to find the cellars that still house some of the oldest and rarest nectars still in existence. Many of them belong to families who have, for generations, been producing cognacs. These cognacs have been allowed to gradually mature through the ages, masterpieces forgotten in time. Each special vintage is highly valuable and sealed in glass to preserve its greatness and value for future generations - a superb cognac investment.
Today, increasing demand in the rapidly growing cognac market means that single estate vintages from the top crus are largely swallowed up into generic blends of indeterminate age and quality, their youthfulness obscured by syrups and caramel additives. Less is kept back by individual producers for the family cellars and much of that which is retained, is sold at a relatively early age.
Recent sales of some rare vintages have only served to highlight the value of old vintage cognacs. Prices of more than £200k a bottle were achieved on two occasions and we have seen other mouth-watering prices being paid. But not only have the prices of early pre-Phylloxera cognacs increased, so have the prices of more recent vintages and well-aged cognacs of 60 – 80 years as their availability decreases. It is clear to the experienced cognac specialist that availability of the older ages is on the decline with some of the ‘grand marques’ supplied by the big houses already using lower aged cognacs from lesser crus in their blends. Over the last 5 - 10 years, we have also seen the prices of some well-known commercial cognacs double. Bottles of Remy Louis XIII, which doesn’t even have an age statement, sold for about £1200 six or seven years ago but can now fetch more than £2500. Richard Hennessy sold with a trade price in 2017 of around £1500 sells today at £3500 again, it has no age statement. Clearly this is working to the producers’ advantage as the cognac barrel ages are almost certainly in decline.
Premier cru cognacs from the Champagnes are slow in ageing and naturally aged cognacs from this area will take fifty or more years in cask to develop their natural qualities. Some form of age statement will provide the clearest indication of quality, and therefore value, since age and value are inextricably linked. It is little wonder that clients with larger disposable assets are now investing in these extremely rare, older vintage cognacs. The time to do this is now for we do not know how much longer will we continue to find these old ‘rancio’ brandies that have matured to a rich and valuable glory.
There have been some interesting new products launched this past quarter, all with interesting price tags! Here are our thoughts on 4 of them:
Courvoisier Tribute Borderies has been released in 5 demi-johns costing £51,500 each. This 60 year old cognac comes from a single estate in the lesser known Borderies cru and if presented bottled, works out at £1197 per bottle. Borderies is the smallest cru and produces some very fine cognac such as our award winning Hermitage 1914. Aged, we estimate, for 70 years this exceptional vintage can be purchased for £300 less at £895.