Around this time of the year (Summer 2020) we are anxiously looking at the weather to try and determine if we are going to have a good grape harvest in September. The vines are flowering well and every indication is that we will have a bumper harvest. But where are we going to store all the new cognacs when they are distilled? There is simply not enough room this year as coronavirus has dramatically reduced sales by the big houses. In an industry where America alone can take over a million cases a year, world sales so far in 2020 seem to have virtually halted, with a measly 1.5 – 2 million cases sold in the first quarter. According to one of our friends in Cognac, contract sales by the big houses have, over the years, spiralled up to around 90% of their output. This has enabled the large companies to place contract orders with producers for young cognacs which they buy and store in their own cellars. It now seems likely that some of the big names will have to renege on their contracts with the growers and producers due to lack of storage space. However, every cloud has a silver lining. The smaller, own brand producers and negoꞔiants are now having a field day. They are shipping smaller quantities to their smaller customers and more specialised world outlets and demand is increasing. The current reduction in demand for cognac seems to be only affecting the mass market.
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.
There are all manner of cognac classifications found on bottle labels, but what do they actually mean? Most of the generic terms below describe cognacs made by blending hundreds, or even thousands, of cognacs together to produce a vast quantity of a homogenous product for sale on supermarket shelves. As demand increases younger and younger cognacs are used in these blends so sugar syrup and caramel colouring are added to obscure the fieriness on the tongue and lack of appealing colour.
VS stands for Very Special. Also known as *** (3-star) or Premium, the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend must be at least 2 years old. Many of these younger cognacs are purchased by the ‘Big Four’ companies in order to meet their ever-growing demand.
VSOP stands for Very Superior Old Pale. The youngest eau-de-vie in the blend must be at least 4 years old. The colour of cognac deepens the longer it stays in contact with the wooden barrel. Although described as ‘Pale’ these young cognacs can also have caramel added which provides a red glow.
Napoleon. Named after the very famous Frenchman, Napoleon Boneparte, the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend must be at least 6 years old. Up until April 2018, this was also the age of XO.
XO stands for Extra Old and must be aged for a minimum of 10 years. Although not official terms, Extra and Hors d’Age are often used to describe cognac of XO quality and age. Some small producers sell XO that maybe up to 20 years old but, it is unlikely that this will be specified on the label.
XXO is a new classification that stands for Extra, Extra Old and the youngest eaux-de-vie in any blend must have been aged for a minimum of 14 years.
So you can see that it is very difficult to decipher exactly what is in your bottle of cognac with a generic label as only minimum ages are specified and they are highly blended. Sometimes Single Estate is used to describe a cognac where all the eau de vie used has come from the same estate. In this case, far fewer cognacs will be used to make the blend so the flavour should be more individual.
Cognacs with Age Statements (eg 30 Year Old) are more precise as they list the youngest eau de vie used and may also comprise a blend of just one or two cognacs or indeed be Single Cask (unblended). Vintage Cognacs also give you specific information. The year on the label describes the year the grapes were harvested. The cognac will be aged to perfection before being taken out of the wood and placed in glass when it will no longer mature. Most vintage cognacs will tell you when the cognac was bottled and therefore, for how long it was aged. This is the category that has the most information available to you, the customer. They are expensive to produce as the casks are strictly controlled throughout the decades of ageing. However, you can be sure that you are drinking cognac that has been matured to its optimum level, is unblended and has an unbelievable variation of aromas and flavours. We call this complexity.