By Franz Scheurer
When you distil wine, you produce brandy. If this distillation occurs with local wines in the area of Cognac in France, you produce Cognac. The Appéllation Controlée (AC) area of Cognac extends along the banks of the river Charente all the way to the Atlantic coast, encompassing most of the county of Charente, all of Charente-Maritime and parts of the Dordogne and Deux-Sevres, with the city of Cognac giving the brandy its world-famous name.
Cognac is distilled from white wine, predominantly from Ugni Blanc (also known as Folle Blanche or Colombard), a slow ripening, disease-resistant varietal with high acid, producing low alcohol wines. Although vines were planted in the area as far back as the 3rd century AD, it was the importation of salt from Norway in the 12th century that prompted an increase in production to meet the demand for reciprocal wine exports. Due to the fragility and bulk of the wines, the Dutch merchants controlling the trade at the time asked for the wines to be distilled and filled into oak barrels to stabilise the product. Thus Cognac was born.
Strict rules control place of origin and age labelling.
V.S. / Sélection de Luxe, indicates spirits at least 4½ years old
V.S.O.P. / Réserve, indicates spirits between 4½ and 6½ years old
X.O. / Napoléon / Impérial / Hors d’âge/ Vieille Réserve, must be at least 6½ years old
Here are three of the best:
Hennessy Paradis Extra
Master Blender Maurice Fillioux created Paradis Extra in 1979 from rare spirits, up to 130 years old. Hennessy’s new spirits are aged in new Limousin oak barrels, then transferred periodically to progressively older and older barrels. This helps eliminate harsh tannins and promotes greater harmony of flavours. Time is the critical element. Paradis Extra is dark copper in colour with a deep reddish tinge (suggesting that it might have spent some of its years in an Oloroso cask). It is powerful without a forward alcohol hit, mouth-filling, with spice and white pepper flavours softened by the sweet floral notes of a spring meadow. Deep, long, satisfying and addictive.
Paul Giraud Très Rare
A Cognac at home in an exclusive club; think of a large library with leather-bound books, leather furniture and a hushed, reverent silence. Dark mahogany in colour, full of forward citrus notes with tangy kumquat and caramelised orange peel, softened by cigar-box and Christmas pudding aromas, this is a Cognac over which to contemplate life.
St. Agnes 75th Anniversary Show Brandy
This is a 30-year-old Australian pot-still brandy of exceptional quality, deserving to be in the company of good Cognacs. Only 2000 bottles were released; presented in a gorgeous bottle inside a handcrafted Blackwood box, it is every bit as good as it looks. The colour of weathered teak prepares you for dark, complex and layered flavours: rancio, savoury, almost meaty bass notes harmonise with just enough floral highs to lift it from good to extraordinary. A brandy for a special occasion!
Orea Cocktail (Greek: Beautiful Girl)
1 nip of sugar syrup
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
1 nip of your favourite Cognac
Lots of ice
A slice of lime
Combine syrup and molasses and stir well. Add Cognac and pour into a highball glass over lots of ice (enough to push the liquid up to fill the glass). Stir and add lime. Serve.