Cognac, the spirit, and Cognac, the municipality, are close relatives.
It's a family reunion I personally enjoy attending.
American actress Susan Strasberg said it best,
"I meditate, I do yoga and I have a lot of friends who are healers ... And if none of that works,
I go buy a chocolate bar and a bottle of cognac."
I can skip the yoga and the healers. Sign me up for the chocolate and cognac.
What makes cognac so special?
Warming is the first word I would use to describe the tasting experience.
The process from vineyard to bottle is long and expensive. But well worth it.
The French governing rules for cognac production are long and stringent.
What separates cognac from brandy is the double-distillation process
(brandy goes through just one distillation). Its production methods, by law, favor
specific requirements which include a short list of white grapes (most cognac is
made from the Ugni grape) and specialized equipment to finish the process.
Copper pot stills, sometimes called Charentais stills (named for the region),
are used for the distillation process. This is just the jumping off point
for a winning recipe to procure grape to bottle quality.
French oak barrels (made from oak trees that are at least 60 years old) are home
to the distilled eau-de-vie for a minimum of two years.
Most cognacs are aged much longer than the minimum, contributing to color and taste.
The old saying of 'worth the wait' definitely applies here.
The assigned names help the consumer understand the contents:
VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), Napoleon XO (Extra Old) designations help determine not just price but also expectation for color, aroma and taste.
There are many popular brands.
You may recognize some from this short list of mainstream monikers:
Otard, Hennessy, Camus, Remy Martin, Courvoisier, and Martel just to name a few.
Cognac has been described as the drink of kings and the king of drinks,
one of the few times a marketing gimmick is truly spot on.
Cognac is the birthplace of King Francois I, one of the more popular and well-known French monarchs. The Chateau de Cognac, Francois' fortified castle, is now home to Otard Cognac.
Curious and thirsty visitors get a great history lesson along with a tasting.
Francois Premier, as the king is popularly known, was born in this chateau in 1494.
He converted portions of the castle from medieval hull to Renaissance beauty
as visitors today, treated to the grand tour, will bear witness.
Like all the cognac houses, it sits near the Charente River for easy access to the Atlantic Ocean to reach customers worldwide. It's a pleasing way to spend a few hours and you'll soon understand how the nearby chalky soil (thanks to the micro-climate caused by
close proximity to the ocean) paired to the perfect temperature and humidity
of the lower vault contribute to your taste buds.
receptacles you typically see in "lesser" spirits.
Baccarat and Lalique are just two names associated with the premium beverage.
Then there's the debate over which type of glass to use.
From what I've read, most cognac connoisseurs prefer the tulip glass for its large
surface area that narrows near the rim to help intensify the flavor.
Personally, I love the balloon glass because it's sexy and it's traditional.
I feel special just holding it.
Either way, if you find a good cognac,
pause to enjoy the color, then the aroma and finally the taste.
Savor the flowers (honeysuckle and clover come to mind, although I'm sure this is very individual to both the cognac and the taster), the spice (vanilla, toffee, tobacco, and many other nuances here) and the fruit (pear, orange, and many more).
You will relish the high quality and luxury of every sip..
far out-guzzling both the French and the Chinese.
Beloved by many, the spirit of finesse and nobility has contributed to the swagger
of a number of rap artists in the U.S., including Jay Z who famously drank it
from the Grammy he collected in 2013.
Eminem and Busta Rhymes have promoted cognac in song as well but
it was Flo Rida who sang these lyrics:
"She had Hennessy hips and Belve eyes, Grey Goose on her lips and cognac thighs."
Even James Bond, yes, that Bond of "shaken not stirred" martini fame, enjoyed cognac.
In Ian Fleming's "Casino Royale" (the book) he writes of Mr. Bond enjoying
an Americano (cognac mixed with water).
In spite of all the cognac the United States imports, the largest consumer
is right in Cognac itself and it seems thieves are the culprit.
Much has been made of the "Angel's Share", the portion lost by natural evaporation
as the alcohol content ages.
The angel part may sound pretty and poetic but it's not a laughing matter.
It's estimated that over 20,000,000 (!) bottles a year are lost to this avenging angel.
Sounds like a Stephen King thriller to me.
Director Martin Scorsese got it right when he gave a shout out to his favorite - Hennessy:
"Sip, sip, think, talk."
I'm all in. Bottoms up!