What do you think you know about Cognac? A highly regarded fine spirit with timeless sophistication? A brandy to be sipped after dinner in large balloon-shaped glasses? A drink popular with rappers who drop brand names into their lyrics; so trendy in fact several including JAY Z now own their own brand of Cognac.
Well, this is all correct but there is so much more to Cognac as I recently discovered.
The regulatory body for Cognac – Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) – is on a crusade to position Cognac as a versatile spirit to be enjoyed in cocktails and matched with food; so they asked me to take a group of journalists to the appellation to discover more and raise awareness further of this innovative region.
Having worked in the drinks industry, albeit predominantly in wine, for almost 20 years I knew the basics of Cognac and had heard of the big brand names such as Courvoisier, Hennessy and Hine but I wasn’t prepared to discover so many other small, young and also much older terroir-driven producers.
The owners of one of the newest brands, Bourgoin, have been growing grapes for Cognac production for many years, however it wasn’t until just four years ago they launched their own brand – Bourgoin. This family-owned business, run by 35-year-old Frédéric, is clearly one of the young and funky up-and-coming producers. He’s even had a disco light installed in the barrel cellar to prove it!
Cocktails are a great entry point for people looking to discover more about Cognac. There are now several dedicated cocktail bars including Bar Louise owned by official ‘Cognac Educator’ Germain Canto. Germain is on a mission is to introduce it back into both classic cocktails and his own creations.
Germain tells us different styles of Cognacs work in certain cocktails; for example a VS Cognac (Very Special) works best in a high ball cocktail, a VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) has more concentration so is perfect for a Sidecar whilst he would use XO (Extra Old) in an Old Fashioned.
Delicious and inspired!
Food and Cognac
Food and wine matching has become very popular, tasting menus can be found in many top restaurants where certain wines are paired with particular dishes. But who would have thought Cognac could be enjoyed throughout an entire meal?
Well, we put this to the test when Frapin kindly hosted us for a ‘food pairing experiment’ at their beautiful Château Fontpinot nestled in their Grande Champagne vineyards.
The aperitif was a simple but delicious cocktail of Cognac and ginger ale which paired well with the canapes featuring foie gras, egg and seared tuna.
Our host, Patrice Piveteau, believes life is about pleasure and happiness and tells us everyone in the Cognac has this philosophy and enjoys to share good things.
Well, we certainly went on to share good things. The starter of beef carpaccio and lashings of freshly shaved truffle was exquisite and enhanced beautifully by the accompanying Frapin VS.
Next came the tournedos of pheasant and fois gras with truffle mash served with the Chateau Fontpinot XO. The earthiness of the dish paired brilliantly with the older style of Cognac.
However, the triumph had to be the chocolate dessert with the Frapin Extra. I had been told chocolate and Cognac was a match made in heaven and I can confirm it is!
As if the visit couldn’t get any better Patrice led us into one of Frapin’s oldest cellars – chais paradis. All houses have a ‘paradise’ cellar where they age their oldest Cognacs. Like something straight out of Harry Potter, the dark cellar was full of old sleeping casks one from which he drew a sample of 60+ year old (he doesn’t know the oldest Cognac in the blend). A magical end to a memorable visit.
Are you ready to re-discover Cognac?
Ideal served during a meal, as an aperitif or after-dinner drink, Cognac can be consumed neat or in cocktails. If you travel to the Cognac region, you’re sure to discover Cognac on the menus of the most prestigious restaurants, as well as in upmarket cocktail bars. Cognac is inspiring chefs, helping to put this relatively unknown region on the map, thanks to the variety of delicious dishes featuring local produce. Go see for yourself!
I was delighted to be joined by five journalists on this voyage of discovering through the Cognac region including the stars of the hit Amazon Prime television series The Three Drinkers Do Scotch Whisky – Helena Nicklin, Aidy Smith and Colin Hampden-White – alongside Owen Bellwood from The Spirits Business and Felipe Schrieberg of Forbes.com.
We went to Cognac with excitement and intrigue and what we discovered was this uniquely elegant spirit made with time-honoured expertise is innovating in order to attract new drinkers to the category…take me back to paradis.
Made from grapes
10% of all the vineyards in France are in Cognac
17,000 people work in the industry
4,333 wine growers
Predominately made from the grape variety Ugni Blanc
Nine litres of wine only makes one litre of Eau-de-vie (spirit)
Eau-de-vie is clear and gets its colour from aging in oak barrels and the addition of caramel
The ‘angel’s share’ is the equivalent to 32 million bottles a year
98% of Cognac is consumed outside France
VS = Very Special (minimum two years old)
VSOP = Very Superior Old Pale (minimum four years old)
XO = Extra Old (minimum of 10 years old)