Today, I thought I’d try something a little bit different: Cognac. Cognac is one of those spirits that I’ve never tried much of, mostly because it just never seems to be particularly visible in bars and other drinking establishments. Fortunately, that’s less so at home, where DTS recently set up another of his wonderful blind tastings for me, with the aim of providing a short introduction to this undiscovered (for me) category.
Cognac is a type of brandy that must be produced using grapes from a particular region in France. The grapes are pressed, left to ferment for a couple of weeks, and the resultant spirit must be distilled at least twice (in copper pot stills) and then be aged for at least two years in French oak barrels.
Cognacs are labelled into grades, which are based on how long the spirit has been resting in barrels; like whisky, where multiple barrels have been blended together, this is based on the youngest Cognac going into the mix. It’s worth noting that there are often many older Cognacs in the blend; it’s just the that grade is based on its youngest.
– VS (“Very Special”*) – at least 2 years in barrels;
– VSOP (“Very Superior Old Pale”) – at least 4 years; and
– XO (“Extra Old”) – at least 6 years.
Being a blind tasting, I had no idea which of the three Cognacs were in which glass. Here were my thoughts.
Nose: Fresh and light, but sharp, with lots of tart grape, followed by a “flash” of sweetness of the natural, fructose variety. Unfortunately, a hint of more artificial smelling alcohol did appear towards the end.
Taste: Initially, very woody – light, white wood, just like I’d expect from a whiskey. After some air has been allowed over the tongue, the grape appears, along with a spicy sweetness. There’s definitely a warmth to the finish, but it’s more of a fruity warmth that lasts for a good few minutes before fading out.
Nose: Less smooth than the first and less of a nose altogether, actually. Mostly consists of a varying hints of alcohol that range between woody and more akin to wood varnish.
Taste: Much smoother than expected, but with same good, gradually building warmth of the first. Again, this is rather woody and there’s distinctly fewer fruit notes. The finish is dry and ever-so-slightly bitter, before a woody, sweet note of liquorice at the very end. Lovely.
Colour: I don’t tend to take colour into account, but this one is notably darker than the previous two – a deep, dark caramel colour.
Nose: Strong notes of sweet, charred wood and fruit: grape, pear and a tart note of apple juice at the end.
Taste: Very sweet to start, then the flavour suddenly appears: this one tastes much stronger, being more like a sensation than a taste at the start (like some strong bourbons). I actually found it quite tricky to identify any particular flavours to start with, but then grape and apple notes follow through from the nose, mixed with a sweet – again, almost bourbon-like – woodiness.
The Martell VS was definitely my favourite of the three, although I prefered the nose of the Courvoisier VS. I was pleasantly surprised at how close they were to whisky, having always – naively – assumed that they were much more like wine in character. Given the combination of grape and wood flavours, I can imagine these being a particularly satisfying end to a good, home-cooked meal.
– Mrs. B.
* These acronyms can’t fail to remind me of some of the great acronyms used by Physicists, e.g. VLT (“Very Large Telescope”).