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”).
The Jubilee Bank Holiday is upon us and people will, no doubt, be holding their own celebrations across the country (or even the Commonwealth), but some would argue that a party just isn’t a party without a punch. Luckily, I was recently sent a punch recipe by Courvoisier, along with the ingredients to make it, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.
Punch is a great way to share a drink with friends, as well as being very quick and easy to make and – with a little preparation – serve at a party.
Courvoisier Punch (makes one punch bowl)
250ml Courvoisier VS
20 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
Courvoisier Punch (makes one glass)
50ml Courvoisier VS
Four dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
Taste:As a punch should be, this is very refreshing. If you like a slightly tarter, still (not fizzy) drink, I found that, in addition to lemon soda, still lemonade also works well. The warm complexity of the Cognac works well with the sweet spiciness of the bitters and is a nod to the fact that, historically, Cognac was a very popular base for punches.
If you are making a punch bowl of this, I’d suggest freezing a mix of lemonade and bitters in a used, but clean, butter or margarine tub in preparation. By placing one of these in the punch bowl, you will ensure that your punch is cool, without being watered down by slowly melting ice.
If you prefer a more complicated cocktail (made just for you), then why not try:
25ml Courvoisier VS
12.5ml Bols Apricot Liqueur
1 wedge fresh lime, squeezed
12.5ml elderflower cordial
Taste: This was another pleasant cooler, with a sweet combination of dusky floral notes from the elderflower and jammy fruitiness from the apricot brandy. The flavours also add depth and complexity to the drink. The Cognac adds a sophisticated, warm note at the end, with the lime and lemonade balancing out the richness and providing refreshment.
Many folks may think that cognac is just for classic short drinks such as the Sidecar or the Stinger but they also can work really well in drinks like these punches and add a touch of regality to you jubilee weekend.
Courvoisier VS Cognac is available from al major grocery stores – RRP £23.79 for 70cl
I was recently lucky enough to find a bottle of De Luze VSOP Cognac in my possession and so thought I’d look at making some high-end Cognac cocktails.
First, here’s a little about the history behind this Cognac. In 1822, Baron Alfred De Luze founded a company that went onto purchase vineyards in Grande Champagne and Margaux; areas well-known for the quality of grapes produced there. This must have come through in the quality of their Cognac, because De Luze were granted the Royal Warrant by King Christian X of Denmark in 1927. More recently, in 2006, De Luze were bought by the Boinaud Family, which is the largest private wine growers of the Cognac Appellation (the region in France where wines used to produce Cognac must come from).
A Fine Champagne Cognac must have at least half of its Cognacs originating from the Grande Champagne region, specifically, but De Luze VSOP Fine Champagne is a blend with over 70% from this region. They are all between 10 and 12 years of age, with the oldest, according to the website, coming from the 1989 harvest.
So how does it taste?
Smooth and flavourful, this has a rich and complex taste with a hint of crème brûlée and dried fruit, as well as some deeper notes, such as dark chocolate and cinnamon. This is definitely something that’s easy to sip and savour over an evening.
This was a superb drink: clean, crisp and tart. It was very fresh and the strong flavours of the Cognac come through, whilst remaining smooth. The drink remains vibrant, but well-rounded, with its sharpness offsetting the alcohol.
Superb! Exceptionally smooth and mellow, with complex herbal notes, anise and a touch of vanilla at the end. It also had a great balance of warmth and refreshment, providing a drink that you can really just sink into, without being too heavy. The comforting finish ended with a hint of ginger warmth, reminding me of a long, relaxing bath.
This is a fancy Horse’s Neck, made using Cognac instead of brandy and a high-end (imported, ooh la la!) ginger ale. Notably, Q-Ginger, from the folks that brought us Q-Tonic. This made yet another superb drink, being both complex and refreshing. The full flavour of the Cognac comes through, followed by citrus and a sweet, fruity zing. I found it to be less sweet and more sophisticated than a usual Horse’s Neck. Very classy.
This is a cloudy light brown mixture, with the flavour of dark sugar and a menthol note at the end. As you drink it, it begins to clear in the glass and the flavours of the Cognac become more prominent, with the mint flavour taking a back seat. This a crisp and refreshing cocktail and a great alternative to an after dinner mint. I can see why James Bond enjoys it with coffee in ‘Diamonds are Forever’ (at the 21 Club in New York).
Cognac is an excellent base for certain cocktails and is always worth considering when you want a drink where you can appreciate the underlying flavours. The Sidecar as always been a favourite of mine and I think it always will be. That said I love the Thoroughbred too!