Posts Tagged Courvoisier

The Big Guns Of Cognac

1 February 2012

Breakfast Time

Over the course of the Cognac Summit, we visited three of the largest Cognac houses; houses no doubt familiar to most Americans: Rémy Martin, Courvoisier and Hennessy. These three are so well-branded in the U.S., many of us think of them only as their name. It’s simply Hennessy, not the Cognac called Hennessy.

These three brands can be found just about everywhere, but should you be looking for their VS, VSOP, XO or something else entirely? (You can read an explanation of these age categories in this post. They’re imprecise, because, as our Rémy Martin ambassadrice confided, “A Cognac is like a coquette — she never gives her age exactly.”)

We had the fortune to taste a range of Cognacs from each of these three houses (the prices are from Binny’s Beverage Depot unless otherwise noted):

Rémy Martin VS: We sampled this with ice, so the aromas were harder to detect (room-temperature Cognac has a bigger bouquet). But I certainly enjoyed its fresh, smooth flavor profile. About $28.

Rémy Martin VSOP: This one came from a bottle straight from the freezer, so again, I didn’t get much of an aroma. But I loved the texture at this temperature — it tasted surprisingly smooth for a VSOP, with caramel and cake flavors and a spicy finish. About $35. An excellent value.

Rémy Martin XO: I noted aromas of pear, orange and fig. Rich at first, this Cognac tasted a little sharp on the palate as well. About $140.

Courvoisier VS: The fruit for this Cognac, the most popular Courvoisier in the U.S., comes mostly from the Fin Bois region (this post explains the different regions of Cognac). Fresh and spicy, with some vanilla and caramel flavors. Fun to drink. About $26 – a very good value.

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Regarding French Snobbery

29 January 2012

A few weeks ago, while batting around blog post ideas for a travel website to which I contribute, I told my editor I planned on writing a piece or two about Cognac. “It’s strange, isn’t it,” I remarked, “that people go to Scotland for the whisky trail, but few travelers seem to think of going to Cognac to visit Cognac houses.”

“Oh, well, people expect — and with good reason, I might add — that they won’t be especially welcome in most of the Cognac houses,” he replied. “You know, they expect to encounter quite a bit of snobbery. It’s the same reason people don’t go chateau-hopping in Bordeaux.”

I have visited much of France, and I have yet to encounter the proverbial French Snob. It’s not because I speak beautiful French — the average 18-month-old Parisian speaks better than I do. But maybe in Cognac, home of France’s most exclusive liquor, it would be different.

The Charming Paul Giraud

It came as no surprise to me that it was not. On our very first visit of a Cognac house, I was charmed by Paul Giraud, (right) whose family has been making Cognac for 200 years. Wearing an understated navy sportcoat, he showed us his atmospheric aging facility, where clumpy black mold caked the cobweb-draped rafters above sweet-smelling oak barrels. Concluding his remarks, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m just a farmer who makes Cognac.” Of course, it’s an entirely different experience visiting, say, the grand quarters of Courvoisier in Jarnac, but the friendliness and passion for the product were constants throughout the trip, wherever we went.

I met a number of French sommeliers during the trip as well, and none proved to be a wine snob. Quite the reverse, in fact. As we headed back to Bordeaux after the conference, I had a long chat with noted sommelier Dominique Laporte. He had no patience for people who claimed to know all there is to know about wine. “How can you ever really know wine?” he asked. He later argued that there were actually very few “bad” wines out there. I said something disparaging about Yellow Tail, to which he quickly responded, “That wine though, was made to appeal to people who drink soda. You know, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s sweet, it’s simple, it’s cheap. There’s nothing wrong with that.” It turned out I was more of a wine snob than Monsieur Laporte!

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Cognac: Not Just For Rap Stars

24 August 2011

Cognac can be easy to dismiss as the purview of either grey-haired blue bloods or freewheeling young hip-hop fans. But those who subscribe to that view miss an obvious point: Cognac must be something quite special to appeal to both the château and the crib sets.

Cognac is a type of brandy made, as you might have guessed, in and around the city of Cognac in France. It must be double-distilled from white wine, 90% of which must be Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano), Colombard and Folle Blanche. The grapes for this wine can come from a range of favorable or less favorable growth zones. Grande Champagne and Petit Champagne (not to be confused with the sparkling wine region) tend to be the best, and anything with “Bois” in the name tends to be less impressive.

Just as important, Cognacs are graded according to age. In order from youngest to oldest, the grades are V.S., V.S.O.P. and X.O. But just to keep you on your toes, Cognac can also be labeled as Napoleon, Extra, Vieille Reserve and Hors d’Âge, indicating an age greater than X.O., or simply Vieux (literally “old”), which falls somewhere between V.S.O.P. and X.O.

Those marketing Cognac to non-French consumers might wish to consider simplifying this system a bit.

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