Food, Travel

A visit to Cognac

The next stop on the trio’s tour was Cognac. No points for guessing what it is known for.

What is cognac? Quite simply, it’s a brandy (distilled from grapes). However, as it was explained to the trio at Rémy Martin, while all cognacs are brandy, not all brandys are cognacs. This boils down to the French ruling of AOP (appéllation d’origine côntrolée), meaning you ain’t got the rights to use the name unless you produce the goods in that region/land.

This is a map of the various terroirs (types of soils) in the cognac region. All the grapes grown here are more or less fated to end their lives in a cognac bottle.

This is a map of the various terroirs (types of soils) in the cognac region. All the grapes grown here are more or less fated to end their lives in a cognac bottle.

A display of what the Borderies terroir looks like. At Camus, visitors are invited to touch the display and feel the textures of the soil.

A display of what the Borderies terroir looks like. At Camus, visitors are invited to touch the display and feel the textures of the soil.

The varietals of grapes used are also different from those used to make regular wine.

The varietals of grapes used are also different from those used to make regular wine. Ugni-blanc is the most commonly used varietal.

A tell-tale sign of cognac production is when one sees a layer of black coating any building, trees or for that matter, ground. This is a mould that feeds off the fumes of cognac. Anyone care for some drunken mould?

A tell-tale sign of cognac production is when one sees a layer of black coating any building, trees or for that matter, ground. This is a mould that feeds off the fumes of cognac. Any care for some drunken mould?

Grapes are fermented into wine (7 to 12 days), and poured into the alembic, where it is boiled. The vapour passes through the copper pot, condenses on the other side with the aid of cold water. The process is repeated, hence, a double distillation, and it takes 24 hours. Distilleries run nonstop from end of September to mid-April.

Grapes are fermented into wine (7 to 12 days), and poured into the alembic, where it is boiled. The vapour passes through the copper pot, condenses on the other side with the aid of cold water. The process is repeated, hence, a double distillation, and it takes 24 hours. Distilleries run nonstop from end of September to mid-April.

Unlike whisky, cognac is stored in virgin casks. The oak wood is from the French region of Limousin, and unlike wine barrels that get replaced every few years, a cognac barrel is used for a loooooooong time.

Unlike whisky, cognac is stored in virgin casks. The oak wood is from the French region of Limousin, and unlike wine barrels that get replaced every few years, a cognac barrel is used for a loooooooong time.

The minimum ageing of a cognac is 2 years for a VS (very special), 4 years for a VSOP (very special old pale) or 6-7 years for XO (extra old). Since cognacs are blends of various eaux-de-vie (spirits) with different ages, the label refers to the youngest age in the blend.

The minimum ageing of a cognac is 2 years for a VS (very special), 4 years for a VSOP (very special old pale) or 6-7 years for XO (extra old). Since cognacs are blends of various eaux-de-vie (spirits) with different ages, the label refers to the youngest age in the blend.

The job of blending the spirits falls upon the cellar master, who opens barrels, takes a sip and decides if a barrel is ready for blending. Each year, a barrel/cask loses about 2-3% through evaporation, called the angels' share (well, really it's the black mould's share). Since some cognacs are blended from spirits upwards of 100 years old, it's easy to understand that cognacs don't come cheap.

The job of blending the spirits falls upon the cellar master, who opens barrels, takes a sip and decides if a barrel is ready for blending. Each year, a barrel/cask loses about 2-3% through evaporation, called the angels’ share (well, really it’s the black mould’s share). Since some cognacs are blended from spirits upwards of 100 years old, it’s easy to understand that cognacs don’t come cheap.

At Camus, visitors are invited to play the role of the cellar master, and to identify the aromas in the eaux-de-vie as well as the final blended products.

At Camus, visitors are invited to play the role of the cellar master, and to identify the aromas in the eaux-de-vie as well as the final blended products.

While at Rémy Martin, a domaine visit included a train ride around their immaculately maintained compound.

While at Rémy Martin, a domaine visit included a train ride around their immaculately maintained compound.

Each visit ended with a tasting but Rémy Martin stood out because they served food! The food-drink pairings are designed to enhance the flavours of the cognacs. A cream of roquefort on savoury butter biscuit was paired with a VSOP...

Each visit ended with a tasting but Rémy Martin stood out because they served food! The food-drink pairings are designed to enhance the flavours of the cognacs. A cream of roquefort on savoury butter biscuit was paired with a VSOP…

While the XO came with the world's best chocolate orange macaron. The in-house chef used to work in the Palais de l'Élysée for Jacques Chirac.

While the XO came with the world’s best chocolate orange macaron. The in-house chef used to work in the Palais de l’Élysée for Jacques Chirac.

While most cognacs are eye-wateringly expensive

While most cognacs are eye-wateringly expensive

There can only be one king of the cognacs - Louis XIII. The trio have seen the barrels in which some eaux-de-vie pre-date their grandparents, resting quietly underground waiting to be blended into a bottle of Louis XIII. Starting price: 2500€.

There can only be one king of the cognacs – Louis XIII. The trio have seen the barrels in which some eaux-de-vie pre-date their grandparents, resting quietly underground waiting to be blended into a bottle of Louis XIII. Starting price: 2500€.

No compensation was received for writing this post, nor for mentioning Camus and Rémy Martin. The reason why they chose to visit these two houses, instead of the others, was quite simply because the Ninja Turtle’s dad used to have a cognac collection with these two brands, and the Ninja Turtle grew up marvelling those bottles made of baccarat crystal. They chose these two houses for the sake of her childhood memories, that is all. That said, they were very good tours, and the trio would highly recommend these distilleries to any reader who’s thinking of visiting Cognac.

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