Thursday, February 10, 2011

Choosing a Great Cognac

Recently, while watching the Granada Television Sherlock Holmes series with my family, we concluded that the English of the Victorian era used brandy/cognac as a cure-all for a multitude of emotional and physical ailments.   This led me to ask - how do you choose a great brandy/cognac?

Today,  domestic brandy is not a trendy drink in the US.   Chances are that your local liquor store will have a wall of single malt scotch, interesting whiskeys, a few bottles of cognac and a single type of inexpensive brandy.    Cognacs have become increasingly popular because of their  association with rap music and rap singers.

What is Cognac?

It's a beverage made from distilling wine made in the Cognac region of France, 250 miles southwest of Paris.  Cognac starts as a dry, thin, acidic wine made from Ugni Blanc (also called Trebbiano) grapes.   It's double distilled in copper pot stills, then aged in oak, where the alcohol and water evaporate over time, concentrating the flavor and reducing the alcohol content from 70% to 40%.

Although you may hear the term Champagne Cognac, it has nothing to do with Champagne, a region 100 miles east of Paris.   "Champagne" derives from the Roman "Campania" meaning "plain".  The plains of Champagne and Cognac do have the same chalky soil.

There are 4 major producers of cognac - Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell, and Rémy Martin, although several smaller boutique brands are available.

At bottling, cognacs are blended to incorporate the best flavors from various batches/ages,  cognac is graded based on the youngest components in the blend.

Very Special (VS) - at least 2 years in oak
Very Special Old Pale (VSOP) - at least 4 years in the cask
Extra Old (XO) - at least 6 years in the cask but as of 2016, this will change to 10 years.

The Grape growing region of Cognac is divided into 6  areas, the best of which are the Champagne appellations:
Grande Champagne
Petite Champagne
Fins Bois
Bon Bois
Bois Ordinaires

I do not choose any beverage based on reputation or price, I seek value - quality divided by price.

My recommendation is focus on VS or VSOP, because XO is generally very expensive.   From my limited experience I believe the best major brand VS is Courvoisier and the best major brand VSOP is Remy Martin.

On a cold winter's night, curl up with a good Sherlock Holmes video or book and try a snifter of one yourself!


Mike Yamamoto said...

I love that series. Have you seen the BBC's Sherlock (2010)? It's a modern take on Holmes; clever and well-put-together. Definitely check it out if you haven't!

geekgoalie said...

A glass of cognac and a nice cigar after dinner. Life is good!

I also learned most of my medical knowledge from Dr. Watson. There is almost nothing that cannot be cured by loosening the patient's collar, a glass of brandy or sherry and having them lie down.

Ravi Kumar said...

I didn't know you are Cognac fan! Sounds very tempting, a nice glass of VSOP Cognac to relax after a hard winter day in Boston!

Robert Fraser said...

I can't lie, I like cognac. But, I love scotch. It might be a strange feeling of connect to the land of my grandparents, but I find my meager savings are often "invested" in a quality scotch. If you are ever in Toronto, stop by Massey for a glass, and if you really want we could probably find some port, brandy or cognac too.

Great post,