Amongst the hustle and bustle of London’s Strand/Covent Garden; I discovered the hereto unknown and enticing world of Cognac. Cognac is a simple two syllable word however the depth of mystery within the word cognac is unparalleled. On first impression (and we are all aware that we should not just go with first impressions) the perception of Cognac is as a digestif but it is much more versatile than that. This is the perception that Michelle Brachet – Cognac and Food writer, Speaker and Consultant – and Dawn Davies – Buyer for the Whiskey Exchange – are looking to change. They are trying to bring Cognac to the forefront of consumers and bartenders’ consciousness and during the evening Michelle and Dawn led us down the ‘rabbit hole’ into the extensive world of Cognac. Throughout the evening I tasted a variety of Cognacs including a couple of young Cognacs and 25, 30 and 40 year old varieties respectively. We were encouraged and implored to engage with Cognac; and to therefore open our mind and heart to this diverse, versatile and exciting spirit.
To backtrack Cognac is made from white distilled wine. The premise is therefore that if you like wine you should like Cognac. To simplify the process somewhat it is twice distilled white wine, aged in oak barrels, predominantly blended but not always and then bottled. Cognac originates in the delimited region of France (decreed 1st May 1909) which is made up of six growing areas known as crus. There are 274 houses within these six crus and the different regions allow for varying characteristics resulting in each Cognac’s unique style. Cognac even has its own governing body.
Cognac and food we are told can create sheer magic in the form of some delicious unions. By the end of the evening I have learnt that Cognac does not leave food indifferent. Cognac has a special place on the dining table due to its complexity and richness and ‘behaves beautifully’ at any table it adorns. There are five major food groups that Cognac can be paired with: meat and charcuterie; fish, shellfish and crustaceans; fruit and vegetables; cheese; patisserie and chocolate.
V.S. (Very Special) indicates that the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend is at least two years old. VS is the most widely sold Cognac in the world. It is great for cocktails as by it’s very nature it is designed to be mixed. Mixers are dependent on personal choice but it works well with tonic, ginger beer, coke and cranberry juice. There are no rules to enjoying a young Cognac.
Moving on to the V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Pale) Reserve the youngest eau-de-vie is at least four years old. This Cognac is also great for inclusion in cocktails and for enjoyment on its own. This Cognac has been aged longer and produces distinct waves of aromas and flavours throughout its tasting.
In an X.O. (Extra Old) the youngest eau-de-vie is at least six years old. These are your oldest Cognacs and have a price tag to match. X.O. I found is scrumptious paired with white chocolate as it enhances the creamy and buttery notes of the chocolate and complements the texture.
My eyes have been opened to the merits and deliciousness of Cognac. I’ve decided on a new tipple that I will be asking for especially as the summer days draw in in the form of a V.S.O.P. Cognac teamed with tonic, ice and a wedge of lemon which makes for a refreshing long drink. There is so much to learn about Cognac and I feel like I have only begun to scratch the surface. Perhaps it’s time to add another spirit of choice to the list.