Cognac: It's a Place… And a Drink!
Let's Lift Your Spirits!Thursday, June 03, 2021
Who remembers Pass the Courvoisier by Busta Rhymes? This was probably my first introduction to Cognac, believe it or not! Major Cognac brands have been featured in several hip-hop and rap tracks and music videos since the 90s. The real love story began after the Second World War when American soldiers brought Cognac home to America after being deployed in France. Cognac was suddenly made popular by various tunes such as the famous Can't Knock the Hustle by Jay-Z in 1996 — love that entire album! The turning point came when Busta released Pass the Courvoisier II, alongside P Diddy and Pharrell. Artist collaborations made it fashionable to have Cognac in music videos, bars, and clubs. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tomorrow, June 4, being World Cognac Day, I had to share a little bit about France's most celebrated spirit. What is it, though? It's a brandy made from white grapes! For it to be called Cognac it must come from the six vineyard growth areas in Cognac, France. Cognac is a region located in south-western France (Charente) that is strictly regulated by a geographical indication — think: Champagne, France, or better still, the Blue Mountain range in Jamaica! Each one having its unique and specific land, soil, environment, and climate — all producing world-renowned liquid sensations! Cognac the spirit is a symbol of national identity and pride, and its bottles are often marked with a fleur-de-lis to echo the emblem of French kings and leaders. Later, not surprisingly, the 'bling' trend inspired rappers to badge and show off bejewelled Cognac bottle designs cementing the spirit as a flashy status symbol, as a show of wealth and pride!
The process starts with making wine, believe it or not! It involves harvesting white grapes, making wine, then distilling the wine twice. The final product is separated into three parts: the head, the heart, and the tails. Only the clear and pure liquid from the heart is used. The distilled spirit or eau-de-vie is then matured in oak barrels for at least two years — often much longer. Eau-de-vie is French for spirits, and literally translates to “water of life” — I couldn't agree more!
The classifications of Cognac range from VS (Very Special) — the youngest — to older expressions such as VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and XO (Extra Old). These designations on the label are a guarantee of how long the Cognac has been aged. VS indicates that the Cognac has been aged for at least two years; VSOP at least four years; and XO at least six years. All Cognacs must be aged for a minimum of two-and-a-half years, growing smoother and increasingly more complex the older it gets.
Today most of the Cognac production is exported with nearly 98% of its exports being shipped, according to the French National Interprofessional Bureau of Cognac. In 2019 alone, of the 216.5 million bottles shipped from Cognac, 105.6 million bottles went to the US-driven North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) market.
It's a place …AND a drink!
Like rum, you can imbibe Cognac neat, on the rocks, in cocktails, or chase with water! And most definitely with coconut water! If you are up for an adventure at home, you could try doing your own at-home side-by-side tasting with a few friends using select rums and Cognacs. It would make for a spirited conversation sharing the differences, similarities, and just your overall tasting experience with whomever you are sipping! Cognac also makes for a good food companion — you can have it with food and also incorporate it into food — just like rum. If you are up for the challenge here are my recommendations.
The Fine Champagne specialist
#TeamUpForExcellence. Whilst there are many houses that create such blends, perhaps the most famous of them all is that of Remy Martin Fine Champagne Cognac. In fact, this world-leading house only uses grapes from the two premier crus — Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne, so is often known as the Fine Champagne specialist. Remy Martin was the first Cognac house in Fine Champagne Cognac. It is rooted in wine growing and is the only major Cognac house founded by a winegrower. Hailed as a gentleman's drink, and I dare say a lady's too, part of Remy's savoir-faire is that it only uses small traditional copper pot stills. This double- distilled Cognac is about individuality using the signature 'Remy Style' that gives the final product a richer and fuller body — it's all in the ageing. Remy Martin Cognac pairs well with food (anything that has character) and is a wonderful digestif after dinner. For my cigar-loving friends, it is an incredible experience to pair Remy Martin with cigars! The Remy Martin XO goes well with Maduro cigars, the Remy Martin 1738 comes alive with Nicaraguan cigars (more spice), and the Remy Martin VSOP goes well with a lighter cigar and is more of a day pairing.
The oldest Cognac house
The oldest of the big four Cognac houses, Martell, was one of the first houses founded by Jersey-born Jean Martell in 1715. Not the Garden State, but the largest island in the English Channel that New Jersey is named for. Guernsey is a self-governing English territory, but it's closer to France than England. The heavy French influence on the island instilled a lifelong love for French culture, and eventually Cognac, in Jean Martell. The brand is known for using a high percentage of eau-de-vie from the Borderies region in its blends, adding aromatics to the richness. From the entry-level VS to the prestige cuvée L'Or de Jean Martell, the brand is highly regarded the world over.
Hennessy is a 'modern' Cognac brand that has been crafting Cognacs in the heart of the Charente region in France for over 250 years. Could Richard Hennessy and his eldest son James possibly have imagined at the end of the 18th century that, one day, their Cognac would have travelled the world over, ignoring borders and challenging traditions? The French brand is based in the Charente region and dates back to 1765 — to Ireland — but has managed to shapeshift enough times to remain more relevant than ever before — with current Master Blender Renaud Fillioux. Their range of uber-trendy products is ever-expanding, and their marketing campaigns all the more captivating. There is no doubt that Henny culture is alive and kicking: both Cognac and a fifth of Hennessy are mentioned in what seems like hundreds of songs.
The Courvoisier story started in Paris in the early 1800s with founders Louis Gallois and Emmanuel Courvoisier. Based in Bercy, the business flourished and won medals, as well as the love of Paris and the respect of Emperor Napoleon III himself. Gallois and Courvoisier then moved from Paris to Jarnac, a small town on the banks of the Charente River located in the heart of the Cognac region, and remains their home to this day! Proudly obsessive from grape to glass, Courvoisier Cognac is the most awarded Cognac house based on the Top 20 spirits competitions since 2019. Fun fact: This brand actually toasted the opening of the Eiffel Tower in 1889 …joie de vivre – a taste of the Golden Age! Courvoisier is made mainly with the four finest crus: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Boderies and Fins Bois. Making Courvoisier is a delicate blend of art and science that combines old techniques with new technologies.
Happy World Cognac Day! Follow me on Instagram @raihndrops! Let's lift your spirits!
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