The aristocrat of distillates

Every cognac is brandy, but not every brandy is cognac, as set forth in a law from 1924 that all alcohol producers in the world must follow, like it or not.


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This seemingly complicated sentence indicates that true cognacs are made only from selected kinds of white grapes, mainly Ugni Blanc, which is grown exclusively in the area around the town of Cognac in the Charente region. The wine there is famous for only one thing – it’s nearly undrinkable. While the grapes are nice and sweet, after the juice is pressed from them and left to ferment, the wine is dry and strangely sour and bitter, and is usually used for the production of the celebrated local aperitif Pineau des Charentes. That’s one of the reasons it’s distilled twice and aged for at least three years in barrels made of Limousine oak, where with time the harsh distillate characteristics take on a nearly delicate flavor. The distillate is then designated as eau de vie, or “water of life”, and is subsequently mixed into final refined distillate.
The mysterious abbreviations VS and VSOP indicate how long the distillate has spent in cellars. VS means Very Special and reveals that the cognac is made of a blend whose youngest part is at least two years old. Very Superior Old Pale cognacs are distillates that are at least four years old, which results in their balance. Prestigious XO, or Extra Old, cognacs are blends of up to 100 eaux de vie, some of which are dozens of years old. This distillate has a penetrating aroma of grapes, the power of the sun, and the tannic, bitter flavor of oak, combining to create a full, rich, complex taste. Additionally, the high glycerine content causes the cognac to break into little droplets around the edges when swirled in a glass. In 1865, Maurice Hennessy introduced a far clearer designation of cognacs according to a series of stars – one-star cognacs are aged two years, two-star for four years, and three-star for six years and more.
Although Hennessy wasn’t the first producer ever, his name has become synonymous with cognac in many nations around the world, from Bushmen to Eskimos. In 1794 Hennessy’s products reached New York, in 1860 China, and soon Japan. Today the company is the largest producer, exporting about 30 million bottles a year! Although it is now owned by the luxury concern LVMH, descendants of the company’s founder work there, Mr. Maurice Hennessy, for example.
In fact, family tradition plays a major role in cognac’s production. This can be seen from the Martell brand, which was established by Jean Martell, who has been followed by eight generations of family members, with the secrets for blending the very successful Cordon Bleu being passed on. Another example is Jean-Paul Camus, who represents cognacs of the same name. Hennessy’s promotional motto could apply to all of them today: “Drink through the entire world with us!”

The author is the deputy editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine.


 

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  Photo: Věroslav Sixt

- Sleek shots:Serve your guests their vodka in glasses that do the famous crystal-clear alcohol justice
– this four-piece “VAR” set by LSA. Price: CZK 1,190

Available at: Blomus, Karlínské nám. 9, Praha 8

 


 

COCKTAIL: LEVIATHANIn 1934, Rudolf Slavík, the famed Czech bartender, won a competition for the best cocktail suitable for transoceanic liners with his “Leviathan” recipe: one-half part cognac, one-quarter part fresh orange juice, one-quarter part Italian red vermouth, and two splashes of the orange liqueur Grand Marnier. However, the Horse Neck cocktail, based on cognac mixed with ginger ale with a few drops of angostura bitters, is far more famous.

 


OUR TIPS

HENNESSY FINE DE COGNAC – 0,70 l, 40 %
A cognac of the third millennium, intended for everyone who likes to experiment. With this product Hennessy breaks down the well-established idea that cognac is a drink for only staid gentlemen.
Price: cca 960 Kč
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HENNESSY X.O – 0,70 l, 40 %
Looking at the bottle, you may wonder what its strong, masculine contents will do to you. Its somewhat harsh flavor, with a tannic tinge of wood and exotic aromatic spices in the finish, is a symbol of luxury.
Price: cca 3600 Kč

OTARD – 0,70 l, 40 %, V.S.O.P.
This producer’s cognacs (in lovely bottles) are aged within the thick walls of the Chateau de Cognac castle, where they take on their rich aroma of fruits and vanilla with a slightly sharp edge and typical, spicy flavor.
Price: 1030 Kč

RÉMY MARTIN – 0,70 l, 40 %, V.S.O.P.
This seven-year-old cognac, named after the firm’s founder, is recognizable by its intoxicating aroma, slightly fruity flavor, and alcoholic finish. Fans of gastronomic experiences should try it in combination with Roquefort cheese.
Price: cca 990 Kč

MARTELL CORDON BLEU – 0,70 l, 40 %
A cognac whose average age is 25 years. It has a provocative, fine, fruity flavor with a touch of spice and a long, well-balanced finish. This cognac was served at the signing of the treaty that ended WWI.
Price: cca 2900 Kč

Available at: Wines from Galicia are imported by the Petrus firm,
Petrov 1, 252 81 Petrov u Prahy, tel.: 241 951 081, www.petrov-vino.cz

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