Written by: Helena Baker
The third largest vineyard area in France is in the Charente region just north of Bordeaux. A legion of small growers sell their grapes to distilling companies for the production of the world’s foremost grape spirit.
Although cognac is a brandy, it can only be so called if it derives from the region of that name. This is divided into six districts: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, all lying around the town of Cognac itself, produce the best spirits, while the largest, Fins Bois, along with the lesser Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires account for the mass of cognac produced. Champagne in this case has nothing to do with super fizz, rather it refers to the chalky soil common to both regions and perfect for making both brandy and sparkling wine.
Due to the nearby sea ports, Cognac wine had for centuries a ready market abroad, especially in England and the Low Countries. And, though originally sent out as still wine, it was found not to travel well, leading to the idea of distillation. In the 18th century many foreign merchants arrived to found the firms that we know today – Hennessy, Martell and Hine being but a few.
The most important of the eight grape varieties permitted for the production of Cognac are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard. These are low in alcohol with high acidity, the ideal combination for distillation, in this case by a double distillation process, which takes place in warm cellars in copper pot stills, from November after harvest until the following spring. While this is quietly happening, around 5% of the cognac brandy disappears through evaporation. This is known as the “angels’ share” and creates such a heady atmosphere the doors have to be kept open. The total lost in this way is estimated at over twenty million bottles. The remaining spirit, over 70% vol., is then aged in traditional oak casks for at least two years. During this time the strength will reduce while the spirit mellows naturally. In most cases regular blendings will be carried out so as to arrive at the consistent product required by the big brands. As to quality, only six years aging are guaranteed by the authorities, thus:
*** or VS means two years old, VSOP four and XO six. In fact, those in the final category are generally much older.
Mono – a clever corkscrew and stopper in one. Pull out the screw from the metal tube and insert into T-position. After replacing it, the tube serves as a stopper. Price: CZK 2,016.
Available from: La Vecchia Bottega, Hypernova, Průhonice & Tesco Letňany.
Newly opened wine shop in the historical town of Kutná Hora – Vinotéka U Kamenného domu, Václavské nám. 176. Saturday 14.12.02, from 3pm, wine tasting of Tanzberg Mikulov.
Hennessy Fine de Cognac
|Camus Grand VSOP
Deep amber in appearance with a powerful nose that reminds one of orange peel laced with autumn spices (cinnamon, cloves). The full-bodied yet mellow palate displays gingerbread and lemon notes leading to an oaky, chocolate finale.
Importer: Global Spirits, Václavské náměstí 53, 110 00 Praha 1. Wholesale price (excl. VAT): 1040 Kč
Rémy Martin Fine Champagne VSOP
|Pierre Croizet Les Fins Bois XO
A smooth supple aroma with a whiff of oak due to its long maturation (20 years!) in wood. Lemon rind, vanilla and spice combine to a lovely complex taste in this splendid XO from one of the region’s small producers.
Importer: Vins de France, V sadech 4a, Praha 6. Wholesale price (excl. VAT): 1516 Kč