There are exciting new trends sweeping through the conservative world of Cognac. Barnaby Eales finds eight to try
There’s a new generation of innovative Cognac producers who are pushing the boundaries of production and offering a fresh alternative to the handful of big brands that dominate the buoyant Cognac market.
The emergence of artisanal cognacs has helped bars in the great cities of Europe to newly embrace Cognac as a spirit for cocktails, attracting the double-distilled eau de vie to a new audience.
While younger cognacs lend themselves perfectly to mixing lighter cocktails, some of the big Cognac houses have teamed up with the world’s top bartenders to create luxurious cocktails using older XO Cognacs. Popularised by rappers and hip-hop artists in the US, where most of the younger VS (Very Special, at least two years old) bottles are exported, consumers in Southern China, who drink Cognac with food, have developed a taste for affordable older XO cognacs.
While the strong flavours of many Chinese dishes go well with the high alcohol levels of Cognac, in France it is now paired with blue cheeses, cured meats, Foie gras, lobster and caviar. Cognac has a tiny market in France – about ninety-seven per cent is exported – but the new trends in production and consumption are diluting the drink’s image as a luxurious tipple to savoured only by men d’un certain âge.
Eight Cognac recommendations:
Bourgoin Micro-Barrique 1994
Young siblings Frédéric and Maëlys Bourgoin are part of the new generation of artisanal producers making small bottles of unblended, unfiltered, natural cognacs, made without added sugars or flavouring. Their micro-barrique Bourgoin, made from the 1994 vintage, is aged first in old French oak barrels and then finished in 10-litre charred barrels (like some whiskies), rather than toasted ones, giving this cognac a softer, mellower texture: a bouquet of apricots, toasted almonds, ripe mango and coconut leads to abundant floral, minty and resinous pine flavours.
Philbert Rare Cask Finish Sherry Oloroso Cognac
Small batch, single estate producer Philbert has launched an original range of rare cask cognacs; one is aged in used Sauternes barrels (the grape Semillon used for Sauternes is one of the authorised grape varieties in Cognac). More unusual is the youthful, but complex 2012 vintage, aged in old Oloroso Sherry casks, giving this cognac floral notes of orange, jasmine, banana, raisin and ginger, with hints of tobacco and coffee and a marzipan cake finish. It won best VS Cognac at the San Francisco World spirits competition in 2016.
Fanny Fougerat Iris Poivré
The Fougerat family used to supply its cognac to the Cognac houses for blends, but now a youngster Fanny Fougerat has blazed a new trail by launching her own range of single estate artisanal cognacs, named after the taste of her Cognacs, made without additives. Check out the floral, fruity and delicate, Iris Poivré, an XO Cognac aged for 12 years in Limousin barrels.
Leopold Gourmel Age des Fleurs/15 Carats
Leopold Gourmel Cognac, a producer of 100%-certified organic cognacs, uses a novel exciting way of classification and labelling, focusing on what vintage cognacs in bottles taste like as the blends get older. The outstanding Age des Fleurs/15 carats is aged in fine grain un-toasted barrels and made without additives, caramel and cold filtration. It has pure and pronounced aromas of white flowers and vanilla, and a velvety, delicate yet complex, rich texture leading to a long finish. If this is beyond your means, try the younger fruitier, Age des Fruits/10 Carats at £66.95
Guy Pinard XO Folle Blanche 2004
A Fins Bois vintage cognac with intense floral notes, beeswax and dried apricot. In 1969 Guy Pinard became the first Cognac producer to introduce organic practices. Until the outbreak of phylloxera in the late 19th century, Folle Blanche was the grape used for making wines for Cognac, but today the vast majority are made from the Ugni Blanc variety.
Château de Montifaud L50
A cognac aged for over 50 years in old casks, made from Petit Champagne cru blends dating back to 1947, L50 from Château de Montifaud is a cask-strength Cognac; the alcohol level has been reduced to less than 50% abv through natural evaporation, making it a supple, round, nutty mouthful with hints of spices and cigar box. It is at its peak of refinement here, showing rancio flavours of time: rich fruit cake, walnut and dried apricot.
Cognac Frapin Multimillésime No.6
In the heart of the Grande Champagne area, Cognac Frapin was the first cognac house to create a multi-vintage blend, in 2008. The most recent, Multimillésime No.6, won World’s Best Cognac at the World Cognac Awards 2016. The combination of 1986, 1988 and 1991 vintages provides this cognac with backbone and a rich diversity of flavours, including fig, grapefruit, passion fruit, rancio spice, orange and candid fruits.
Francis Abecassis ABK6 VSOP
This is a single-estate Cognac used by mixologist Tony Conigliaro, in his Smuggler cocktail (bénédictine, lemon juice, sugar syrup and sparkling apple juice). The fizzy apple juice of the long, refreshing drink, perfectly matches the cognac’s flavours of spiced wood, apricots and cinnamon. Conigliaro, who opened Bar Luciole in Cognac, in August 2017, says: “The amazing thing about cognac is that it has a very large spectrum of flavour; for a long drink we use light bodied cognacs, and for shorter, stronger drinks, we use older cognacs.”
Some food pairings:
Frozen VS (Very Special, at least two years old): lobster, oysters, Scallops
VS (at room temperature): with the above, plus salmon, Parma ham
VSOP (Very Special Old Pale, at least four years old): blue cheese, mature cheddar, fois gras, figs, partridge, oysters
XO (Extra Old, minimum six years old): duck, beef, venison, dark chocolate, white chocolate and cherries.
Cognac expert Michelle Brachet, whose book, The World of Cognac, was published in May 2017, provided consultation on recommendations.