JUST when many thought the first notes of spring had arrived we were given a sharp reminder of winter last week. And while I was required to spend a couple of days working outside, at least I escaped the snow, yes, snow, that fell in some parts of this fabulous State.
Having completed my chores I quickly scurried inside, my first thought how to bring warmth back to my extremities. Some time later, as I sat in front of a raging fire with a warming glass of cognac in my hand, my next thought was to salute those brave souls who were still enduring the freezing conditions outside.
The story of cognac started with a group of smugglers from the Jersey Islands during the years of conflict between England and France. Smuggling was a lucrative industry, and with brandy being far less bulky than wine, it was ideal for the quick flight across the channel to the Jersey Islands. This allowed the English to get hold of their favourite tipple at the time, cognac.
In the early 18th century a couple of entrepreneurs named Jean Martell, a former smuggler from Jersey, and Richard Hennessy, a French army officer, established individual houses in Cognac, north of Bordeaux. They initiated a process of storing and ageing cognac to improve its basic quality, differentiating it from brandies of the surrounding areas and becoming the pioneers of the cognac trade.
The cognac industry has overcome a range of obstacles to the present day – Napoleon’s wars and his trade embargo of England nearly proved disastrous; the deadly Phylloxera bug attacked the vines and posed a major threat; and the thirsty Germans caused concern for a time. However, the trading houses of Cognac survived. Today, many smaller cognac houses have been absorbed by the corporate giants without a loss of individual identity and product quality.
Ageing of the base wine is at the core of a system of quality assurance developed by the cognac houses, giving rise to the following designations:
VS –very special or three star, which cannot contain brandy younger than three years old.
VSOP – very special old pale, cannot be less than five years old.
XO – extra old, six years old or more.
When you purchase VSOP you are buying not just age but an individual house style and character defined by the blend in the cognac. Authorities don’t strictly monitor cognac older than six years but XO, Vieille Reserve and Napoleon cognacs are likely to be much older than this because the production houses want to maintain their longstanding reputations, glamour, mystique and appeal.
Delamain Reserve De La Famille
Warming aromas that entice with each swirl of the glass. Vanillin, coffee, cinnamon and almonds form part of the complex flavour leaving the glass. On the palate you are warmed by the ripe fruit and vanillin, nutty and spicy undertones. This is simply divine.
Ragnuad Sabourin Alliance #10 VSOP
Most cognacs are made from the ugni blanc grape variety, which is grown almost exclusively in France. This house remains family owned and produces delightful and complex cognacs. While not many of the luxury cognac are cheap, these guys represent some of the best value for money. This VSOP is rich and powerful yet shows remarkable structure and harmony. It is mellow and rounded across the palate and certainly a winter warmer.
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