Contribute something productive you reprobate!!

The leading English language magazine. Now covering Poitou-Charentes, Dordogne, Vendée and Haute-Vienne too!

Living magazine distribution map

C - COGNAC

C - COGNAC

The thriving town of Cognac in the south of the region may be many things, but above all it will always be the home of one of the region’s most famous exports...

 

shutterstock 24646168

Brandewijn - burnt wine in Dutch - which gives us the word brandy does little to convey the rich and sensuous appeal of a glass of cognac after a meal. Like another famous French drink, champagne, cognac’s production is now strictly controlled, protecting its reputation and heritage and above all its quality.

Cognac can only be produced in one of six specific areas or terroirs within the region: it is a geographical area clearly demarcated to ensure that ‘lesser’ grapes and brandy producers do not lower the standard of production. These six areas are based upon the descriptions of geologist Henri Coquand in 1860. Working with a taster, he was the man responsible for identifying the exact borders of the ‘Grande Champagne’ and the ‘Petite Champagne’, the two ‘Premier Cru’ grape-producing areas, as well as identifying the geographical extent of the cognac-producing region.

Only certain grape varieties can be used to produce cognac with Ugni blanc grapes (sometimes called St. Emilion by the French) being the most popular. Folle blanche or Colombard may also be used. The most celebrated cognacs have the highest percentages of Ugni blanc grapes grown in the ‘Premier Cru’ region, carefully cultivated and tended throughout the year.

From the chalky soils of the cognac-growing region, the grapes are then harvested in early October, pressed gently, left to ferment for several weeks and then distilled, not once but twice with many producers still using the traditional pot-bellied stills or alambics. It is this second distillation (la bonne chauffe) during the winter months that is central to the production of cognac giving cognac its unique taste and aroma. Following distillation, the resulting eau-de-vie is aged in large oak barrels made from wood from Tronçais (in Allier) or from the neighbouring Limousin. During the ageing process part of the eau-de-vie evaporates and this is known, rather evocatively, as la part des anges or ‘the angels share’. These fumes feed a fungus which appears on the walls of the storeroom or chai blackening them – a tell-tale sign of illicit cognac production! When the eau-de-vie reaches the end of its ageing period, a minimum of two years, it has turned a rich brown colour and its unique flavour has developed.

It is now that the art of cognac blending begins in the hands of the highly skilled master blenders. They mix the carefully selected eaux-de-vie to create the signature cognacs of their house, all made to preciously guarded recipes. Only then is the cognac ready to be bottled.

 

 

TAKING A TOUR

The big names all offer guided tours where you can see how the stills work and discover more about the process of making cognac. All end with a tasting and reservations are recommended during the high season. Several offer tailor made visits and all have English speaking guides.

For a really personal experience, we would also recommend a visit to one of the many excellent small local producers that can be found throughout the Cognac area, especially as many speak English. Two to search out are C et G Raby and J. Painturaud whose details you can find in this guide. The tourist offices stock a booklet called ‘Les Bonnes Adresses du Cognac’ which is a detailed list of those offering tours, and which languages they speak.

 

Camus

Discover and learn all about the Camus world with a tailor-made workshop. Guided visit followed by a smelling/sensory test, June to September: Mondays 2pm-6pm; Tuesday-Saturday 10.30am- 12.30pm and 2pm-6pm.

To complement the visit, Camus invites you to discover their premium range with their First taste tour (includes one XO tasting), Connoisseur tour (includes three XO tastings) or Rarissimes tour (includes four vintages). You can also blend your own cognac with the exclusive Master Blender tour or even experiment at the Flavour workshop with a private lunch or dinner at the Camus Family home, Le Plessis - not to be missed!
Address: 21, rue de Cagouillet, 16100, Cognac Tel: 05 45 32 72 96. www.camus.fr

 

Courvoisier

Visits: July and August: 10am-1pm and 2pm-6pm.
May, June and September: by appointment on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, as well as Sunday mornings.
Tour prices vary depending on the tasting session that you would prefer at the end of the museum tour. Address: 2 place du Château, 16200, Jarnac Tel: 05 45 35 55 55. www.courvoisier.com

 

Hennessy

Visits: March-April and October-December: Monday-Friday,10am and 11am and 2pm-4.30pm May-September: every day, 10am and 11.30am and 2pm-5pm. Address: Les Quais Hennessy, 16100, Cognac
Tel: 05 45 35 72 72 or 05 45 35 72 68 www.hennessy.com

 

Martell

Visits: 1 April - 31 October: Monday to Friday 10am-5pm; weekends and bank holidays noon-5pm (closed Sundays in October)
Address: Place Edouard Martell, 16100, Cognac Tel: 05 45 36 33 33. www.martell.com

 

Otard

Guided Visits and Tastings: Visit the Château, the chais and the museum. 1 April - 30 June (except May 1): every day from 10am-noon and from 2pm-6pm
July - August: every day from 10am-noon and 1:30pm-6pm. September-October: every day from 10am-noon and from 2pm-6pm
Address: Château de Cognac - 127, boulevard Denfert-Rochereau, 16100 Cognac.
Tel: 05 45 36 88 86. www.otard.com

 

Rémy Martin

Visits: Rémy Martin estate at Merpins: From mid-April to mid-September, Monday to Saturday. Booking required
The house of Rémy Martin at Cognac: all year round. Booking required.
Address: Le Domaine Rémy Martin, Avenue de Gimeux, 16100 Merpins Tel: 05 45 35 76 66. www.visitesremymartin.com

 

shutterstock 713872

DECODING THE LETTERS

The letters accompanying cognac tell you how old it is.

* VS (Very Special) is the youngest cognac, though it must have been aged for at least two years

* VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) aged for a minimum of four years

* XO (Extra Old)/Napoleon) is the oldest cognac, having been aged for at least six years, but often for much longer.

 

 

TRAIL BLAZING

If you fancy touring around beautiful countryside, stopping off at vineyards, distilleries and excellent restaurants as you go, then follow one of the Étapes du Cognac. These five routes around the cognac-producing region each follow a theme and include stop-overs at producers chosen for their quality. For more information, head to your nearest tourist office and pick up the booklet called ‘Les Bonnes Addresses du Cognac’ or see www.cognacétapes.com.

 

 

THE FIVE ROUTES ARE:

> Traditions: the longest of the routes, the ‘route of traditions’ goes north and south of Cognac, north up towards Matha and then onto Neuvicq le-Château with its Renaissance château. South of Cognac, towns and villages include Archaic, the capital of Petite Champagne and Montendre.

> La pierre et l’estuaire: the ‘route of the stone and the estuary’ takes you southwest from Cognac to the Gironde estuary and includes the historic town of Pons, the pretty Seugne valley and Mirambeau with its splendid views across the estuary.

> La pierre: the ‘route of the stone’ travels through Grande Champagne country including its capital Segonzac which last year became France’s first ‘Slow Town’, and the pretty countryside around Blanzac.

> La vigne: the ‘route of the vine’ takes you from Cognac, east through the Les Borderies and Les Fins Bois cognac producing areas. If you can, time your visit so you’re at Rouillac on the 27th of the month, when the huge and much-anticipated monthly foire (market) is held. Nearby in the woods at les Bouchards are Roman remains including an amphitheatre and temple.

> Le fleuve: the ‘route of the river’ goes east, along the Charente river to the capital of the Charente, Angoulême. Stop off at Jarnac, another important cognac town and home to the museum offormer French president François Mitterrand. At Trois Palis stop off at the chocolatiers.

 

shutterstock 50154823

DO TRY THIS AT HOME...

Cognac Float

20 ml (¾ oz) VS or VSOP cognac 

100 ml (3 ¼ oz) sparkling soft drink (soda water, ginger ale, tonic water, lemonade…)

5 or 6 ice cubes

 

Place a few ice cubes in the glass and pour in the sparkling soft drink.

Float the cognac by placing the back of a spoon on the soft drink, and slowly pouring the cognac onto the spoon.

Enjoy!

For more cocktail ideas see www.cognacsummit.com

 

A consommer avec modération - L’abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé

 

 

A DROP OF HISTORY

It was in the 17th century that Dutch merchants discovered that distilled wine not only took up less space but improved with age when stored in oak casks, and brandy was born. Local producers gradually developed the double distillation process and in time the brandy produced took the name of the town Cognac.

On 1 May 1909, the official area where cognac could be made was defined by official decree but it was not until later in 1936 that cognac was awarded Appellation d’origine contôlée or AOC.

Over the years, the fortunes of cognac producers have risen and fallen but cognac is currently enjoying a revival with strong exports to China, Russia and the USA.

 

 

Interview with a producer

Laurent Couprie, 39, runs family firm Cognac Couprie at Ambleville in the heart of the Grande Champagne. They sell around 20,000 bottles a year. Visitors are welcome to come and taste and buy on site – as long as they call in advance...

 

Your family’s been in the business a long time...

Yes, the family has been growing wines and making cognac since 1730. I’m not sure how many generations that is – it’s a lot but I haven’t counted! For much of that time it was sent to the big producers, les grandes maisons. But for the last 40 years or so, since my father’s time, we’ve been producing cognac under our own name.

 

What cognacs do you make?

There are five different ones, based on age and maturity. At one end of the scale is our VS Sélection, where the cognac has to have matured for a minimum of two years, though in practice it can be many more. At the other end is our Hors d’Age (literally ‘beyond age’) where the youngest cognac used was distilled by my grandfather. In between there is VSOP, Napoléon and XO Très vieille Réserve.

 

What difference does the age make to the taste of the cognac?

A greater age gives cognac a greater depth of aroma and complexity. You get a larger palette of flavours.

 

What is the key to making good cognac?

It’s a combination of factors. One is where you come from, your provenance. Being in the Grande Champagne is a guarantee of quality. Then the production process; the wines are stirred before the distillation takes place, there’s the distillation itself and afterwards the ageing. Our cognac is aged in our own cellars in barrels made exclusively with oak from the Limousin.

 

Is it still a family business?

Yes, my father Michel, who’s 69, is retired, but he still advises me. I was working in industrial products before. I’ve been working in the family business for 12 years now. Why did I join? Because you become attached to the family business, to what it produces. And it’s a lot more inspiring working on the produce of the land than with industrial products! You need passion for this business as it’s a lot of work – you don’t get many holidays.

 

Your cognac is prize-winning…?

Yes, a few years ago now. It’s very time consuming – we don’t have much time to enter at the moment.

 

Would you like your own family to continue the business one day?

I have a son who’s two. But it will be up to him, I won’t map out his future for him!

 

Where can people find your cognacs?

We’re on sale in restaurants and in wine merchants in the region – for example Angoulême, La Rochelle, Cognac, and the Île-de-Ré. People can email us for places or they can buy direct from us here.

 

La Roumade, 16300, Ambleville, Tel: 05 45 80 54 69, www.cognac-couprie.com

 

 

map
WHERE IS COGNAC PRODUCED?

THE ‘GRANDE CHAMPAGNE’ producing the most elegant of all cognacs is centred around Segonzac. It is a roughly triangular area, with the Charente river to the north and the river Né forming its westerly and southerly border. The best cognacs are made with grapes from this area.

The GRANDE CHAMPAGNE gives way to the larger area of ‘PETITE CHAMPAGNE’, which covers an area including Jonzac and Barbezieux to the south, with the Charente river marking its northern borders and the banks of the Seugne roughly marking out its western and southern edges. The ‘PETITE CHAMPAGNE’ is considered to produce slightly less subtle Cognacs.

Whilst LES BORDERIES, the third territory within the cognac-producing region, might cover a smaller area and its grapes may not be so widely appealing, the area is home to the three of the biggest houses in Cognac who historically used the Charente river to transport their goods and who still to this day work with many of the smaller producers across the region. Hennessy, Martell and Rémy Martin are all based in this region.

Beyond these three areas, the grapes are grown in three ‘bois’ or ‘woody’ regions, ‘FINS BOIS’ (fine wood), ‘BONS BOIS’ (good wood) and ‘BOIS ORDINAIRES’ (ordinary wood). Saintes, St Jean d’Angely, Aigre, Mansle and Angoulême itself all fall within the boundaries of ‘fins bois’, where Saujon, Saint Porchaire,Villefagnan, La Rochefoucauld and Marthon all fall inside ‘bons bois’. The final stretch of the Cognac area extends to the Charente-Maritime coast and into the Deux-Sèvres, covering the far north and west of the region.