Next to whisk(e)y we also try to find other old, special or rare liquors. More specific brandies (although occasionally also a grappa, marc or gin) and liqueurs.
Brandy (from Dutch brandewijn) is a spirit produced by distilling wine. Brandy generally contains 35–60% alcohol by volume. Some brandies are aged in wooden casks, some are coloured with caramel colouring to imitate the effect of aging. It also includes liquors made through distillation of pomace (the skin, pulp, seeds and stems of the fruit): grappa, marc or more general eaux-de-vie. Cognac is the most renowned from the Charente region (Southwestern France).
Cognac is a difficult liquor to define its quality. The classification principles do overlap in such a way that it is difficult to judge a cognac by the bottle. On the other hand it makes a variety in quality more than possible.
You can use two angles: aging on the one hand and region on the other.
The French normally do not put a year of bottling on the label or do not mention the aging period. It is all dictated by the very strict French laws: the cognac region does use grades on their labels. The most common and well known are:
V.S. (very special) at least three years of aging in wooden casks
V.O. (very old) at least aged four years
VSOP (very superior old pale) at least aged eight years in wood, but the average you will find is between 10 to 15 years old
XO (extra old) has a minimum age of 10 years
But you can also find:
A.C. at least two years old and aged in wood
Napoléon/Extra/Vieille Reserve at least four years old, but most of the time much older. Also mostly top selections of the cellar master
…year… is always a vintage one. Aged long time and bottled in the year mentioned on the label.
Hors d’Age is most of the time a real find. Great and too old to say something about the aging.
Cep d’or, meaning golden grape rank. At least an aging period of 13 years
There are 6 regions in the cognac area, totaling a 63.000 hectares, all with their own specific qualities.
Grande Champagne, south of the River Charente en south east of the city Cognac. This 1st cru of 12.400 Ha crumbly, grayish soil (very lime and chalky) provides about 1/6 of the total cognac production. The nose and palate is the best and the richest of all cognacs. The maturation is very slow, so do not drink it to young. The cognacs can be extremely old, some say that it will be best only after 50 years.
Petite Champagne, is the 2nd cru with about 14.800 Ha slightly less rich soil. This region lies around the Grande Champagne, almost like a circle. It has almost the same quality as Grande Champagne, only slightly less. Maturation is a bit quicker.
The Borderies is the smallest region and is situated north of the Grande and Petit Champagne. It has only 3.800 Ha for wine and contains less lime. Its climate is more influenced by the sea and the cognac mature slightly faster. It is a softer cognac than the 1st and 2nd cru, but less delicat. Matures a lot faster than the Champagne cognacs and can be very old. This 3rd cru is often used to finalize or to enrich other cognacs.
The Fins Bois, is the largest region (30.000 Ha) and surrounds as a ring the three other areas. There is a temperate climate and the ground is loose and contains calcareous gravel. It matures quickly without losing its height, is robust in taste but a less rich bouquet.
The Bon Bois, lies like a circle to the Fins Bois. Its 11.500 Ha contains fairly hard lime-and clay soil. This 5th cru is robust, however has a less rich bouquet than all above mentioned Cru’s. It takes a lot more consideration of the “maître du chai”, the cellar master to make a great cognac.
The Bois Ordinaires (most of the times nowadays referred to as Bois à Terroir) has only 2.000 Ha of damp soil with much less calcium. This area has a maritime climate. The bouquet and palate are much simpler as the othe cru’s. Most of the time these cognacs are a bit neutral, to put it mildly. But even then, the cellar master can do a lot of great work. Think about the Ile de Ré series of Camus.
Sometimes you will find the description Fine Champagne on the label, but that is not a region. It means that you will find a cognac in the bottle consisting of at least 50% Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne (for the rest). Another thing is that Champagne has nothing to do with the sparkling white wine. In this case it just means field (in French: champ).
Cognac was for long times already a success in the USA, but nowadays also in the Far East and Russia. Even Africa is following. More demand, less supply. Sales in the fiscal year 2015/2016 shows a growth of more than 4% in volume and almost 11% in value. Great don’t you think? Yes, but…
- The region where the grapes used in Cognac may grow is limited and so is the capacity in production. In 2016 the Cognac region delivered 22% percent less grapes then in 2015. The weather in the near future will even be more and more erratic.
- The stock at the Cognac Houses is limited and the new rules (since 2016) for especially XO (at least a period of maturation on casks of 10 years) will reduce that even more.
- The big Houses try to buy bulk stock from smaller (family owned) domains. And most of the times against too high prices.
So the price of really with craftsmanship produced cognacs will rise even harder than she did during the last 3 to 4 years. So far it did grow 20% (!), but in the future increases of 40 to 50% will be no exception.
A few years ago, we already saw with Whisky that craftsmanship and passion disappeared, because meeting the demand (and so emphasize on production runs) was more important. Unfortunately the future for cognac looks less promising for quality. Quarterly Management, Profit Participation and Short Term Results asks their toll. The cognac will be younger, (family) domains will disappear and despite that the prices will only rise.
Well what’s new?
Liqueur is a type of strong drink with a sweet taste (because of a minimum amount of sugar in it) and usually between 15 and 20% alcohol. Mostly, because of course there are exceptions that prove the rule. For example, there is a herbal liqueur of 71% (Elixer Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse).
Usually a liqueur is used as a digestif with our coffee, as an ingredient in cocktails or as an ingredient in the kitchen for several recipes.
A liqueur must meet two requirements: a minimum alcohol content of 15% and a minimum amount of 100 grams of sugar per liter. There is no maximum to the sugar content, though the highest content is of a crème de cassis (400 grams of sugar per liter). A liqueur is made from distilled water, a distillate (or a neutral alcohol), sugar (or other sweetener) and of course the determining flavoring. Taste is for a great deal depending on sugar and essence, which explains the sometimes chemical-like taste. The current standard of 15 to 20% alcohol (mostly to excise, and so economical reasons) and the amount of sugar, was in the young past no standard. Quality was what counted. There was usually no ' sugar ' yet, but herbs (or at most natural sweeteners, such as honey or stevia). The flavor, like those all were added, were natural and certainly not 'made' essences as nowadays. The alcohol content was usually also higher. The first liqueurs even further back in time were medicinal elixirs. Beneficial herbs left one (mostly monks) on alcohol; the essential oils of dried plants and herbs dissolved. Reportedly, the word liqueur comes from the Italian 'liquefare' what means ‘make it liquid’.
There is a subdivision in groups:
- Fruit liqueurs
- Herbal liqueurs
- Nuts/beans liqueurs
- Cream liqueurs (these contain more sugar up to 400 g/l)
We found some liqueurs for you bottled between 1950 and 1970. And oh boy, what a taste. What a difference with the liqueurs of today. Quality, nose, taste, flavor, amazing. The passion and the craftsmanship are obviously there.