Brandy is the generic name for distilled wines and is produced all over the world. In Italy its commonly known as Grappa, Spain just brandy, but the two main french brandy production areas are Armagnac and Cognac. I love my french brandy preferring the rougher (and cheaper) Armagnac to Cognac. I usually take a small glass of Armagnac most nights and find it really settles my digestive system!!
The Armagnac region is in Gascony in the far South West of France and Cognac is located about 100kms north of Bordeaux. They both produce the finest Brandies in the world, with 99% of all production being exported around the world. Cognac is celebrating its 1000th year in 2016, originally being a trading post on the Charente river for items such ass salt & spices.
Cognac production is dominated by the four main brands Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin & Courvoisier. However if you venture outside the town in any direction and you will soon be in the heart of the vineyards supplying the grapes for the Cognac. It apparently takes nine litres of wine to make one litre of Cognac, so there are lots and lots of vines growing mainly the Ugni Blanc (known also as St Emilion) grape that’s turned into wine for distillation.
Having taken some advice we were pointed in the direction of the Hennessy Visitor tour. They have tours in English from mid April to mid October and last about 90 minutes. It’s probably best to book in advance. They do a 16€ tour and a 30€ tour, the only difference being the quality go the Cognac’s you sample at the end of the tour.
Your tour starts with a short boat trip to the other side of the River Charente.
What follows is a series of videos and short presentations on the history of Cognac production (Irishman Richard Hennessy founded the business in 1765), the wine growing, the areas of the best vines, the process of distillation and the creation of the eau de vie spirit, making the barrels (which is a true craft).
Its all extremely entertaining and easy to understand.
You then move over to one of the warehouses where the distilled eau de vie is aged in barrels. Some barrels date back to the 19th century!!
There are literally thousands of barrels in this one warehouse, god knows their worth.
Behind some locked gates are the absolute best eau de vies that are used in the Cognac’s that cost thousands per bottle.
The whole warehouse has a smell of sweet alcohol. This smell is the alcohol evaporating through the wood of the barrels and is often known as the Angels Share.
We were then shown how the differing eau de vies are blended and combined to make the various differing styles of Cognac’s.
Then its back over the river to taste two of the “cheaper” styles of Hennessy Cognac’s the VS & VSOP. They were surprisingly different, but very enjoyable.
Lastly we are invited to buy the Cognac’s, with the VS Cognac starting at €40 to the XO at €150!!! Then to the Paradis Cognacs at hundreds & thousands a bottle!!
It was a great experience and even the non-wine buffs amongst us found it most enjoyable.