Home' A Plus Magazine : Feb 2013 Contents 58 February 2013
The after-dinner tipple
has become a staple drink
over the lunar new year
holiday, writes Aloysius Tse
While brandy is produced in
many countries from many
different types of grape, and
even other fruits, the most notable is those
produced near the town of Cognac, between
Poitiers and Bordeaux, in western France.
Cognac, usually served as an after-dinner
drink, has caught on in China over the past
few decades. High-end Cognac shipments to
China rose 21.7 percent in volume last year
and 34 percent in retail value in 2011, accord-
ing to investment research firm Sanford C.
Bernstein & Co. Given its celebratory repu-
tation, Cognac consumption spikes during
the lunar new year period, with that week
accounting for up to 30 percent of annual sales.
While there are a large number of Cognac
producers, the world market is dominated by
only a few companies, such as Pernod Ricard,
which launched its Martell Cordon Bleu XO
Cognac in 2005 especially for the Mainland
market. Its rivals include Beam (the Cour-
voisier brand), Camus La Grande Marque
(Camus), LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuit-
ton (Hennessy) and Rémy Cointreau (Rémy
For a distilled brandy to bear the name of
Cognac, its production methods must meet
certain legal requirements. In particular, it
must be made from specified grapes, espe-
cially Ugni Blanc, locally known as Saint-
Émilion and widely known by its Italian
name of Trebbiano.
The Ugni Blanc vines grown for Cognac
production cover many thousands of hect-
ares in the Charente and Charente-Maritime
départements of France. Other common grape
varieties used are Colombard and hybrids of
Folle Blanche. These give Cognac its distinc-
tive aromas of honeysuckle, vanilla, fruit and
Buyers can be confused by the various
quality ratings displayed on the labels of
Cognac bottles. In fact, these are no more
than an indication of the length of time which
the brandy has been aged in barrels.
Cognac is traditionally created by blend-
ing double distilled white wine spirits of dif-
ferent ages and crus and it is very rare for it
to carry any vintage designation. However,
by law, the distillation process must be com-
pleted no later than 31 March of the year fol-
lowing the vintage. Unlike wine, brandy does
not age in bottles.
According to the Bureau National Inter-
professionel du Cognac, which is responsible
for overseeing the production of Cognac in
France, the three official quality grades are:
• VS (Very Special), which refers to a blend
in which the youngest brandy has been
stored for at least two years in wooden
casks. These Cognacs are sometimes des-
ignated “three star.”
• VSOP (Ver y Special Old Pale), which refers
to a blend in which the youngest brandy has
been stored for at least four years in casks.
• XO (Extra Old) refers to a blend in which
the youngest brandy is stored for at least
six years (10 years after 2016) and often
longer than 20 years.
There are other unofficial designations
such as Napoleon (often taken as a grade
equal to an XO), Extra (normally aged longer
than an XO) and Hors d’Age, a designation the
bureau refers to as XO equivalent but that is in
practice aged much longer.
There are different views on how to ser ve
Cognac. Most drinkers would agree that a
Cognac has to be drunk at hand temperature.
Another common belief is that it should be
ser ved in a tulip-shaped wine glass, but a low
spherical wine glass is also acceptable.
Cognac has an initial aroma and then
swirling the liquid emits subtler secondary
hints. This should be repeated until the
full complement of the bouquet has been
The liquid should be then sipped, first
experienced at the front of the mouth for the
primary bitter and sweet tastes, before allow-
ing the finishing “feel” to be appreciated fur-
ther back against the palate.
Whether you want to drink your Cognac
neat with ice or water, or war m by your hand
to bring out the aroma characteristics – or
even during dinner with a soft drink like
Coca-Cola – is all very personal.
The important thing is that Cognac as
an after-dinner drink needs to be appreci-
ated slowly and leisurely. This is the reason
why there has been a trend for wine bars
to ser ve fine Cognac together w ith quality
cigars. Cognac also goes well with coffee
Aloysius Tse is chairman of Bacchu s Fine
Wines Group and a past president of the Hong
Kong Institute of CPAs.
Salvatore Calabrese, a London club owner, prepares to open a bottle of Clos de Griffier Vieux Cognac from
1788 in October 2012 during an attempt to make the world’s most expensive cocktail, which also included
Kummel liqueur, orange Curaçao and Angostura bitters.
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