The wine palate
Cognac is one of the great snob drinks of all time, and holds true today as one of the most expensive liquors on the market.
Cognac, like Champagne, has experienced a recent 15 minutes in popular culture as the hip-hop community has taken it as a drink to represent their success.
And why not?
Cognac’s elegant bottles and high price tag makes it a great image for the representation of wealth. Cognac as we know it today can be traced back to the 12th century when the area of Cognac was discovered to be a hot bed for high-quality salt. The traffic of sailors from the north promoted the distribution of this fine brandy and the story thus began.
First, let’s clear up a few possible points of confusion.
Like many French beverages and foods, Cognac is named after the region from which it came. You might also notice that the bottles say things like Grande Champagne or Petite Champagne. This does not mean that it is made in the region of Champagne.
Cognac is divided into levels of quality based on the region of Cognac where the grapes are grown. The top level and most centrally-located region of Cognac is called Grande Champagne. In both the case of Champagne, where the bubbly is made, and the regions of Cognac, the word Champagne was used to describe a landscape similar to the original Campania North of Rome, a fair, fertile, and rolling countryside. The people of Reims, where the bubbly is from, were the first to use the term in reference to their beverage and thus we now have this confusing situation.
Cognac is made from the Ugni Blanc grape. This grape is derived from the Italian variety Trebbiano and is used for a few key reasons.
First, it is a late-ripening grape and as a result is able to be harvested while the acid content is still very high. Also, the wine made from this grape is usually low in alcohol, about 8 percent. The wine produced from this grape is then put through a process called double distillation. Produced in copper vats, the wine is distilled to between 68 percent and 72 percent alcohol. It is then aged in barrels to give the flavor of wood and vanilla and also to reduce the alcohol. The brandy looses about 4 percent of its volume every year through aging, which equates to 27 million bottles per year. Romantically, this is called the "angel’s share."
Different vintages and productions are then blended by a skilled and well-trained cellar master using nothing but his own senses to produce the cognac that ends up in your bottle. Cognac is considered to have stopped aging after it’s bottled so you can feel free to start drinking once you buy it.
So, after a fine dinner, you too can sit around with big cigars and a snifter of fine cognac with which to swirl while you talk about business and how to take over the world.
Take a whiff of this fine beverage, but I warn you not to put your nose too close, as the alcoholic fumes can stun your senses. Sip gently and allow it to sit in your mouth as the perfume and floral flavors will unfold. Yum.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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