Saturday, January 23, 2010

All Cognac is Brandy, but not all Cognac is created equal

Cru Wine Specialists hosted one of the most amazing tastings in our history last Tuesday, January 19th. Cru & the Veranda Lounge Wine Bar in downtown St. Cloud teamed up to bring Central Minnesota a unique and entertaining tasting event.
Aaron Davis a regional sales rep from J & M Heritage who imports the fabulous Bache-Gabrielsen (pronounced Bach-a like from the ending of Chewbacca) Cognac joined us at the Veranda for Spirits with a lot of spirit. Arron and I did a tandem tasting as we educated and entertained the audience with fabulous Cognac.
Okay, before we get too far in lets just clear up a couple of things. Cognac is simply Brandy from the Cognac region of France. Just like Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. Brandy is made from wine. The grapes are picked, fermented and turned in to wine. The wine is then distilled, in Cognac's case in a more difficult and less predictable Pot Still, and aged in oak barrels to become the spirit we know as Cognac. It takes 9 liters of raw wine to make one bottle of Cognac.
Okay, now that you know what Cognac is lets talk about why I like Bache some much. When the representative from Bache first approached me I was utterly intrigued. As buyer for the Veranda Lounge I pride myself in finding quality, unique products at a fair price. Bache-Gabrielsen was all that and more. One of the first points that drew me to it was its position in the market. Bache is not owned by some large parent company. It is a fourth generation, family owned producer. It is next to impossible to find a product here in the US that is not under some large conglomerate umbrella. Courvoisier, Hennessy and Martell make up the majority of the Cognac market share in the US and are all owned by large spirit, beer & wine companies. Just go to your local liquor store and check out the shelves, those three will be the main Cognacs distributed. Bache on the other hand is less common in the market, but significantly more quality in some cases.
One of the main reasons that I really like Bache is that they adulterate their Cognacs less, and sometimes not at all. It is legal for Cognac producers to add Carmel Color to their product before they bottle it. Cognac (or all Brandy for that matter) comes out of the still as a clear liquid. It is after aging in oak barrel and or adding Carmel Coloring that the spirit turns brown. If you were to look at a Bache 3 Kors (also known as VS - Very Special) versus a Courvoisier VS you would see a remarkable difference. The Bache would be lighter in color, still brown but more tan or natural almond color. The Courvoisier on the other hand would be almost a roasted almond or dark tawny color.
When a spirit is a darker brown you can tell that it has either been aged for a long time, or there has been a lot of color added. There are different degrees of age requirements in the Cognac region of France (which do not apply to the Brandy produced in the US - be advised). You may have seen captial letters on the bottle and wondered what they meant. VS (Very Special) means the Cognac has been aged for a minimum of 2 years (the youngest spirit in the blend is 2 years old). VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) means that the spirit has been aged for a minimum of 4 years. Finally XO (Extra Old) means the spirit has been aged for a minimum of 6 years.
Going back to the VS or 3 Kors by Bache and the VS by Courvoisier, you can tell just by looking at them the Bache has had less coloring added. Bache also has a line of completely unadulterated Cognacs known at their Natur & Eleganse line. This is perfect for the Bourbon or Scotch drinkers who have never cared for Brandy or more importantly Cognac. Their VSOP really seemed to appeal to the Bourbon drinkers in the audience while the XO was what we described as a "Scotch Man's Cognac".
Beyond the fact that Bache is family owned and they use less adulteration I simply love the flavors. You can choose from their more traditional label (3 Kors, VSOP, XO Fine Champagne & XO Grand Champagne) or from their Natur & Eleganse line (VSOP & XO). Both have remarkable flavor and are aged longer than the required minimum. For example with there traditional XO Grand Champagne, the law states that it only needs to be aged for 6 years, yet they have aged theirs for 50. This is not just limited to their XO, their entire line is aged beyond the minimum. That is a commitment to quality if you ask me.
Bache is not available in many markets and for that I am sad. Go to your retailer and ask for it. When they say they have no idea what it is tell them it is imported by J & M Heritage (Click Here) out of the Midwest. Maybe that will provoke them enough to give the boys a call.
As you may know I take no money or am in no way affiliated with any of the wines or spirits I write or talk about. I firmly believe that this Cognac is outstanding and I would love to see it give the larger companies a run for their money. I am a gambler and I love the underdog, especially when it's better!

1 comment:

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