As the saying goes “All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac”; to be classed as Cognac, it has to be produced in the Cognac region of France.
This was the first of many facts learned in the latest Whisky Wire Tweet Tasting, this one in partnership with Marussia Beverages, tasting a selection of cognacs from the Le Reviseur, Maxime Trijol and Leyrat Cognac houses.
Now for some more knowledge…
Cognac is made using grapes, usually of the Ugni Blanc Folle Blanche and Colombard variety, which are turned into wine and are then distilled twice, turning into eau de vie, before being filled into Limousin or Tronçais oak barrels, to age for at least two years.
The Cognac region itself, is comprised of six sub-regions:
- Grande Champagne
- Petite Champagne
- Fins Bois
- Bons Bois
- Bois Ordinaires and Bois Communs
All of the sub-regions are influenced by their varying altitudes, climates and soil types.
(Note: the ‘Champagne’ in Grande Champagne, has nothing to do with the sparkling wine region of France)
There are three main Cognac categories:
- VS “Very Special” Aged for at least two years.
- VSOP “Very Superior Old Pale” Aged for at least four years.
- XO “Extra Old” Up until this year it had to be aged for at least 6 years. As of this month it’s now 10 years!
The distillation in very small stills (1600 litres) and its ageing in dry cellars creates powerful Cognacs that reflect the true potential of this terroir recognised for its concentration of aromas.
Apart from a very few exceptions, the majority of Cognac is actually blended. The minimum age category on the bottle would denote the youngest Cognac used in the blend
Cognac has to be bottled at minimum of 40% ABV, and for the majority of bottlings, you’ll find the volume goes no higher.
Our tasting notes are below:
The first cognac was Reviseur VS, a single estate cognac which is produced in the Petite Champagne sub-region of Cognac. It is bottled at 40%.
Citrus oil, walnut, oranges and raisins. Opens up after a little time with fruit cake notes become more pronounced with vanilla and an earthy plum also appearing.
Sweeter than expected, strong vanilla peach note with just a hint of aniseed. Smooth rather than silky mouthfeel. Seems to become more perfumed and floral as time goes on – think Estee Lauder White Linen.
Very floral with cherry lip sweets flavours. A strong dry peppery note catches the throat before subsiding and returning to a floral fruity finish.
Lovely light spirit – very summery.
Maxime Trijol VSOP
Maxime Trijol VSOP, is made exclusively with Grande Champagne, which is said to be the finest in the Cognac region.
The first Maxime Trijol still was installed in Saint-Martial-sur-Né in the Cognac heartland in 1859.
Today, the house boasts twenty-two 2,500-litre stills. Maxime Trijol is different in that the brand cultivates its own vines, as well as distilling and ageing Cognac.
Initial note was Werther’s Original sweets; all creamy buttery sweetness, but peach arrives shortly afterward. Stays very sweet with vanilla and icing sugar. Fig-rolls and subtle wood.
That peach note changes to fresher orange citrus oil after while; a fruit salad sweet note becoming more prominent.
Fairly subtle with a relatively thin mouthfeel, creamy apricot then perfumed oak wood and a dry nutty note.
Dry woody finish, with light spice but not peppery initially. Dryness and a slight oiliness remain until the end and then a peppery kick right at the end.
Maxime Trijol XO
Maxime Trijol XO, is also made exclusively with Grande Champagne and bottled at 40%
Blueberries, some almond cherry blossom and violet. Orange peel and wham bars along with a heavier oiled wood note.
Big hit of vanilla custard arrives along with some subtle banana sweets.
Violet oil initially with a soft and silky smooth mouthfeel. Not fruit-driven like the previous cognacs, but a soft bitter sweetness with woody burnt sugar, stewed tea and a tobacco dryness.
Longish tannic finish with that bitter sweet note, very pleasant.
Leyrat XO Elite
Leyrat XO Elite Cognac, is produced in the Fins Bois sub-region of Cognac, which is surrounded by Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne.
This nose is very different; proper maritime with an initial punch of iodine and seaweed.
Cherry blossom note arrives and some some biscuity baked goodness.
Keeps changing but seems to settle into a salted caramel with subtle peach.
This is a strange one, a bit ‘funky’ and what I can only describe as mouldy peach notes dominate. There’s some salted caramel and the fruit sweetness but for me it’s not a pleasant taste at all.
Dry, a little bitter but not that interesting.
An amazing variety of flavour profiles from the four spirits and if I had to choose one it would probably be the Maxime Trijol XO overall, but the Reviseur VS is the best value.
The Leyrat XO seemed to be the most marmite cognac of the night, with some loving that musty funk and others like me being underwhelmed.
Overall though a great opportunity to try something different and it’s definitely worth taking a look at cognac as an interesting alternative spirit in future.