Here we go with article 3 of 4 that discusses the taste profiles that define the four seasons. Just the word, “spicy” conjures up visions of Halloween, pumpkins, golden leaves, and more. In other words, we’re talking about autumn—or fall, for our cousins across the pond. Spicy Cognac is exactly what’s required at this time of year. But if you’ve yet to discover the delights of floral and fruity blends, you can read the articles dedicated to them on our Cognac University page.

But for now, we’re walking on the spicy side of life. We explore what’s meant by the term, what to expect from such a Cognac, and how you can hone your palate to appreciate the aromas, flavors, and nuances of such blends. Of course, we also include some great examples, so you can take advantage of enjoying some delicious season-centric ideas at home.

What Does Spicy Mean?

When it comes to spicy, we can easily define some of the more typical flavors and aromas. Think cinnamon, ginger, clove, and nutmeg—some of the very additions you might sprinkle on your morning cappuccino to pimp up the caffeine high. However, there are other, less obvious nuances that still fall very firmly under the umbrella term of spicy, including licorice, chocolate, coffee, cocoa, mushroom, and truffle, for example.

We experience these tones through both aroma and taste. The nose of a Cognac offers the potential of what’s to come, with the palate continuing the journey and evolving along the taste-line of the profile.

Where do spicy notes come from?

Without being too technical, we need to understand that the aromas and flavors of an eau-de-vie is determined by its chemical makeup. It’s at this molecular level that the final taste experience is determined.

Grape variety, terroir, weather, and precipitation all have significant bearing on how spicy a Cognac will be. The Maitre de Chai will taste many immature brandies during the aging process, noting how they develop over the years.

However, these masters of sensory pleasure have far more tools in their armory that allow them to encourage a Cognac’s spicy elements.

This begins with the way in which the fruit is harvested, pressed, and decanted, as well as the distillation method. For example, eau-de-vie that’s distilled on the lees will have a very different flavor profile to that distilled without.

Temperature is also important, as is the choice of barrels in which the Cognac will languish for many years. Sometimes cellar masters will choose to move the liquid from an older barrel to a newer one for some months, or use toasted casks to enhance the spiciness.

Scientifically, the aromas of a Cognac can be split into three groups:

  •  Primary 
  • Secondary
  • Tertiary

Primary aromas are those that are influenced by Mother Nature, such as the grape variety, soil, weather during the growth phase, plus the time and environmental conditions during harvest.

Secondary aromas develop during fermentation, with tertiary ones down to the aging process and final blend.

While all of this is down to the skill of the Cognac producer, we shouldn’t forget that we—as the drinker—also have some control over how we experience flavors and aromas. Our choice of glass, temperature of the liquid, addition of ice, combining eau-de-vie with a mixer, in a cocktail, or allowing a bottle to breathe for some minutes before pouring. These can all have a significant effect on the nose and palate of every Cognac we sip.

Pouring cognacs for XO Family Tasting

Lastly, let’s not forget the power of suggestion. We can probably all recall some perfect taste moments. Enjoying a vin chaud at the bottom of the slopes after a day’s skiing, fresh fish cooked over the fire at a beach barbecue… The location and ambiance of where and when we eat or drink has been scientifically proven to have a bearing on our enjoyment levels. So sipping a spicy Cognac at Halloween or in front of a crackling log fire may well further enhance how we perceive what we’re tasting.

What are typical spicy notes?

Spicy tones can be strong or subtle. There’s also some spillover into the flavor profiles either side of the aroma wheel, pepping up notes of fruit and woodiness with a little zing. The more obvious spice nuances include:

  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Clove
  • Nutmeg
  • Saffron
  • Caramel
  • Licorice
  • Toffee
  • Tobacco/cigar box
  • Truffle
  • Mushroom
  • Chocolate and cocoa

Spicy notes: clove, nutmeg, licorice and spices

Some of the more subtle tones that you might find in Cognacs with an extensive taste profile or as you further explore and enhance your ability to determine them include:

  • Dried apricot
  • Dried fig
  • Muscat grape
  • Coconut
  • Spiced apple
  • Underwood
  • Hummus/dark moss

What other spirits have spicy tendencies?

One of the delights of Cognac is that the flavors and aromas are determined at chemical level, rather than the addition of flavor-enhancing additives. Another spirit that shares this similarity is whisky, many of which imbue spicy elements that can be enjoyed on both the nose and palate.

Another obvious example is spiced rum. Old Jamaica is a well-known brand, but there are many more, including some from small, artisan distilleries that might only be found on the Caribbean islands where they’re produced, such as Dr. Bird and Dark Matter.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget the cousin of Cognac—Armagnac. Sharing many attributes, this somewhat rustic brandy has some excellent examples of spicy flavor profiles. We highly recommend exploring some examples of this lesser-known spirit to complement your Cognac journey.

Spicy taste vs. spicy aromas

We’ve already delved into the science behind taste and aroma in the first two articles of the series that discuss fruity and floral profiles. However, it’s important that we recap on the link between the two, as well as how both affect us on a conscious and subconscious level.

When we eat or drink, our interpretation begins way before the prize enters the mouth. Our senses are stimulated by the very sight of what we’re about to enjoy, which is why Cognac aficionados make a big deal about the ‘eye’ of the liquid.

While we’ve not yet begun the smell or taste experience, just the look of the drink is already creating powerful suggestions of what’s to come. For example, a dark amber robe hints of an older, more complex taste profile, whereas lighter gold tells us we’re about to enjoy the vibrancy of youth and all the fire that goes with it. 

Cognac glasses in a row

This is something that we’re aware of at a conscious level. Aroma, on the other hand, speaks to us in a far more subtle manner. Sure, we can inhale the invisible tendrils of Cognac aroma and think, “oh yes, I detect vanilla, dried apricots, toast, etc.” But along with that is the ability of smell to stimulate areas of the brain where memories are stored.

The scent of coconut can instantly transport us back to that well-earned beach vacation; Spiced pumpkin might have you reminiscing over trick or treat adventures and rich cloves might take you back to spiced, perfumed spa where you enjoyed a deep tissue massage. Such memories are yours—and yours alone—and it’s the scent that brings back even long-forgotten experiences, such is the power it exudes.

Companies, shops, and other marketing outlets are well aware of this aroma-brain connection. Smells that evoke positive memories can even influence our behavior, hence the millions of dollars, euros, pounds, and other global currencies that are invested into just such marketing across the world.

Taste, which happens when the liquid comes into contact with our taste buds within the mouth, can also have a subconscious connection—but not anywhere near as strong as that of aroma. For the most part, when we sip a Cognac we experience the continuing journey of flavor that stimulates a different area of the brain to aroma.

The BNIC Aroma Wheel

Aroma Wheel Cognac
Spicy Cognacs: Some of the most common aroma descriptions you might find are caramel, mushroom, chocolate, cinnamon, and truffle

We particularly like the Cognac aroma wheel to explain the different taste profiles. As you can see, they’re divided into quadrants that represent the four seasons. Spicy eau-de-vie corresponds with autumn. This makes perfect sense, as it’s a taste session that embodies three months of golden fall leaves, spiced pumpkin soup, mulled wine, and all the colors that represent this glorious season.

Young vs. old: where do spicy Cognacs sit?

While some young Cognacs might be described as having some primary spicy tones, the true essence of these sought after flavors evolve over time. This means that to appreciate the taste experience of a wonderfully spicy Cognac, it’s necessary to select ones that have aged for at least 10 years. This means you should be looking at examples in the XO or XXO categories, or those that have been allowed to develop over a significantly longer period. 

These might also come under the banners of Vieille Réserve, Hors d’Age, and older vintages

Producer Interpretation: we ask the experts

Naturally, we also turned to the professionals for their opinion. For this task we spoke to two houses, Tesseron and Giboin.

Tesseron Cognac

Tesseron range on a wooden table

 

Tesseron Cognac is currently operating under the 4th generation. It was only in 2003 that the brand released their range under its name. Before that they were selling their precious eaux-de-vie to larger cognac houses. Today the cognac house produces only high-end cognacs and is reputed for its rare stocks that have become legendary amongst Cognac connoisseurs all over the world. 

 

Our questions were answered by Frédéric. 

Q1: Tell us what you think about spicy Cognacs?

I like spicy cognacs very much and think especially older cognacs fall into this category.

Q2: What are the spicy notes and aromas?

Difficult to say. I would say that depends mainly on the individual taste. But for me it is mainly peppery notes. Liquorice is also one of them.

Q3: How do you produce a truly spicy Cognac?

Spicy cognacs are often created in combination with the barrel in which it was stored. One can burn the barrels inside longer, which gives a spicier note, but this can also quickly give tobacco notes if done for too long.

Q4: What’s the best way to drink spicy Cognacs?

As with any cognac, the best occasion to enjoy a spicy cognac is in good company and when you feel it is best.

Q5: Which of your Cognacs are great spicy examples? 

Out of all the cognacs in the Tesseron range, I would choose either the Carafe Extra Legend, which is a bit more peppery on the palate, or the Lot 53, which convinces with cafe notes.

Giboin Cognac

Giboin smelling cognac

 

The cognac house Gibon owns around 24 hectars of vineyards in the Fins Bois and Borderies region. It always has been a family-run business. The knowledge has been transmitted for over 7 generations and goes back to 1830. Giboin strives to remain committed to the passed on methods used for many years. Today they are proud to have a wide range of Cognacs and Pineau in their range. 

 

Our questions were answered by Pierre-Louis. 

Q1: Tell us what you think about spicy Cognacs?

For me, cognacs with spicy notes are extremely interesting aromatically. They allow us to travel, simply by inhaling a tulip glass, and that is great!

Q2: What are the spicy notes and aromas?

I find that spicy notes can be found especially in the old cognacs, and in particular the old Borderies, which are very powerful aromatically. There is nutmeg, roasted almonds, cardamom, or orange zest, which is a bit between citrus and spices.

Q3: How do you produce a truly spicy Cognac?

 For me, it is the time that is important. The passage in new barrels at the beginning of the ageing process, and in particular in barrels with a large grain size and well heated at the heart, will allow the cognac to develop these spicy notes during the oxidation phase.

Q4: What’s the best way to drink spicy Cognacs?

Just after a coffee in the early afternoon, it is fabulous.

Q5: Which of your Cognacs are great spicy examples? 

We will find spices especially in our XO cognac, but also in our Borderies vintages, especially the 1974 in which we find warm and invigorating spices. But also in the Borderies 1998, in brut de fût.

Top 8 Spicy Cognac List

Of course, we can’t have an article about spicy Cognacs without giving you some great examples. As already mentioned, it takes many years of oak barrel aging for spiciness to evolve. Therefore we need to look at the older age categories to find them.

The Cognac Expert team carried out extensive research to come up with eight excellent bottles.

  1. Park XO Cigar Blend: Don’t be fooled by the name, this is a great Cognac with or without a cigar. Saffron and nutmeg blend with vanilla and honey tones—the spicy notes are evident from the nose through to the lengthy finish.

    Buy this excellent Park XO Cigar blend in our online shop.

  2. Jean Fillioux L’Eveil des Sens 1894: Intensely smooth with a gorgeously spicy profile. This incredibly old Cognac is firmly in the autumn quadrant of the aroma wheel.

    Find out more about this high-end Jean Fillioux Cognac here.

  3. Francois Voyer Hors d’Age Coffret Grande Champagne: Grande Champagne excellence with very obvious tones of coffee, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

    Check out this highly recommended Francois Voyer Cognac and buy it today.

  4. Chainier Très Vieille Réserve: Offering incredible value for money for such a well-aged example, the whole Cognac Expert team agree that this is a deserving addition to any great Cognac collection.

    Head to our shop to find out more about this spicy cognac from Chainier.

  5. Lheraud Vintage 1972 Fins Bois: The characteristics of the terroir shine through in this intensely spicy Cognac.

    Find out more about this elegantly black bottled Lheraud cognac and buy a bottle today.

  6. Bertrand XO: The house of Bertrand has excelled itself with this Petite Champagne, beautifully spicy example. If you like a long finish, then you’ll be delighted with the rollercoaster evolution of spices that seem virtually never-ending.

    Read more about this exceptional Bertrand XO in our shop.

  7. Tesseron Lot No 53 XO Perfection: Perfection by name and by nature, this peppery offering from Tesseron embodies exactly what we mean by spicy Cognac.

    Buy a bottle of Tesseron Lot No 53 XO today and experience a spicy cognac.

  8. Giboin XO Royal: If you love a spicy finish, then this wonderful XO ticks all the right boxes. If you’ve never tried a Giboin Cognac then you don’t know what you’re missing.

    Put that right and purchase a bottle of Giboin XO Royal in our online shop.

In Conclusion

To sum up, if you want to try a truly spicy Cognac then you have to select an older example. These tones only develop after many years of aging, meaning at least a decade—preferably more—of languishing in a producer’s cellar.

As well as an extended  aging process, cellar masters take advantage of various ways to encourage spicy aromas and flavors to develop. This includes the selection of the aging barrel, additional treatments, such as toasting, and even barrel changes to infuse the attributes of different ages of wood.

Spicy Cognacs can be enjoyed in many different ways. Many prefer to drink them in the traditional manner—sipped neat and at room temperature. However, the characteristics of a spicy Cognac make them more than robust enough to shine through however you drink them. You can also open up further spicy tones by the addition of a little water or ice.

We suggest trying a range of older Cognacs to develop your palate to the art of tasting. The more you experiment, the better you’ll become at defining the flavors and aromas you experience. It’s an exciting learning curve and one that even the most experienced Cognac drinker can continue to hone.

As well as adding a few spicy Cognacs to your tasting repertoire, we also recommend reading our article, What does Cognac taste like? to delve further into the intricacies of tasting our favorite drink.

So get tasing, and don’t forget to let us know the Cognacs that you think best represent the spicy side of ear-de-vie. We can’t wait to hear from you.

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Jacki has been with Cognac Expert from virtually the beginning. She's the senior editor of the blog, and has spent much of her life living in rural France. Today she's based back in the UK, where she splits her working life between writing for Cognac Expert and working as a Paramedic at a large regional hospital.

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