The ‘nose’ of a Cognac is an integral part of what makes the enjoyment of the drink. But unless you’re an expert, it can be a challenge to know what you’re actually meant to be experiencing. Experts talk about various aromas, such as vanilla, citrus fruits, peach, caramel, vanilla, or tobacco. But for those of us whose senses aren’t quite as well tuned as those who inhale Cognac for a living, a little more guidance would be handy. Et voila! Cognac Expert is happy to help.

Common (and rather uncommon) Cognac Aromas

What are the Aromas of Cognac?

Back in 2009, 50 sommeliers, cellar masters, and tasters met up at the International Cognac Summit to discover exactly this fact. They took 4 days (we can only imagine how ‘awful’ it must’ve been for these poor souls to spend so long breathing in the aromas of various Cognacs). What they achieved was quite remarkable. A definitive (well, almost) guide that demystifies the glory of the aromas of Cognac. These expert ‘noses’ came up with a list of 5 major aromas that give our beloved Cognac its unique character.

5 major Aromas

  • Vanilla
  • Prune
  • Caramel
  • Orange
  • Apricot

But it certainly doesn’t end there. For these might well be the most usual aromas in the nose of a Cognac, but there are another 63, albeit more subtle, aromas, that have been cleverly classified according to the cycle of the season.

Common (and rather uncommon) Cognac Aromas

The Cognac Aroma Wheel

This visually beautiful image perfectly explains how each aroma is signified by the season it represents.

For example, the flowery and subtle aromas – such as iris, acacia, jasmine, orange blossom, and honeysuckle bring the joys of spring to mind. Summer is represented by somewhat mellower tones; hay, apricot, fresh figs, and plums…

Autumn brings with it the sweetness of dried apricot, licorice, toffee and truffle. And then winter is characterized by aromas of a more masculine nature; coffee, leather, walnut, tobacco, and orange zest.

A really interesting fact is that Courvoisier have recently announced that they’re going to target a marketing campaign based on the resurgence of the UK coffee drinking market. Coffee in the 21st century is very aroma-specific. Maxxium UK, in conjunction with Courvoisier, is embarking on a huge marketing campaign targeting just such a combination–the aromas of Cognac and how they can complement coffee, such as in an espresso martini.

Check out Rebecca Asseline (ambassador of Courvoisier in the UK) as she explains the complexities of the brands XO, and how to taste the Cognac–in particular, the intricacies of the nose.

Age is everything

Aromas are dependent on age. When it comes to Cognac, it’s definitely a case of the older the better. For example, once a Cognac is well aged the aromas have a defined difference. Fruity tones change from fresh peach and plums to more defined aromas of concentrated prunes, figs, and dried apricots. Oak moves to more complex sandalwood, cedar, and eucalyptus. And the light floral tones mature into those of jasmine, honeysuckle, and hyacinth.

In Cognacs that have been aged for over 15 years, you can expect to find tones of licorice, port, chocolate, spices, toffee, tobacco, and nuts.

Best Cognacs for Unusual Aromas

It should come as no surprise that if you’re looking for a Cognac that sports the more unusual aromas, you need to choose one that’s well aged. The following are some of the best available today that offer the taster the opportunity to luxuriate in some of the most decadent of ‘le nez’.

Raymond Ragnaud Heritage Grande Champagne Decanter Edition Cognac

OK, so we’re setting the standard by which this list must accomplish. Because this is truly a wonderful Cognac.

Common (and rather uncommon) Cognac Aromas

The nose is amazingly expressive, with nuances of bread, toasted nuts, and delightful spices, including nutmeg and cinnamon. And if you’re looking for a totally awe inspiring presentation, then the Sevres Crystal decanter and wooden presentation box mean those that take the opportunity to own this luxury really won’t be disappointed.

Claude Thorin Extra Grande Champagne Cognac

One of the oldest Cognacs from this delightful house, you can expect to experience aromas of dry tobacco and spices. This is a great choice for anyone looking to experience those ‘aged aromas’ that are somewhat different from the norm.

Common (and rather uncommon) Cognac Aromas

Hine Millesime 1986 Early Landed Cognac

This is an exceptionally aromatic choice from a harvest that really does stand out above the ordinary. Hine age their Early Landed Cognacs by the river banks in Bristol, UK, for unusual aromas. The Cognac boasts notes of tobacco leaf, chocolate, and leather. It’s an altogether wonderful Cognac, and we love the fact that Hine sees fit to present it in a simple, traditional Cognac bottle. There’s no flamboyance–they simply let the delicious liquor held within do all the talking…

Common (and rather uncommon) Cognac Aromas

Chabasse XO Imperial Cognac

Beautifully presented, this offering from Chabasse offers aromas of tobacco leaves, old roses, nuts, and autumn leaves.   It somehow manages to be extraordinarily complex, yet remain truly mellow. A sensation that has to be experienced to be truly understood.

Common (and rather uncommon) Cognac Aromas

Logis de Montifaud Hors d’Age Cognac

If you’re looking for a nose that will truly give you the essence of tobacco, spices, and old leather, then your search has come to an end. The experts at Logis de Montifaud have it nailed with this little beauty. And if you fancy a great Cognac to pair with your favorite cigar, then this could well be the one. This Cognac maker is a hidden treasure, 100% artisanal craft.

Common (and rather uncommon) Cognac Aromas

Tesseron Lot No 53 XO Perfection Cognac

Perfection by name, and perfection by nature… There’s a reason why this Tesseron XO has been awarded by many of the names in spirits–such as being awarded 5 stars in The Spirit Journal. Along with the rich, expressive nose, we love the simplistic presentation that oozes class. These guys know that it’s the Cognac that matters.

Common (and rather uncommon) Cognac Aromas

The science bit…

Now according to various scientific studies, there are 230 key aromas (known as odorants). But for individual smells of various foodstuffs (such as the really obvious smells–bacon, wine, roasted meat, strawberries…) the particular aromas are made up from between 3-40 key molecules. And while the smell of butter utilizes 3 key molecules, and strawberries 12, Cognac is one of the most complex smelling of all foodstuffs – it’s made up of 36 different key odor molecules.

If you want to delve a little deeper into the science, check out our article on aromas and Cognac smell.

Soap?!

Before we end, there’s a funny addition when it comes to talking about aromas. And it might well surprise you… It’s the aroma of soap. Yes, you read that correctly, soap. Let’s explain a little more. Such a phenomenon occurs when water is added to an eau-de-vie close to the end of its aging process. This is normal practice when the alcohol content needs to be brought down to a certain level (for instance, from 43% ABV down to 40% ABV). However, if the process is rushed, it can leave a soapy tang-one that’s noticeable both on the nose and the palate.

Obviously this is not something you want from your Cognac. But it does happen on occasion. Making Cognac is not an exact science, and it’s all down to the skill of the cellar master. As with all things Cognac, even a step such as this can’t be rushed.

Sources: cognac.fr, thedrum.com

 

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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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