On Sunday a week ago, we (Max and Sebastian) had a busy and exciting day at ProWein in Düsseldorf, Germany. This is a huge international trade fair for wine and spirits that’s growing in importance with every passing year. At such an event you can expect to meet great people, taste lots of cognac and, last but certainly not least, getting a real insight into various producers. Below is what we discovered throughout the day…
Our first tasting experience was at the Francois Voyer stand. And what a choice this was, because Pierre Vaudon presented us with nothing less than their Grande Champagne Hors d’Age Cognac. With its purist approach, both the cognac itself and the packaging reflect Francois Voyer’s identity of authentic and artisan products. We love this ethos.
It’s a very elegant cognac; light amber in color, with a fruity nose that hints of dried apricots and orange peels. But in addition there are ‘darker’ flavours as well, such as tobacco. And finally, a strong yet subtle aftertaste to finish. This really was a great cognac to start with.
We also spoke about the various other cognacs produced by Francois Voyer. And it was very interesting to hear that their entry level VS cognac only represents around 1% of their total sales. Francois Voyer’s main focus is on high quality cognac, so this ratio certainly makes sense for their business strategy.
Pierre proudly informed us that the Francois Voyer XO Gold Grande Champagne Cognac was awarded 92 points and, “Excellent, Highly Recommended,” at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2014.
We then talked about the comparability of cognac in general. Pierre expressed an opinion that was mirrored later on in the day by those from Tessendier Cognac. And that is that perhaps the best quality of cognac to compare different brands is the XO. This is because to produce an XO requires more craftsmanship and sophistication then for a VSOP, but it’s not in the same realm as a high-end product such as an Hors d’Age.
Our next stop was at Bache-Gabrielsen, with our friends Hervé Bache-Gabrielsen and Alix Le Boulengé. After some obligatory chitchat we got to taste one of their new products, a Single Estate Fins Bois Cognac. This has been produced as a collaboration between Bache-Gabrielsen and M. Morisset. This is a VS cognac that retails at around 45 €.
It’s a traditional eaux-de-vie, presented in a typically Scandinavian bottle of slim, clean design. The cognac itself is bright in color, with a fruity, fresh nose that’s rounded out with a touch of almond and hazelnut. On the palate it’s well balanced; smooth, yet the fruity freshness remains. Max felt that this Fins Bois Cognac had a very specific, unique nose. This is certainly not your average VS, which is a good thing.
Next we tried two Millésime cognacs. The first (and Sebastian’s personal highlight of the trade fair) was a 1971 Borderies Vintage, matured for 40 years in old barrels and limited to 729 bottles. Once again, very bright – reminiscent of acacia honey. The nose was fruity but surprisingly herbal, with the softness of thyme, mint, lavender and the spice of eucalyptus springing to mind. These essences were accentuated on the palate, and extended into the pleasant aftertaste.
The second Millésime Cognac was a 1973 Petite Champagne Vintage. This was much darker in color, with an aroma of dark berries, especially wild strawberries and a strong undercurrent of cherries. Hints of nuts and wood finished off this complex nose. This is not a new cognac; it’s been on the market for a while now and is one of Max’s favorite vintages.
Finally we tried Bache’s Hors d’Age Grande Champagne, which is a solid, value for money Hors d’Age (and very popular in Norway). After this plethora of tasting, as you can imagine we were in need of some food to sustain us… And water, we have to admit!
A quick lunch break followed, from which we moved on to talk to Rémi, from De Luze. He presented to us the new (old) brand of the Boinaud family, called Dupont Cognac. This is a tribute to Julien Dupont, a member of the Boinaud history, who lived in late 19th century.
We reported about Dupont Cognac, a pure Grande Champagne blend, during Vinexpo 2014. This comes in three different qualities, and all are produced from the very best Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie from the Boinaud estate. In addition, the packaging and labeling of all three grades come with many references to the mindset behind the brand.
As Boinaud is still developing the different packaging and names for the line, we’ll only provide tasting notes of the high-end cognac in this series. This cognac is the colour of dark orange blossom. The nose is rich, with touches of apricot and peaches, combined with earthy-tobacco and a hint of walnut. The palate is smooth, pleasant and the aftertaste is luxuriously long.
Apparently, the packaging of the Fine Champagne XO and the De Luze Extra Cognac is to be slightly changed. The elegant, curved design of the XO bottle will remain, but become bolder in the form of a massive crystal decanter. The thought behind the changes are to play with the symmetry of the formation. Sounds exciting, and we’re looking forward to seeing the final result.
Next stop on our tour was the ABK6 stand. Naturally, we first gave our congratulations for the brand’s recently won award of ‘The World’s Best Cognac‘ for their Single Estate VSOP. And, of course, we had to taste it.
Dark in color, it’s a fruity, well-balanced cognac; smooth with a hint of herbs. It also has a characteristic that Elodie Abecassis and Maitre de Chais Christian Guérin describe as, ‘cake-like’. And indeed, it is a cognac you’d like to eat – if you could. On the palate it provides a smooth yet subtle that brings to mind these cake flavors of light southern fruits and spices. This gives way to a lingering, pleasant aftertaste.
Beyond that, it was interesting to hear that the ABK6 Single Estate VSOP and the XO Family Reserve are now available in a new packaging that includes two glasses. This has been done because many people don’t have the right glasses in which to serve cognac. And they’re definitely right. Because glassware is a crucial factor when it comes to enjoying cognac to maximum effect.
Next stop was Cognac Hardy, where we were welcomed by Nathalie who Sophie and Max met last year at La Part des Anges. After admiring their, as always, impressing packaging, we tasted the Noces D’Albatre cognac. This is rather dark in color – as are most of Hardy Cognacs – with a rather feminine touch. There’s a soft sweetness in the nose, bringing to mind dark berries and a hint of rapeseed nectar. The palate is subtle and the aftertaste long and satisfying.
Unfortunately we were now a bit in a hurry. Having spent a long time at each stand, we wanted to get to Tessendier for an XO tasting. We’d planned to visit many other producers, but had kind of overestimated our capability to taste many different cognacs and meet as many people as we’d thought…
So, although a little late, we had the chance to taste two different XO cognacs by Cognac Tessendier. The first was an XO from Cognac Buisson; a cognac that consists of 80% Borderies eaux-de-vie. Despite its very flowery flavors, Borderies is ageing faster than Grande Champagne. Dark amber in color, it came with light touch of sweetness – quince and green cardamom came to mind. On the palate these light hints of fruit continued after that first gentle punch, moving into a satisfying aftertaste.
The next was the Campagnere XO: a Fin Bois cognac. Fin Bois de Jarnac to be exact – an area of Fin Bois that’s located next to Petite Champagne and has some similar characteristics. Comparable in color to the other XO, this cognac had an aroma of much darker fruits. Berries – especially currents – with a fast punch to the palate. This cognac had a dense body, very compact and concentrated
The last cognac Jérôme Tessendier offered us was something very special. Called Belle Epoque, this is a Grande Champagne, Single Barrel masterpiece. This superb cognac has been created with the aim of allowing the taster to experience a unique, special characteristic of the Grande Champagne cru.
This single barrel cognac and the name ‘Belle Epoque’ refers to the fact that at the end of the 19th century, cognac was more barrel-orientated than today, especially in the Cognac region itself. Even more concentrated and rich than the Campagnere cognac, it provides a subtle sweetness on the nose and a very rich body on the palate. It’s an amazing and unusual cognac.
Buisson XO, Campagnere XO, Park XO, Belle Epoque Single Barrel Cognac
Changing cognac markets
Beyond these three cognacs of course we talked with Jérôme (and all other producers) about the changing cognac markets. But as this is a topic of general interest, and to avoid any difficulties for the producers that gave us some insights, let’s have an overall look on this issue.
One of the big topics of conversation is the changing market in China. Even if the Chinese market is declining in general, it was good to hear that the Chinese consumers are still interested in new brands. Because of this, some cognac houses continue to create new brands uniquely for this market. In addition to this, Chinese consumers are becoming far more interested in the small and mid-sized cognac houses. This is providing a great opportunity for these producers to position themselves in the Asian marketplace, and perhaps create new, Chinese-targeted cognacs.
In fact, all the brand representatives we met at ProWein are very active in China. Some are even planning to grow this portion of their market, with the hope of developing some kind of sustainability through cognac education to the younger consumer market.
Another main topic of conversation was the changing political situation in the Ukraine, and the questions about future sanctions against Russia. This is serious, as what would happen if Russia experiences the same cognac sanctions that North Korea has already ‘suffered’ from? How would a cognac embargo against Russia hit the ultra-premium producers, given that this is a big market for these quality of spirits?
However, the under-current is that if there were such sanctions imposed, most producers are confident that such a crisis (and indeed, the same applies for the China situation), would, after an initial lull, then move back to normal.
We at Cognac-Expert.c0m think that China will probably not enjoy the sales levels seen in recent years. And as for Russia? Well, this is already a complicated market for alcohol, but we hope that the current crisis will cool down. Let’s keep our fingers crossed…
In fact none of the producers focus solely on a single market. All houses want and need a widely diversified market reach. And the good news is that all the cognac producers have a similar and optimistic outlook.