Tasting Cognac – How to taste Cognac

When it comes to drinking Cognac, one of the most important questions to understand is; How to taste Cognac?

Now, if you’re new to the joys of drinking and tasting good Cognac, this concept of there being a right way in which to taste the drink might seem a little complicated and even intimidating.  After all, the last thing anyone wants to do is make a faux-pas when in distinguished company.  Do you taste first or swirl?  What does the colour tell you about the Cognac you’re drinking?  And how long should you hold your Cognac in the glass before taking that all imortant first sip?

Confusing huh…  Well fear not, because here comes the Cognac-Expert guide on how to taste and enjoy your eaux-de-vie.

First comes the Eye: Swirl the glass and look at the beads of alcohol. The softness of the ‘legs’ indicates the complexity of the cognac.  Look at the colour of the Cognac – is it a light golden colour or a deeper hue?  However, don’t be fooled by the fact that you might know that Cognac darkens with age, because in many cases caramel is added to a Cognac to produce a darker drink.  Colouration alone does not give you an accurate indication of the age of a Cognac.

how-to-drink-cognac

Second is the Nose: Holding the glass at chin level, inhale the vapours and try to identify what it is that you can smell. Concentrate on noticing flowers and spicy notes. Flowers and fruits indicate a younger Cognac, whereas jammier notes imply an aged Cognac. Often one might find hints of Vanilla, although this might be very subtle in some cases. Nutty notes can also be noticed.

Third, Palate: Have a sip, but keep the liquid in your mouth. Remember, Cognac is sipped and savoured, not drunk.  This is because you want to taste all the different nuances.  Your tongue has different sensors in different areas, and you want to ensure that the Cognac touches all of these.  Taste at the tip for sweetness, the back for bitterness and at the sides for saltiness and sourness.  Also, pay attention to the length of the flavour in your mouth, and to the balance of the different flavours.

how-to-taste-cognac

Now, as we mentioned earlier, some Cognac producers add caramel to darken their product.  This way, they appear older than they actually are.  So whilst the colour on its own is not an accurate indication of the age of a Cognac, on the palate you can notice it quite easily: It’s noticeable as a very early, sweet vanilla note on the tip of the tongue, which then quickly vanishes, and is not present elsewhere on the palate.

In addition to the abover, there are some more general ‘rules’ for tasting:

Most importantly is, don’t be in a rush to drink a Cognac.  It’s important that a Cognac should be allowed to breathe for at least 30 seconds per year of it’s age.  So, for example, an XO Cognac »”>XO Cognac at 20 years should breathe for a minimum of 10 minutes before tasting it.

Different flavours you might detect

Fruit: In a younger Cognac (older than VSOP or older than 8 years) you should be able to find fruity notes. Typical fruits that you might recognise are raisins, apricots, oranges, lemons, apples and/or peaches.

Flowers: Middle-aged Cognacs (older than 14 years) normally present a certain nuance of flowers, either in the nose or on the palate.  Flower flavours can be roses, clover and/or honey.  Cognacs produced from the Borderies growing region often have notes of lavender.

Cognac aroma wheel: so many different tastes and nuances (source BNIC)

Spices: You might find nutmeg, cinnamon, coffee, ginger, coconut, toffee and other notes in older Cognacs (over 20 years).  Some Cognacs even combine fruits and flower with those spicy aromas.

Rancio is a specific term, describing a characteristic sense of sweet nut, influenced by the taste of wood and oak in a Cognac, with a long finish.
Chalk: When one can taste nuances of earth or oaky flavours in the upper half of the mouth.

Comments (7)

  1. Shane March 28, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Or, drink it. If you like it, drink a little more. If you don’t like it, don’t drink it again.

  2. How to taste Cognac | Cognac Review November 25, 2011 at 1:11 am

    […] buds sprinkled with flavors almost too complex for deciphering. Another good article on “How to taste a Cognac” on Cognac-expert.com Cognac is something we take very seriously, and like many aficionados, […]

  3. Nathaniel October 13, 2014 at 12:28 am

    See now this is confusing because just about EVERY place I’ve looked has said something different and different combinations. One says it doesn’t need to breathe and should NEVER be swirled, another says swirl and don’t let it breathe, another says the opposite of that, this says both….

  4. Joshua Streeter (@joshuastreeter) November 15, 2014 at 7:32 am

    I quit reading after your comment: “Your tongue has different sensors in different areas…”

    No it doesn’t. Do your research. That is an old, old myth.

    Cognac expert?

  5. Zappa March 29, 2015 at 7:15 am

    SLAYER SLAYER; Metalheads like Cognac too”!!

  6. ross July 3, 2015 at 1:42 am

    Hi,

    Good article although I see your respondents perhaps haven’t grasped the difference between tasting and drinking. In my very limited experience I’ll happily confess that Cognac smells much better than it tastes.

    Do you have links to more comprehensive tasting resources? I’m doing a WSET Diploma so looking

  7. Tonia Williams December 30, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    it was recognized as an old school drink. Rappers and singers talk about drinking it in songs. After reading Ross comment, I have to wonder if it’s anything like taking Robitussin. I’ll try it once with Pepsi.

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