Tuesday, March 06, 2012

“Cognac & Blues”




Recently, I wrote about a delightful evening I spent at a single malt whisky tasting where we were treated to a jazz band. Shortly thereafter, Union Square Wines & Spirits held another and very similar tasting – this one was cognac while listening to the blues.


Family Tradition Cognacs presented several of their offerings and co-founder Matthew Skoller – who is also a blues harmonica player – performed sets during the tasting, in between discussing cognac and answering questions about the various types that were on display for this evening’s event. Skoller co-founded the company with his brother and sister-in-law. His brother’s wife is originally from the Cognac region of France and as a result, this gave them the entrée to the area’s grape growers necessary in order to be able to purchase the best grapes for their product. Where they decided their business could fulfill a need was in the area of artisanal cognacs – while industrially-made cognacs are widely available throughout the United States, the artisanal cognacs are rare because they are primarily available in France. With Family Tradition Cognac, they decided they could sell smaller cognacs into the United States market.



The evening started with Jean-Pierre Grateaud Cognac Bouquest de Borderies, aged five years. It has a very floral aroma, reminiscent of violets along with a light touch of caramel. This particular cognac is considered an excellent choice if you are new to the spirit and want to try something that may be a little sweeter and less intense than some of the more mature cognacs available.



Next was Laurence et Emmanuel Février Cognac Saveurs. Aged anywhere from six to seven years, it uses grapes from the Fins Bois region of Cognac, France. This one is characterized by its savory taste –hints of both clove and ginger can be detected, supplying a smoky finish.



Finally, there was Jean-Luc Pasquet Cognac Noble de Grande Champagne. At $120 a bottle, this was by far the most expensive cognac of the evening. This one is aged 15 years, using grapes from the Grande Champagne region. Its flavor definitely justifies its price – it has an intense taste that almost explodes on the palate.


Taking a break from his musical sets on the night, Skoller shared with us his expertise on cognacs. Once a bottle is uncorked, he said that upon re-corking it, it can be kept for a long time – up to two years, in most cases, provided not too much air gets inside the bottle that could potentially alter the spirit.

Skoller mentioned that the production of cognacs are traditionally greatly outpaced by wines; for every 10 bottles of wine produced in France, only one bottle of cognac is made. He said that younger wines are usually preferred over older wines when making cognac because older wines prove to be much harder to distill. According to Skoller, the process generally tends to go something like this: the young wine is distilled twice, resulting in a spirit that is 70% alcohol (or 140 proof, if you prefer). From this, a process called reduction is performed in order to decrease the alcohol content somewhat. This process can take a year or slightly more; it is done by gradually adding distilled water to the mix.

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