Cognac expert Michelle Brachet came to our London shop on a mission to convert people to the wonders of this classy spirit. After wowing guests with her choices, it appears she succeeded. And if you think that Cognac should be served warm in a big balloon glass, she has some advice for you…
1. Cognac is for everyone
‘Cognac is the most neglected spirit in this country. People are scared by it; they think it’s too expensive; they think you have to be a millionaire to drink it – I’m here to dispel these myths.’
2. Serve Cognac the right way
‘If anyone ever tries to heat up your Cognac, knock them out! This goes back to the days before central heating. Heating kills Cognac. I’m also running a campaign called Smash the Snifter. If you’re going to spend £25 for a shot of Cognac, then insist they serve it to you in a tulip glass. Failing that, ask for a Champagne flute. Snifter glasses kill Cognac’s aromas, and with Cognac, aroma is more important than taste.’
3. Learn your VSOPs from your XOs
‘Eau-de-vie must be aged for at least two years before it can be called Cognac. For a VSOP Cognac, it’s four years, and it’s six years for XO Cognac. There are 274 Cognac houses, and each house’s master blender can smell eaux-de-vie and can tell if the Cognac will last four years or 50! They have an unbelievably mind-bogglingly difficult job. But a young Cognac is as good as an old Cognac, provided it’s well balanced and well structured.’
4. Take your time
‘Everything happens very slowly in Cognac. We live in this ridiculous world where everything is quick, but Cognac is an amazing way to say “Stop, world! I’m going to shut everything else off.” People ask me what my favourite Cognac is, and I say I don’t have one. It depends if it’s raining, if it’s sunny, if I’m out with friends, and so on.’
5. Drink it how you like
There are many rules when it comes to producing Cognac, but when it comes to drinking Cognac, there are very few rules. For example, the Chinese have been sticking Coca-Cola in their expensive Cognacs for years! It’s great with food, too – try a VSOP Cognac with Roquefort – it will blow your mind.’
Hine Rare VSOP
Clean, with fresh apple, pear, toffee, black pepper and cinnamon. Honeyed and vibrant.
Michelle: ‘The average age of this is about eight years old’
Leyrat XO Vielle Reserve
Big and woody, with notes of sandalwood and violets, with spice in the form of cardamom, cumin, and ginger.
Michelle: ‘This is made with Fins Bois eaux-de-vie. Everyone loves to tell you that Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne are the best – utter rubbish!’
Rich orchard fruit along with red berries, toast and pineapple. Very classy.
Michelle: ‘Prunier, Frapin, Delamain and Hine are all known for their vintage Cognacs. They think that a whisky drinker will understand a vintage Cognac more easily than a blend’
Camus XO Borderies
Silky and spicy, with cinnamon-dusted brioche, clove, nutmeg and stewed fruit – packed with spicy flavour.
Michelle: ‘Borderies is a tiny, fabulous area; Camus was the first to launch a 100% Borderies XO Cognac’
Esteve Coup de Coeur
Deliciously fragrant and fruity, with elegant notes of apple and roses, and a touch of spice.
Michelle: ‘This is made with 100% Petite Champagne eaux-de-vie, which is more delicate than Grande Champagne – it’s the lady of the two’
Frapin Chateau de Fontpinot XO
Strawberry and spice, dark chocolate, coffee, and floral aromas.
Michelle: ‘This is a single-vineyard, single-estate Cognac, blended from different years’
Paul Giraud Tres Rare
Grapes, stone fruits, violets, pineapple and peach – juicy fruit and a touch of spice. Elegant, complex, mature, absolutely delicious – my pick of the line-up.
Michelle: ‘All Paul Giraud Cognacs are pure vintage; it never blends Cognacs from different years. It is also one of the only houses left that harvests by hand’
Many thanks to Michelle for presenting such a stylish selection of delicious Cognacs. Much of the audience was made up of die-hard whisky drinkers; we think she converted all of them! You can follow Michelle on Twitter here.