June 6, 2010

Cognac - June 5

Statue of François I in the centre of Cognac

The name "Cognac" evokes all sorts of warm feelings for us.  Not only is it a liquor that we particular like, but it was our German short-haired pointer's name.  We loved that dog.

All the great cognac houses can be found in the town of Cognac: Hennessy, Rémy-Martin, Martell, Courvoisier, Camus, and Otard.  We chose to visit Cognac Otard because the cognac production house is located in the château where François I was born in 1494.

Otard has a dynasty dating back to the Vikings.  In 849, Ottar, a fearless Viking chieftain from Tromso on the Norwegian coast, sailed the northern seas.  From the 11th to the 16th century, the descendants of Ottar were masters of Dun-Ottar Castle near Aberdeen, 30 km. from Dundee in Scotland.  (This reference is for Karl's step-father Don who is from Dundee.)  Because of their loyalty to the Stuart cause, it forced James Ottar, the last son of the last earl, to exile himself to France in 1688.

The distillery was established in 1795 by his grand-son Otard who ruthlessly demolished an old chapel in the process.  Luckily, much of the Renaissance architecture was saved.

These are replicas of carvings from the original Great Hall.

The Great Hall

During the French/English war taking place in Canada, some of the English prisoners were brought back to France and kept in the château. We can still see some graffiti left from their incarceration.  Some of the carvings were done with their teeth when these fell out.  The stone has a porous lime base.

The basic material for cognac is local white wine low in alcohol, which is then distilled - twice.  (A cognac is always a brandy, but a brandy is never a cognac because brandy is distilled only once.)  The resultant pale spirit is aged in oak barrels for 4 - 40 years before being bottled. 

Those who transported this "eau de vie" soon realized that it took less room in the boats to transport the distilled product rather than the wine, so the production of cognac increased considerably.

Today most of the cognac is stored across the Charente river because it is highly flammable and the laws of the city prevent it from being stored within such a populated area.

Cognac has been labelled "medicinal" in its history in order to sell to Muslim countries and to the US during prohibition.

La Part des anges.  Approximately 2% per year evaporates from the cognac casks.  This evaporation cannot be recaptured and therefore they call it "The angels' portion".  The only others that benefit from this evaporation are the lichens that thrive in both the humidity and temperature needed for the cognac.  Whenever you spot the black lichen stains from alcohol evaporation on the exterior of the buildings in this port, you may be sure that you are looking at a storehouse of cognac.

The skill in producing a quality cognac lies in the blending - therefore the only guide to quality is the name and the duration of ageing. Categories include: VS - very special; VSOP - very special old pale; XO - extra old; Napoleon; Extra; Vieux; Vieille réserve; and Hors d'âge (beyond age).  We bought a Napoleon and we'll be dreaming of France when we sip from our snifters in front of the fireplace on those cold Canadian evenings...

We did not pay the 7,565 euros for this bottle of special blend...  That's the equivalent of over $10,000 Cdn.

The complete story of Cognac Otard can be found at: www.otard.com/gb/histoire_baron/index.htm

No comments:

Post a Comment