Making Cognac costs seven times more money than Scotch whiskey. Seven times! And the grapes for Cognac are locally grown whereas the grain for whiskey can be sourced worldwide. Think about it. Also, adding a spoon of Cognac to chocolate mousse is tres awesome and adds extra punch to the four after-dinner C’s — Cognac, coffee, chocolate and company. Those were a few things said by Patrick Peyrelongue, owner of Cognac Delamain, at a recent information session held at Pudao Wines in Beijing.
(Also of note: Pudao members got a real treat at a post-seminar tasting of four bottles of Cognac, including one aged 55 years. And “tasting” meant more than a puny dribble and instead meant good-sized — and in most cases, multiple — pours.)
Back to Peyrelongue. A few items from his talk:
- Delamain is based in Jarnac, a town of 5,000 people, has 20 employees, exports to 70 countries (Russia is the biggest customer) and is 66 percent family owned, with a 34 percent stake by Champagne house Bollinger.
- It is in the most prestigious area, Grand Champagne, double distills a thin acidic 9-percent wine made from Ugni Blanc grapes, and uses French oak barrels for aging. Blending is key. “Our job is to blend for consistency as two barrels are never the same,” says Peyrelongue.
- Of 240 million bottles of Cognac produced yearly, he says 97 percent is exported and four companies – Hennessey, Martell, Remy Martin, Courvesier — hold 80+ percent of the market, while Delamain produces fewer than 30,000 cases or less than 1 percent of total production.
- Delamain hand labels its bottles, rinses them with Cognac before filling, uses weak Cognac rather than distilled water for dilution, and does all of its own cellaring, with about ten years of stock on hand.
The company has a product called La Voyage de Delamain, which he describes as “one century of Cognac” and includes 40 different spirits from the 1840s to 1947. It comes in a Baccarat decanter that was a logistical nightmare to create. And only 500 bottles were made, with 30 to 40 yet available. This site lists a bottle at rmb40,000+. You can check on prices with Pudao Wines or importer Summergate. Maybe you can swing a buy six, get one free deal.
- Pale & Dry is a blend created in the 1920s. It is called “pale” because it is aged in very old casks, with no coloring added, and it uses Cognacs that average 25 years old. I could smell butterscotch, brown sugar, dried orange, sweet dry grass and some vanilla.
- Vesper was created in the 1950s, in a style Peyrelongue described as “classic Cognac”, and averages 35 years old. This one is fuller and rounder, with dried apricots and toffee — he also cited licorice. This once has an initial sense of sweetness, some viscosity, and a longer and spicy finish.
- Tres Venerable: Peyrelongue was saying “toffee… vanilla… chocolate… licorice.. white peaches.” I get the middle three, something spicy and kind of menthol that could be licorice, and dried fruits –- apricots -– and a whiff of savory preserved prunes. Figgy and fun.
- Reserve de la Famile: Fruity and juicy through to the finish. Mildly spicy, with an enduring finish.