Cognac is a first class tipple even on a school night


I went to a fantastic Cognac tasting the other night. 

It was put on for trade only and started at 11pm, a great time to entice buyers as most of the hospitality workers have just finished and are very thirsty. 

Not so good for me, as it’s literally a school night. But I managed… 

I’ve been to a few tastings in my time but I’ve never been to one that inspired so many questions. 

The host, Olivier Jadeau from Delamain, fielded the questions well, bouncing around from table to table and answering with great knowledge and passion. 

It’s a fascinating drop, Cognac. It is not hugely popular in New Zealand but with a trade that’s always keen to pass on its knowledge to customers, you may find it suggested to you next time you are in your favourite Queenstown bar. 

Delamain is a small Cognac house that produces XO brandies only. This means that all of their bottlings have been aged for at least six years in barrel. (XO is a minimum of six, VSOP a minimum of four). 

In reality it is much longer, with their youngest Cognac being 25 years old – the beautiful and great value Delamain Pale and Dry. 

Delamain don’t actually make the wine themselves and they don’t distil the wine into ‘eau de vie’ (un-aged brandy) either. They purchase eau de vies from farmers who distil it themselves and then sell on to Cognac houses. 

Delamain age and blend Cognacs. They only buy on quality and taste. 

We tried some of their older Cognacs, one which was 55 years old and one which was a single cask, bottling at 60 years. The age refers to the youngest brandy in the blend. 

The great thing about these old Cognacs is that they naturally reduce down to 40 per cent alcohol with time. 

Cognac starts at 70 per cent after being distilled twice and starts to lose alcohol while in the barrel through evaporation. 

At 55 to 60 years old it’s reduced down to 4 per cent alcohol. Younger brandies like the Pale and Dry are watered down to reduce them to the same degree for sale. 

If you have drunk Cognac it was probably in a brandy balloon, the stemmed glasses shaped like a fish bowl and designed to warm the brandy in the hand. 

In the Cognac cellars they use tulip glasses, a white wine glass with a narrow, straight rim which concentrates the aroma and flavour. This is the best glass to enjoy Cognac with. 

Olivier does not recommend warming Cognac, or mixing it with coke or drinking it with ice. Just straight up, nice and simple. 

In terms of taste you can expect lots of fruit such as apple, peach and pear. 

There are rich oak derived characters such as vanilla, tobacco and spice. And also tones that develop with the slow aging process such as orange peel, fig, dried fruits and nuts. 

Cognac is best drunk after dinner. This is when I enjoy it most. As it is made from grapes it is the perfect continuation after wine. 

There is no headache in the morning like whisky or liqueurs, I promise. 

A small producer like Delamain deserves credit for travelling the four corners of the earth to sell their wonderful product. 

It’s a great way to ensure brand loyalty and inspire the gatekeepers of the industry – the barmen, waiters and sommeliers – to recommend something new and old to their guests.

Paul Tudgay is the Queens­town Resort College business hospitality manager and a wine appreciation lecturer

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