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The Cognac they call Courvoisier

Peter Whieldon - on Courvoisier CognacIt started in the early 1800s with a chance meeting of two respected merchants who became business partners and created what is considered by some to be the finest superior Cognac in the world.

The men were Emmanuel Courvoisier and Louis Gallois.

As time passed and eventually their respected sons inherited the businesses, they decided to merge both and make the then small town of Jarnac the home of Courvoisier. Some time later recognition came to the business in the form of a title of note ‘Purveyor by special appointment to the court of Napoleon III’.

However it was the story I am about to tell which made the legend of the Cognac we now know as Courvoisier. It is said that during Napoleon’s final journey to his exile on St Helena, having been stripped of his power and wealth after the battle of Waterloo he insisted that his captors made available several hundred bottles of Courvoisier for him to take with him.

This was duly granted and it is said that the accompanying British soldiers upon tasting this fine Cognac called it ‘the Cognac of Napoleon’. From then on the legend was born and since the 1920s every bottle of Courvoisier has this phrase on it.

Having described previously the geographical location of Cognac, I will now explain the characteristics of this spirit.

Firstly there are six designated districts (or Crus) where the grapes grown can be used in producing Cognac.

Courvoisier only uses FOUR… Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois.

The pot stills used are called”Copper Charantais” and although these are smaller ones than usually used they contribute to the overall high quality of this cognac and in itself a feature of the dedication of the team at Courvoisier.

Another feature of quality management is the length of time that the spirit is kept in the casks before being released for bottling. At Courvoisier they keep their Cognacs for well over the minimum statutory three years as decreed by law.

The grapes used in the making of this Cognac are the popular Ugni Blanc, the Colombard & Folle Blanche. These grapes are sourced every year mostly from the same wine growing families who have served Courvoisier for many generations, and therefore quality reigns supreme from grower to maker!

After the grapes are harvested the grapes are transferred to pneumatic presses where they start to ferment. Fermentation here is in two stages , the first being the conversion of sugar to alcohol which lasts up to a week (Approximately)  then the second part , that of  malolactic  fermentation  which increases the  complexity of the wine and reduces the level of acidity.

At this point various testing and analysis takes place to ensure that only the finest young wines are produced and selected to finally become Cognac de Courvoisier. When the time has come to place the aspiring spirit in casks to ensure ultimate maturation the casks are selected by the master blender. These casks are all oak, generally over 150-200 years old and presently taken from sustainable forests only.

The barrel makers are the most skilled ‘Coopers’ in France. First they split the wood into ‘staves’ and leave them to season for up to three years and once the ‘bitterness’ of the wood has gone, they are then taken to be assembled into a cask having had a metal brace or hoop placed around them, they are then “roasted “over an open fire. This roasting or toasting influences the ‘eau de vie’ as it adds a richness to the aroma of young cognac.

Maturation of Cognacs is such an art only the most proficient master blenders can achieve consistency and indeed develop new tastes. To explain that Cognacs at Courvoisier are allowed up to FIFTY years to develop their rich colours and distinctive bouquets you have to see it to believe it … I can assure you it is true!

The barrels are kept in contact with the air through pores in the barrels; the spirit absorbs the best of the wood and begins to take on exquisite flavours. As this takes place part of the spirit in the barrel is lost!  It evaporates and becomes what is known as “the angels share” and if you ever visit a cognac cellar you will see on looking up to the ceiling of the building, a black mould this is caused by the escaping spirit!

It is worth knowing at Courvoisier they use two types of cellar, the first being a ‘Dry’ cellar, this improves the character and fruitiness, whilst the second a ‘Humid’ enhances the overall smoothness.

It is now the time of the of the ‘Master Blender’ who has extracted samples of all the maturing Cognacs. It is in my humble opinion the most difficult role of all the positions you could hold in the cognac making process, when you think that you may have memorise up to fifty different cognacs, from four different ‘Crus’ which could have up to one thousand growers/suppliers! So respect is due as they say.

The process begins with what is known as ‘pre-blending’, this is to analyse all the flavours and it is from this that after a period of monitoring depending on the blend that larger quantities are laid down. All through the different stages the blends are compared with previous year’s production to ensure continuity of the distinctive Courvoisier taste.

Courvoisier produces a range of Cognacs designed to reach the discerning, here are a few notes on a selection.

Courvoisier VS… A blend of Fins Bois for fruitiness & petite champagne for depth, giving a greater depth than most other cognacs. It has a golden /light amber colour with a rich, fruity pungent aroma. A very strong body to it giving a big character and delivering a powerful, clean full bodied taste with an intense finish and rich aroma.

Courvoisier VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale)… Aged much longer than the industry standard giving a pleasant finesse, and one of very few houses to use a blend of Grande & Petite champagne Crus enabling “Fine Champagne” distinction. Golden yellow in colour with an amber reflection it has an unmistakable aroma of florals with hints of almond and prune. A very subtle even harmonious presentation, with a distinctive light taste and a long finish.

Courvoisier Napoleon Fine Champagne… This is the original named by Napoleon as his favourite cognac made from matured Grande & Petite Champagne grapes it gives a delicious deep golden and ambered colour ,has a dense aroma with definite hints of liquorice, hazelnut, ginger, orange blossom and even cigar ! This is a full bodied and well rounded cognac which has a rich, elegant and rewarding taste resulting in a long, lingering finish.

Courvoisier XO Imperial… This has been judged the finest XO in the world… and that no mean feat of excellence!  It is a exceptionally old blend of fine cognacs, incredibly aromatic with chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, honey, fruit cake, and apricot, velvet taste, bright mahogany colour and a long deep finish one you will not forget in a hurry.



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