A peek inside “Big Cognac”

Continuing thoughts from my recent visit to Cognac, this trip gave me the opportunity to visit three large Cognac houses (what blogger DJ Hawaiianshirt has dubbed “Big Cognac“). We didn’t really get to see the inner workings of the distillation process — it was more of a heavily-guided marketing tour with better tastings than the tourists get, plus the Cognac is for chicks angle added in. But it was fascinating nevertheless. Here are my favorite and least-favorite moments:




At Courvoisier:

Favorite Moment:  Viewing the mini-museum. (image above, with the copious pretty pretty bottles.) They had one of Napoleon’s famous tri-cornered hats on display.

Least Favorite Moment: Experiencing “smell-o-vision.” We went through a sensory experience called   “La Nez” (‘the nose’), which was “designed for younger professionals, to help create a more engaging experience.”  We were blindfolded, then a fan blew fragrance essences around the room, along with music selected to accompany each. We each smelled crème brulee, iris, and orange.

A “smell-o-vision” movie (my wording, not theirs) also was available; I ducked out, but asked someone who just exited, “how was it?” She replied, waving her hands toward herself, “crème brulee, crème brulee, crème brulee.”

Cognac for Chicks: We were served Courvoisier Rose, a mix of Cognac and fortified red wine from the South of France, intended for a female audience. It’s the first Cognac ready-to-drink (RTD) though technically it’s considered a liqueur, and has 18% abv. Launched in June 2011.  Coming to the U.S. in spring (May) 2012.

Our group’s comment: “it’s like Sangria in a bottle.”  It was served with Indian tonic and lime wedges (“squeeze the lime in,” advised Dominique LaPorte, sommelier. He was right – it was much better that way. Refreshing and went down easy.)




At Remy-Martin: 

Favorite Moment: I just adored this monologue from our 60-something chic blonde tour guide, who I thought of as the embodiment of “Real Housewives of Cognac.”:

“Cognac is a coquette. Cognac is feminine in that it doesn’t give its age directly. ‘Hello, I’m VSOP.’ How old am I? Like Cognac, I have no age.”

Least Favorite Moment:  I have to stress – this is not Remy’s fault in the slightest. But something I’d eaten earlier in the day gave me food poisoning, so I spent the end of an otherwise lovely evening projectile-vomiting in Remy’s lovely ladies room.

Cognac for Chicks:  Our evening began with a degustation of Coeur de Cognac, billed as “an interpretation of femininity.”  It had a nice orange peel and vanilla aroma, with lingering honey and creme brulee flavors.

At Hennessy:

Note – photo above courtesy of Odd Bacchus. I’d forgotten my camera back at the hotel!

Favorite Moment: Spotting demi-johns (glass jugs holding  20-60 liters, inside straw baskets with straw tops – see the background of the photo above) containing Cognac dating back to 1860. 1860! “Do you know what America was doing when this was made?” I marvelled to Rob Frisch of Odd Bacchus. “We were building railroads. We were at the beginning of the industrial revolution.” He continued the thought: “We were preparing for Civil War.” Just amazing, to be in the presence of so much history.

 Least favorite moment: Hennessy makes 5.5 million bottles of Cognac a year. Their aging warehouse holds 350,000 barrels of eau-de-vie (as they call it pre-bottling).

However…the tour guide bristled at the concept that “we are a big old monster company. We are an artisan…but we are like a conductor, directing other artisans as to our specifications….We are not just a big old ‘thing’….we are not a factory”  (we all agreed later, the lady doth protest too much.)

(Note:  we were warned at Courvoisier that the French equate “big” with “poor quality,” which might account for the insistence here.)

That said, I did appreciate that all of the barrels in the warehouse we toured have intricate calligraphy on each barrel — put there by a full-time staffer employed just for that — what a cool job! Each barrel also had a bar code (none of the other facilities we toured used bar codes).

Cognac for Chicks:  “Vin de Paradis” – launched in 2002 as a “delicate fruity flavor” meant “to appeal to the ladies.” We drank it mixed with tea, out of very ladylike glass tea cups.