It’s Bonfire Night and we thought the perfect (grown up) accompaniment to this evening would be a lovely glass of cognac. Nicholas Faith is the author of Cognac and Nicholas Faith’s guide to cognac and recently he dropped in to discuss this renowned brandy. Here is what he had to say.
Why isn’t cognac produced anywhere else?
Because the Cognac region in Western France provides a unique blend of chalky soil and a temperate climate.
What have been the biggest changes in the production of cognac over the years? Why do you think this is?
In fact there’s only been one major change since the late sixteenth century, when the Dutch taught the locals to distil their rather acidic white wine. That’s an increase in the size of the stills in which the wine from which the brandy is made is distilled. The increase has little effect on the quality of the spirit.
In Cognac you’ve written a lot about the history of the drink, but what do you think lies ahead in the world of cognac; does it face challenges or do you predict a boom?
I’m optimistic. Despite a short-term downturn because of a fall in the Chinese thirst for Cognac the steady increase in the prosperity of so many countries means that more and more people can enjoy this delicious luxury.
Do you think global warming has affected the production of cognac?
It merely enables the locals to harvest their grapes a few weeks earlier.
Do you think that technology has generally been a good thing or a bad thing for cognac?
Good to a limited extent in that it enables the producers to control the process more accurately. Otherwise there has been no effect.
Cognac is often regarded as an old-fashioned tipple; how would you convince today’s drinkers that it’s worth trying?
The big problem. First encourage them to try the cheaper cognacs as the basis for long drinks with soda, sparkling water or – in winter – with a ginger drink. As for the best ‘sipping’ cognacs tell them to forget balloon glasses and simply sniff and sip them in a wine glass.
Cognac-tasting is quite a specialised skill. How did you get into it – were you a natural or did you have to learn?
You might say that I fell into a cognac still by accident. A friend had moved from Bordeaux to Cognac and at the end of a well-liquidised evening I was converted and wanted to know more about this magic liquid. I then listened to the blenders which enlarged my appreciation of its complexities, especially those of the finest cognacs.
Can you tell us about the worst cognac drink you have ever tasted?
I’ve tasted lots of horrid spirits but never a truly awful cognac, the French authorities are too effective to allow such a drink through.
Who is the greatest character you have met during your long career as a cognac expert? Can you tell us about him/her?
André Hériard-Dubreuil who transformed Rémy Martin into a world-wide success. A brilliant, rugged visionary who saw no limit to his firm’s world-wide potential.
Other than cognac what is your favourite drink – not necessarily alcoholic – and why?
Mature claret, produced in the Médoc, the other side of the Gironde estuary – as complex and satisfying as cognac.
Julian Jeffs’ book Sherry (6th edition), is due to be published on 20th November. We’re very excited and to get you in the mood, here are some facts about the drink that you might not know. Before you pour the last drop in your Christmas trifle, perhaps this year you’ll discover how exciting sherry is as a drink.
- Firstly, let’s get our bearings. For such a famous wine, sherry is only produced in the ‘sherry triangle’ in Spain, consisting of three towns, Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda.
- Sherry has been connected to Britain for over 600 years. This is partly due to Catholics being exiled to Spain and setting up as wine traders who sent sherry back to Britain. Essentially, it has been part of British culture for over half a millennia.
- This wine is growing in popularity, particularly in the United States, where there is a trend for sherry cocktails in restaurants and even sherry tasting clubs have emerged, such is the appreciation for the wine.
- Rather than stick it in your trifle, how about having a glass of chilled fino with your tapas. Sherry is widely regarded as the perfect accompaniment to the Spanish meal.
- The wine was considered to be Shakespeare’s favourite drink. Perhaps a swig of amontillado will have you composing sonnets too.
- Legally, only sherry produced within the ‘triangle’ is allowed to be called ‘sherry’. However, it is produced in America and must be sold with the label, ‘California Sherry’ or ‘American Sherry’ so that consumers know the difference. This is due to a Spanish law that was created in 1933 to protect the term ‘sherry’ and make it exclusively Spanish.
- Christopher Columbus is thought to have stocked up his ship with many barrels of sherry before departing Spain for the New World, which, if true, makes it the first wine to make it to America. No wonder there is a growing popularity for it.
- Given that sherry is not as popular as other wines, it is often cheaper to buy and therefore you’re likely to get your hands on a quality bottle for a relatively low price.
- It can be split into different categories depending on their colour, oxidisation and blending.
- Rather than putting the cork back in the bottle and leaving it on your shelf for another year, sherry should ideally be treated like a white wine and consumed within a few days of opening, otherwise the wine becomes too exposed to oxygen and loses its flavour.
We’re all aware of the centenary of the First World War and the commemorations will no doubt go on for many years to come. Undoubtedly the war changed the face of Britain, and indeed the world, irrevocably. We can thank this war for the invention of tanks, the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and women’s suffrage. It also saw a change in our drinking habits.
Once the Treaty of Versailles had been signed and the world was left to rebuild, Britain’s drinking habits began to shift. One often thinks of port as a rather old-fashioned drink; in Port and the Douro Richard Mayson draws attention to the time that port became the fashionable tipple of the day:
‘In the aftermath of the First World War, ruby Port was drunk in huge quantities by the British and became strongly associated with the archetypal street-corner pub. It was often the basis for a long drink, ‘Port and lemon’ – a shot of ruby poured over ice, let down with fizzy lemonade and served with a slice of lemon. I have to admit to being a fan of the British soap opera Coronation Street (one of the longest-running TV series in the world) where Port and lemon was a special-occasion drink enjoyed at the Rovers Return by ladies like Hilda Ogden (when she wasn’t in her curlers). The fashion for Port and lemon began to fade in the 1960s and, sadly, the Hildas of this world are now few and far between. More recently, Liz MacDonald has been known to enjoy a Port and lemon now and then but ruby Port has now given way to proprietary brands like Archers and Baileys. Port and lemon was that sort of drink!’
So as we remember the fallen this year why not raise a glass of Port and lemon to their memory – we think you’ll enjoy it.
To mark the Negociants UK winemakers tour, where winemakers from Australia and New Zealand come to the UK to share their passion for wine and perhaps divulge a few of their trade secrets, we’ve been thinking about how place defines the wine that it creates.
The wine trade is truly global and in Secrets of wine, Giles Kime highlights the sheer diversity of winemaking and the variety of different regions where it is produced. Could you tell the origin of your glass from just a sip? Here’s what Giles has to say:
Wine falls into two categories: the stuff that reflects the winemaking tradition of the region where it was produced and the sort that tastes as though it could have been made anywhere in the world where the sun shines enough to ripen grapes. There’s not much wrong with the latter; the huge advances in winemaking technology in the last decade have made it possible to produce good-value wines virtually anywhere. What sets these two kinds of wine apart is something that wine buffs call ‘typicity’ – meaning that they conform to a certain style that is typical of the wine’s birthplace. How important is this quality? If wine is enjoyable to drink, surely to worry about typicity is nothing more than splitting hairs? Possibly. But a world without wines that reflect their origins would be very boring. Which would you rather do? Drive hundreds of miles through the unchanging landscape of the American plains or wind your way through the ever-changing scenery of France, Italy or Spain?
When it comes to wine, variety is undoubtedly the spice of life. While the consistency of ‘global’ wines might offer a convenient option for everyday drinking, the highs and lows are provided by wines that taste of the place they come from. There are parallels between winemaking and cookery. The people of every region of the world have their own tastes in food that are influenced by the available ingredients, the climate and the gastronomic tradition that has evolved over the years. Precisely the same is true of wine.
A sense of place versus a suggestion of terroir
Describing a wine as having a ‘sense of place’ could easily be confused with suggesting that it expresses terroir. Though terroir does contribute to the sense of place, the typicity of a wine has more to do with winemaking tradition – the style of wine created by techniques such as oak ageing and blending. The grim reapers of the wine world might make gloomy predictions that typical wines are being replaced with ones that have no regional characteristics, but the fact is that these two kinds of wine can coexist happily side by side.
Where to find typical wines
Although it is easy to see typicity as a quality that is peculiar to European wine
regions such as France, Italy and Spain, some New World areas are developing their own styles and winemaking traditions. For instance Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand tastes very different from Sauvignon from Western Australia, and Barossa Shiraz has a style different from Shiraz made in South Africa. Here are areas where you are likely to find more typical wines that are true to local tradition than homogenous ‘global wine’.
|Old World||The New World|
The Mosel Valley
The South of France
|The Barossa Valley
The Clare Valley
The Hunter Valley
The Margaret River
The Napa Valley
If this has got you in the mood to find out more about wine, you might be interested to know that Infinite Ideas soon to publish a new addition to the classic wine library, the sixth edition of Sherry by Julian Jeffs. It’s available to preorder now.
It has been a very exciting week in the Infinite Ideas office. We have signed up two new authors and are looking forward to developing our classic wine list with The wines of Austria and Spirits distilled. We have managed to stay (relatively) sober throughout the excitement however and will be updating you on these new titles over the coming months.
All good things come in threes and we have also signed up a new book to our business list, Authentic leadership. Next year is shaping up nicely!
Our author Richard Mayson won the Louis Roederer award for international wine feature writer of 2014 and Richard had a rather splendid evening at the ceremony. You can download the free ebook, Richard Mayson’s guide to vintage Port and read all about this fine wine.
Football business received a fantastic review from Back Page Football, which said ‘it could be Tsjalle van der Burg that fans hold aloft as the saviour of football.’ You can also listen to Tsjalle discuss his book and his thoughts on the future of football here.
If you’re a business leader or would like to be one in the future, you can now get your hands on a copy of 100+ management models by Fons Trompenaars and Piet Hein Coebergh.
Catherine handed in her MA dissertation and will never do homework again (that is unless anyone is willing to sponsor her PhD?). Rebecca was completely indifferent to the result of this week’s bake off and Richard admitted that he has never read The Great Gatsby.