The Infinite Ideas interview with Nicholas Faith
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.