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Cognac – A brandy worth a king’s ransom

Zubin D’souza

My earlier post was to deal with brandy and I can’t really say that I wrote everything about the topic till I included a note on cognac.

The strangest part was that the minute I started writing about cognac, I realised that there was so much more information that I wanted to add on that a footnote couldn’t justify it all and it threatened to overshadow the main article.

In appeasement and overawed by the wonderful history of cognac, I decided to dedicate an entire article to it.

Cognac is ultimately a brandy albeit a very refined one of noble stock. It can only be called cognac if it is prepared in a place called Cognac (Now didn’t that come as a total surprise?!)

Cognac (the region not the booze) is a part of France that lies in the southwest not too far from Bordeaux.

There are six distinct zones of production within Cognac that are distinguished by the quality of their soil which subsequently changes the characteristics of the grapes.

The French who protect the name ‘cognac’ are extremely fussy about all the details that go into preparing this exclusive beverage. There are regulations that have a say in the type of grape being used, the equipment that leads the juices along in their way to being converted to a sublime nectar like liquid and even how long it needs to be aged before it can get a label worthy of its name.

Only three white grape varieties – Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche can be used to make the wine that makes the cognac. The grapes may only be harvested in the month of October and the distillation process can only take place between November and March 31 of the immediately succeeding year. The distillation process insists that to qualify as a cognac, the virtually undrinkable wine that can only be made from the mentioned three grapes has to be double distilled in copper pot stills of a particular shape and configuration.

After all that, the ageing process has to take place in barrels that come from the wood of only two forests – wood from other forests are relegated to lesser drinks that do not make the mark as far as snob appeal is considered.

Fastidiousness aside, it should come as no surprise that after all the brouhaha leading to the bottle sitting on a retailer’s shelf, the French themselves drink an extremely tiny fraction of the produce. Roughly only three per cent stays for domestic consumption while the rest is exported.

But even out of the three per cent that did drink cognac, you could always count on the Emperor Napoleon to have the finest of the lot on hand.

He went so far as to demand rations of cognac for his artillery and even carried barrels of them when he went into exile on the island of St Helena.

He probably had to go in exile because he lost wars due to the cognac macerated artillery folk missing the mark each time they fired!

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