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WHY DO AMERICAN DRINKERS DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ABOUT BLENDING? A LESSON FROM COGNAC

Single this and single that are concepts very much in vogue in the Scotch industry and now borrowed by any categories of spirits. The problem is that for cognac blending is not a bad word. It is about making perfume, formulas, secret formulas … that can be replicated year after year. It is about making in essence the best ‘vintage’ every year. Therefore, away from the bigotry of vintage cognac. This does not mean that “estate” and/or “vintage” and/or “single” cognacs are not good but they belong to a different program than what cognac is really supposed to be.

Cognac Blending is about Spicing Up Life

Cognac Blending is about Spicing Up Life

To better explain this I found this really article in the Washington Post published last April 2012 by Jason Wilson:

“I undertook an exercise similar to what a master blender would face on a daily basis. I’d been given bottles of five-year-old, 15-year-old and 30-year-old eaux de vie (what they call the spirit before it’s officially called cognac) and told to blend them into an XO (or “extra old”) cognac — one that would sell for $80 or more.

As I measured out various ratios of eaux de vie into beakers and flasks and started blending, I thought about how rarely this aspect of the spirits business is discussed. Sure, we hear a lot about raw ingredients, and distilling techniques and barrel aging, but when it comes to spirits, blending is an essential and often misunderstood aspect of production. Aged rums from the Caribbean, bourbons from Kentucky, and, of course, blended scotches like Johnny Walker, all rely on a blending to find the right recipe to bring about a consistent product.

Mostly, though, American drinkers don’t want to hear about blending. We love to talk about singular things: single-malts, single vineyards, single barrels, certain vintages singled out for their singularity. Blending? You may as well be speaking French. For instance, it’s a widely accepted fact within the wine industry that Americans prefer labels listing a single grape, rather than a blend from a geographic region.

Blending often removes an easy shortcut to connoisseurship: citing age. Is this a six-year-old? A 12-year-old? A 30-year-old? Drinkers just love to know the number. An age statement on the bottle becomes like a seal of approval to drop more cash. People will shell out more for a 25 year old whiskey than they will for a 12-year-old, even if the older one has simply turned to oak-flavored juice. If the label says the older spirit comes from a single cask, you can bet people will pay even more.

… A barrel is a living environment, sensitive to temperature and other elements, with different floors aging differently. Additionally, cognac comes from distilled wine, which has it own variations from year to year.

… Because I was creating an XO cognac, that meant the youngest brandies in the finished cognac must be aged at least six years. Most good XOs seek a “tasting age” of about 20 years.

Given that I was working with five-, 15-, and 30-year old eaux de vie, I assumed whatever I created would hypothetically be need to go into the barrel again for at least another year.

In my first attempt, I used 50 percent of the 15-year-old, which was the most concentrated and intense. Of the remaining half, I used two parts 30-year-old eau de vie to one part five-year-old. Because the alcohol level was at cask strength (around 100 proof), I added a tiny amount of distilled water to bring the mix down to 80 proof — which is what most cognac is bottled at. The result, in my humble opinion, was delicious.

Trichet (Cellar Master at Cognac Remy Martin) took a long time nosing. And then she smiled. “Mmmm,” she said. “That is a very expensive XO you have there.”

More expensive than Remy Martin’s XO? I asked, knowing that costs about $120.

“Oh yes, definitely. You have very expensive taste.”

On my second attempt, I used about 60 percent of the five-year-old, with its fresh apricot aromas and buttery mouthfeel; 30 percent of the 15-year-old; and just about 10 percent of the 30-year-old. Trichet told me I was much closer to Remy Martin’s XO blend on this one.

This was eye-opening to me. I always imagined that expensive cognacs had much more older eau de vie in the blend. But doing the exercise, I began to see how a small amount of the older spirit went a long way.

… For a moment, I allowed myself to daydream. Would she consider using my cognac in a new product launch? Would she release my cognac in a special-edition crystal carafe, like the one I saw in the gift shop priced at $16,000? Would Chinese billionaires and Russian oligarchs start clamoring for Le Jason XO?

Source: Washintgton Post, April 10th 2012 by Jason Wilson

3 comments on “WHY DO AMERICAN DRINKERS DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ABOUT BLENDING? A LESSON FROM COGNAC

  1. Me
    November 26, 2012

    It is a good point that you make there, when I used to drink scotch I often erred towards the single barrel or single malt rather than a blend thinking that it was of a higher quality and that the blended ones are inferior which is why they had to be blended. My Whisky taste buds never really developed fully though as more often than not I found to aroma of a whisky extremely unappealing. I would still prefer a single malt over a blend though, I had tried Johnny Walker Blue label and was totally underwhelmed for such as expensive bottle of whisky (which if I remember rightly has no age statement on the bottle).

    Again with the age side of things, I was/am often drawn towards the older stuff as I often imagine that the liquid is being kept in a dark, dusty, ancient cellar, almost forgotten until someone has discovered it by chance and released that 50 years old something or other. but even when you look at any Cognac distilleries web site they will reference the age of the eaux de vie. I looked at Hennessy and XO has eaux de vie which is aged a max 30 days, where as Richard Hennessy has eaux de vie from 40 to 200 years old so is this just to “sucker” us into paying out more money, because you think you are buying into something very rare?

    I lol’d at the article you posted, I actually find Remy XO one of the worst XO’s i have tasted (although I do appreciate that it is very much a personal taste thing)

    Lastly, I just wanted to say I have enjoyed reading your blog so far.

    • cognacs
      December 8, 2012

      Older is not better. Older is just more rare. So what you are getting for sure is (1) a more expensive cognac and (2) a less common cognac. If you are looking for better cognac there are many other rules of thumb and it is a personal journey which may not be generalized.

    • cognacs
      November 12, 2016

      Thank you for your readership! Older is 100% saying that there is less and that it is more expensive. It is not 100% proof that it is better. Why not? Because taste matters are subjective and that one might like one spirit more for the evening and another more for another time of the day for instance. I think appeal for certain brands is the same. Not liking one model within a brand’s product line should not remove the possibility of liking another. Normally, the brand is careful to offer very different things and therefore might surprise the customer.

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This entry was posted on November 23, 2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged , .
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