(Spectator Scoff, September, 2011)
I have previously referred to the great French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss’s identification of eating with sex: une conjunction par complementairé. Both processes involve a union of complementary elements, though the digestion of one by the other is not generally considered appropriate in a relationship.
The process of drinking also involves a conjunction, and where a fine beverage is involved this can be quite intimate, beginning with the tender foreplay of olfactory reception, before a lingering swoosh in the mouth and then, lastly, the warming swallow. With this in mind, it did seem a little inappropriate for me to be crying out ‘I prefer the 12-year-old’ after sampling a new variety of Cognac brandy from Courvoisier’s ‘Connoisseur’ range recently launched on the UK market. Surely I should have plumped for the eminently eligible 21-year-old to whom I was simultaneously introduced, but somehow the risqué charm of that first encounter proved irresistible.
Salacious humour completed it remains for me to discuss the innovation of Courvoisier’s age statement, a new departure that will make this elite product more accessible to the UK customer well acquainted with whiskies displaying an age. And even the most gloopy New World plonk will show its vintage.
Traditionally Cognac does not reveal its age, relying instead on a classification that includes VS, VSOP, and XO. Confusingly, these marks are actually an indication of a minimum age, as any Cognac is rarely from one vintage alone.
Over time the distilled contents of the casks reduce as alcoholic vapours pass through wood, known as the share of the gods. Concentrated essences which have drawn out the flavour of the barrels made from the fresh French oak required by the appellation are blended together and aged further until bottling when maturation ceases.
Even elite products such as the L’Esprit de Courvoisier that leaves rappers weak-kneed with the anticipated bling of spending over £3,000 on a bottle does not reveal its age. L’Esprit comes from a range of vintages between the Napoleonic era and the 1930s, so what year could they to put on it?
Apart from the aging process the other key influence on the ultimate taste is the provenance of the grapes (90% Ugni Blanc) within the region as soil minerality varies and provides distinctive notes depending on whether they are from Borderies, or Grande Champagne etc.
Courvoisier have bowed to the Anglo-Saxon consumers’ desire for an age statement in bringing out two new marks: one with a minimum age of 12, the other 21.
As mentioned I preferred the 12-year finding it as spicy as an Arab Spring, and providing the aromatic intrigue suited to the after flush of a heavy dessert. The 21-year had a longer finish and I felt it best suited to the traditional situation of a Cognac: a lingering compliment to a post-prandial coffee. These are stellar beverages that offer a sumptuous compliment to fine dining. The gustatory complexity of good Cognac is really worth experiencing in this short life.
In terms of price, the 12 year is quite reasonable at £50, with the 21 year a good deal pricier at £175. However, when one considers the price Bordeaux and Burgundy wine is currently fetching then even the price of the 21 year does not seem outlandish since unlike Cognac, a bottle of wine is nothing more than a one-night-stand. Though I am keenly aware that the spirit in a bottle of Cognac, like that of a love affair, will also drain away eventually.