Okay, I admit it. It’s actually National Jelly-Filled Doughnut Day. But wouldn’t you rather talk about Cognac? I sure as heck would.
As we draw into the twilight of this year of the 365 Foods list, we find ourselves thinking outside the list more and more often. In this case, I’m still “in” the list; I’ve just chosen to re-create June 4 (whence we celebrated cheese).
Cognac is interesting. I’m sure Cognac drinkers the world over will shun me for saying this, but Cognac is sort of the “Scotch” of wine (ok, Scotch drinkers are now cursing me too). But here’s the deal. Cognac is produced by fermenting a weak, crappy wine out of one of, or a blend of only 5 grapes (see L’encopédie du Cognac) and then twice distilling it to take care of impurities before aging it for a minumum of two and a half to many dozen years (in wooden casks, btw) to create a warm, apricot-y, vanilla-y, smooth liqueur that makes lots of otherwise rational folks quite excited about minute differences in flavour. Kind of like Scotch drinkers (strike me down).
Cognac is technically brandy, but it can only be produced in a discrete area of France. That area is itself divided up into smaller areas, with the “Grande-Champagne” being the “heart” of the cognac region (i.e. the best), and the “Bons Bois” and “Bois Ordinaires” being the “Surrey” of cognac regions (i.e. the “not very best”).
In any event, if you really want to learn about Cognac you should check out these two sites: http://www.pediacognac.com/ and http://www.cognac-world.com/, or you should really travel to the Cognac region in France. Or just buy a really good Cognac and taste it, which is what I did.
I bought St-Rémy Authentic XO. The “XO” means “really good” or actually “eXtra Old” if you must be precise. Did I mention? Cognac is rated as follows (stolen completely from Wiki):
- VS Very Special, or ✯✯✯ (three stars) where the youngest brandy is stored at least two years in cask.
- VSOP Very Superior Old Pale, where the youngest brandy is stored at least four years in a cask, but the average wood age is much older.
- XO Extra Old, where the youngest brandy is stored at least six, but average upwards of 20 years.
- Napoleon Although the BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac) states this grade is equal to XO in terms of minimum age, it is generally marketed in-between VSOP and XO in the product range offered by the producers.
- Extra A minimum of 6 years of age, this grade is usually older than a Napoleon or an XO.
- Vieux Is another grade between the official grades of VSOP and XO.
- Vieille Réserve Is like the Hors d´Âge a grade beyond XO.
- Hors d’âge The BNIC states that also this grade is equal to XO, but in practice the term is used by producers to market a high quality product beyond the official age scale. Hence the name “Hors d’âge” (beyond age).
Tonight was the very first night of summer patio season (thank g-d).We had a simple dinner: grilled sausages; corn on the cob; grilled peppers and green onions. It was fabulous. The Cognac warmed our bellies, but in the end, I think it was an après-dinner drink. It would have been good with a cigar, if I smoked them. I got the apricot, vanilla and fruitiness. Jim got the sugar and couldn’t wait to move on. In the end, though, he decided he liked it. Jim felt it was more like port than like scotch. In the end, it was probably just like cognac. Go figure.
Just as an aside, St-Rémy has been producing Cognac for upwards of 300 years. Just ask them.
P.S. My very favourite cognac in the entire world is Grand Marnier. Itself a bastardization. In case you were wondering.