I was treated to lunch by two fine, upstanding gentlemen from France (no, that’s not an oxymoron), and we tasted through a couple of great Cognac cocktails from Michael Mina and then four of their fine brandies1, but the highlight of their selection was a pair of vintage cognacs about to come to market in the US.
Camus (rhymes with Shamoo, not Seamus) 1971 and 1989 vintage Cognacs were really fascinating, and totally out of my price range ($590 and $280 respectively). These rare and exceptional distillates really are something to write home about, and to be honest, I liked the ’89 better than the ’71 (call me a cheap date). I wish I had the cognac vocabulary to express the joy they brought to my mouth, but these bottles really are something special.
An interesting tip I picked up at lunch: the quality of Cognac levels off after about fifty years, and generally starts to decline not too long after that. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but if someone is showing off an 80-year old bottle, they probably don’t really know Cognac.
1 Cognac vs. Brandy
- Brandy is any spirit made by distilling wine. This category includes a number of grape brandies like Cognac, pisco, and Armagnac, fruit brandies like applejack, German schnapps and eau de vie, and then there are pomace brandies that are made from the fermented crap left behind from wine making, like skin, seeds and stems.
- Cognac is brandy that must be made in the Cognac region of France, made only from certain grapes (primarily Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche or Colombard), distilled twice in a copper pot still and aged at least 2 years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais.