Thursday, October 1, 2009

Goodbye absinthe, hello cognac.

Goodbye absinthe, hello cognac.

Google News puts the number of articles about cognac, in the last month, at about 2,374.  2,265 just in the last week.  A trend!  (Though you wouldn't know it by looking at google trends)

It looks like the cognac lobby is writing the cognac entry on Wikipedia:
"Since the early 1990s, cognac has seen a significant transformation in its American consumer base, from a predominantly older, affluent white demographic to a younger, urban, and significantly black consumer. Cognac has become ingrained in hip-hop culture, celebrated in songs by artists ranging from Tupac Shakur to Busta Rhymes to Mac Dre and Nas.
It is estimated that African Americans now comprise 60%–80% of the American cognac market A majority of African Americans have indicated in studies that the endorsement of popular musical artists is a key factor in their preference for cognac. Moreover, Pernod-Ricard, the parent company of Martell, has acknowledged that “the USA is the biggest market for cognac, and African-Americans are a priority target.” Many have credited hip-hop culture as the savior of cognac sales in the United States. After poor sales in 1998 due to an economic crisis in Asia — cognac’s main export market at the time — sales of cognac increased to approximately US $1 billion in America in 2003. This was a growth that coincided with hip-hop’s entry into the mainstream of American music."

Let's get to know it a little better.  The Romans brought vines to France about 2,000 years ago.  Then, in the early 1600's, with the world thirsting for French wine, exports exploded.  But wine did not travel well on the ships, so the story goes,  so vintners began to distill it into what the Dutch called "brandewijn," or "brandy" as we know it.  From the authoritative website
"Brandy can be produced by the distillation of any wine. And the wine used can be made from not only any grape but almost any fruit according to Bureau National Interprofessional du Cognac. Cognac, on the other hand, has to be made from the wines of specific regions in Cognac called delimited area."

The rules of cognac are very strict, and regulated unmercifully by the Bureau National Interprofessional du Cognac (BNIC):

1. The wine heater, used in the double distillation process, if I understand this correctly, cannot exceed 30 hectoliters.
2. The wines used to produce it must come only from the "delimited area" surrounding the town of Cognac.
3. If it's not made from at least 90% Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, or Colombard grapes, it's not the real deal.
4. Distilled two times.  Aged at least two years in oak barrels.
5. The haughtiest of the cognac haughties swear only by oak from the forest around Limoges -- Limousin Oak.
6. Age, aside from the whole XO, VSOP, VS, Napoleon, Extra, Vieux, Vieille Réserve, and  Hors d'age thing:
" In France, the age of a Cognac cannot be put on the bottle, unless it is a “declared vintage”, and the French make that a very complicated thing to do.  So, the technical term is “Age at Tasting”, which means that if the “Age at Tasting” is declared to be 15 years by the local official when he taste tests a Cognac, then that means the Cognac tastes like it could have been from a vintage harvested 15 years ago.  Thus, when somebody claims to have a 25-year old Cognac, it means nothing about the real age of the Cognacs blended to make that certain bottle — they could be anywhere from 2.5 years old to 70 years old, and often are.  It simply means that the Cognac in that particular bottle has an “Age at Tasting” of about 25 years."
If the Reptillian Cognac high command is able to breach our bank accounts as definitively as Goldman Sachs, Fannie Mae, and the Bank for International Settlements, cultural guerillas would do well to arm themselves with the knowledge that Foie Gras is not just a fatty goose liver and truffle smoothie.  Cognac is the secret ingredient.  Savoir, c'est pouvoir.


  1. 1.
    I vote for Brandy because Churchill drank it and because he was such a good writer and therefore I trust that he only drank the best
    if my memory is correct the Greeks had a colony in Marseille and that they should not have had wine there doesn't seem very likely - so I vote against the Romans having brought FIRST vines to France


  2. (Note: Silke points out that Massalia was, as evidenced below, *exporting* wine in 500 B.C.)

    Indeed they did, but it looks like they were importing it:

    "Massalia was one of the first Greek ports in Western Europe,[8] growing to a population of over 1000. It was the first settlement given city status in France. Facing an opposing alliance of the Etruscans, Carthage and the Celts, the Greek colony allied itself with the expanding Roman Republic for protection. This protectionist association brought aid in the event of future attacks, and perhaps equally important, it also brought the people of Massalia into the complex Roman market. The city thrived by acting as a link between inland Gaul, hungry for Roman goods and wine (which Massalia was steadily exporting by 500 BC),[9] and Rome's insatiable need for new products and slaves. Under this arrangement the city maintained its independence until the rise of Julius Caesar, when it joined the losing side (Pompey and the optimates) in civil war, and lost its independence in 49 BC.
    It was the site of a siege and naval battle, after which the fleet was confiscated by the Roman authorities. During Roman times the city was called Massilia. It was the home port of Pytheas. Most of the archaeological remnants of the original Greek settlement were replaced by later Roman additions.
    Marseille adapted well to its new status under Rome. During the Roman era, the city was controlled by a directory of 15 selected "first" among 600 senators. Three of them had the preeminence and the essence of the executive power. The city's laws amongst other things forbade the drinking of wine by women and allowed, by a vote of the senators, assistance to allow a person to commit suicide."