Five Cognac Curiosities

Cognac CuriositiesAll good wine and spirits students know that Cognac is a high-quality French Brandy, made from grapes grown in the delineated Cognac region, located just north of Bordeaux. There are several grape varieties allowed, of which Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano) is the preferred; the ferment goes through a double distillation in an Alembic still, followed by a minimum of two years’ aging in oak. Good! We’ve covered the basics. But did you know…

#1: The product of a third distillation is known as “Espirit de Cognac.” Espirit de Cognac was awarded an AOC in 1936, and is an unaged product that—after hours and hours of distillation—comes off the still at 80% to 85% abv. Brandy lovers of the world, don’t feel bad if you think you’ve never had Espirit de Cognac—it is not allowed to be sold as a spirit. Instead, it is used in the production of sparkling wines, and may comprises a portion of the liqueur d’expedition used in your favorite Champagne.

#2: Don’t confuse the unaged, bound-for-bubbly Espirit de Cognac AOC with a product labeled as L’Espirit de Cognac. Many Cognac producers use the term L’Espirit to designate their top-tier bottles. For instance, L’Espirit de Courvoisier is an assemblage of old cognacs – the oldest is rumored to be from the 1802 vintage (“the few precious drops that escaped Napoleon’s lips”), and the youngest from 1930.  Bottled in a numbered, hand-crafted Lalique crystal decanter, L’Espirit de Courvoisier sells for upwards of $5,000 per bottle – if you can find one.

Cognac grapes#3: Cognac is distilled from a white wine base, which is typically based on Ugni Blanc with some Colombard, Folle Blanche, Montils, and Sémillon sprinkled in. In practice, Ugni Blanc is by far the dominant grape, accounting for up to 90% of the total vineyards. Folignan, a Folle Blanche X Ugni Blanc cross may be used up to a maximum of 10%.

#4: Three other grapes are currently allowed to be used in the base wine as well. These are Jurançon Blanc, Meslier-St-François, and Sélect. Most of these grapes fall into the “uninteresting” category; however Meslier-St-François is (according to Jancis Robinson, et al, in Wine Grapes) a historic French variety that once grew in Champagne, the Yonne department of Burgundy, and the Loire Valley. As a matter of fact, in 1990, Charles Jumert of Cave de la Berthelotière “saved” the last surviving Meslier-St-François grapes of the Loire Valley by taking cuttings off of a vineyard as it was bulldozed under. He planted the grapes in Villiers-sur-Loir (north of Tours) and has been making a varietal Vin de France from them since 2003.

Cognac curiosities 2#5: 97% of all Cognac produced each year is exported. That’s right—only 3% of the Cognac produced, on average, is consumed at home. As a matter of fact, the French consume as much Scotch whisky as they do Cognac. This means that an average of 130 million bottles of Cognac are exported each year, which is enough to make grape brandy one of France’s most valuable exports. (As for France’s other valuable exports, #1 is airplanes [as in Airbus], #2 is medications, #6 is wine, #9 is make-up and sun-tan preparations, and #13 is perfume. Number 18 is brandy, Cognac included – not bad. You can see the rest of the data on French exports here.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Five Fast Facts about Brouilly

Photo of Louis Jadot Brouilly by Rob Ireton, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Louis Jadot Brouilly by Rob Ireton, via Wikimedia Commons

Five Fast Facts about Brouilly

#1 – Brouilly is one of the ten Crus of Beaujolais. It is the largest and most southerly of the ten Beaujolais Crus,  Although this large area contains a wide range of microclimates and soil types, most of the vineyards face roughly east and capture the bright morning sunshine as it rises over the Saone River Valley. The hills to the west shelter the region from some of the colder influences coming in from western France, while warm sunshine throughout the growing season means that the vines of Brouilly are among the first to be harvest in Beaujolais every year.

#2 – Brouilly is one of the few AOCs of Beaujolais not to be named after a local village; instead, it is named for Mount Brouilly. The vineyard area of Brouilly surrounds the mountain, and covers land in the following six communes: Cercié, Charentay, Odenas, Quincié-en-Beaujolais, Saint-Etienne-la-Varenne, and Saint-Lager.

#3 – The mountain itself, set somewhat apart from the hills to the west of Beaujolais, was named after a Roman soldier named Brulius, who is credited with planting the first vines here over 2,000 years ago. There is a small chapel at the top of the hill, built in 1857 in order to place the vineyards under the protection of the Virgin Mary.  A smaller, separate AOC, Côte de Brouilly, covers vineyards on the higher slopes of the mountain, and is completely surrounded by the larger Brouilly AOC.

#4 – The Brouilly AOC is approved only for dry, red  wines based on the Gamay grape variety. Interestingly enough, the décret for the appellation also allows for white grapes to be grown in the region, and up to 15% of the wine may be based on Chardonnay, Aligoté, or Melon de Bourgogne.

Mount Brouilly

Mount Brouilly

#5 – There’s a legend for that: Brouilly is home to a Lieu-dit (small vineyard area bearing a traditional name) named Pisse-Vielle. Pisse-Vielle which pretty much sounds like what it means, which is for lack of a better way of saying it, “Piss, old woman.’

The  legend behind the name goes like this: A pious old woman, who regularly goes to confession, had her first meeting with the town’s new priest. The woman had very little to actually confess, so at the end of their meeting, the priest gave her his typical salutation of “Go, and sin no more!” Unfortunately, in the local dialect of the town, the word for to sin (pécher) and (for lack of a gentler way of saying it) to pee (pisser) sounded quite the same – and she thought the priest had commanded her to “Go and pee no more.” (Poor thing!) She tried her best to comply, but her husband didn’t quite understand the command, and went to see to Priest. The husband and the priest quickly cleared up the confusion, and in his rush to convey the news, the husband yelled down the street towards his wife – “Pisse Vielle!” (“Piss, Old Woman!”) – “the priest said it’s alright!”  As these things usually go, the neighbors heard his cry, and have not since forgotten!

Five Fast Facts about Entre-Deux-Mers

Map of Bordeaux via The Society of Wine Educators

Map of Bordeaux via The Society of Wine Educators

Five Fast Facts about Entre-Deux-Mers

#1 – Entre-Deux-Mers is named after its geographical location (“between two seas,” sometimes translated as “rivers” or “tides”), which refers to its situation in the lands between the Garonne and the Dordogne Rivers. These rivers provide the location with a mild, maritime climate and soils made up mainly of  a mix of clay and limestone. The area closest to the eastern shore of the Garonne River has a good deal of humidity – enough for the production of botrytis-affected wines.

#2 – The Entre-Deux-Mers AOC appellation is only approved for white wines. 70% of the grapes must be the “principal varieties” of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle, or Sauvignon Gris.  The other 30% may include Merlot Blanc (maximum 30%), and a combined maximum of 10% of Mauzac, Colombard, and Ugni Blanc.

#3 – The Entre-Deux-Mers area contains within it 7 different AOCs. These appellations are approved for a variety of different types of wine. They are:

  • The aforementioned Entre-Deux-Mers AOC (for dry white wines), which includes the sub-zone of Entre-Deux-Mers Haut-Benauge.
  • Cadillac-Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (botrytis-affected sweet white wines)
  • Graves de Vayres AOC (for dry wines, both red and white)
  • Loupiac AOC (sweet white wines, may be affected by botrytis)
  • Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC (white wines – dry (sec), off-dry (moelleux ) and sweet/botrytis affected (liquoreux)).
  • Sainte-Croix-du-Mont AOC (sweet, botrytis-affected white wines)
  • Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux AOC (may be dry, off-dry, or sweet/botrytis affected white; also approved for dry reds)

Grapes grown in the Entre-Deux-Mers area may also be bottled under the generic Bordeaux AOC (including the sub-zone of Bordeaux Haut-Benauge) or Bordeaux Supérieur AOC.

Photo of Château de Rastignac by MOSSOT, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Château de Rastignac by MOSSOT, via Wikimedia Commons

#4 – The area produces a lot of good-to-very good red wine, with the majority of the red grapevines planted to Merlot. The best of these wines are sold under the Bordeaux Supérieur AOC.

#5 – Just-for-fun fact: A house (now sub-divided into apartments) in the area, known as Château de Rastignac, was designed to look like the US White House. While the architect, Mathurin Salat, never visited the United States, it is known that our wine-loving third President, Thomas Jefferson -who had reviewed the original architectural plans of the White House – did visit the area and meet Salat during Jefferson’s service as the US Ambassador to France.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net