Saturday, 18 February 2012

Cognac: Breaking News!

There are exciting things afoot in Cognac, and your intrepid reporter has got the scoop!

Last week, a group of four journalist / blogger folk (including GinMonkey and Chocoralie) made the journey over to France to take a closer look.

The good folk at Remy Martin had some news to share with us, but keeping their cards close to their chest, decided to keep the mystery to themselves until the big reveal. I'm not nearly that good with secrets, so I'm just going to come out with it: changes are being made to their VSOP.

This is big news. Remy Martin has been the biggest selling Cognac within that quality category since time began, perhaps even earlier. Tinkering with the formula is a brave move indeed.

Remy Martin Charantais Still (wine heater top, centre, pot left, condenser right)

If you're not wondering by now what changes have been made, frankly I'm amazed that you're still reading. I'll give you two versions. First, the marketing speak:

"Subtle changes have been made to the ageing process to make the Cognac rounder and fruitier"

Remy Martin condensers in the distillery (turning vapours back into liquid)

Next, geek speak (I love this bit!)

The viticulture, vinification, and distillation methods remain unchanged. Incidentally, this is a great move. They have a superb system in place out there, but I'll most likely save that for another blog. The ageing system (age / blend / age / blend / age / blend / marry / bottle) has even stayed superficially the same, with one important difference.

Up to now, the Remy VSOP you have enjoyed has, immediately prior to bottling, spent 12 months (the 'marriage period') in a 630hl oak vat. That's 630,000 litres - a quarter of an Olympic swimming pool. As such, the volume/surface ratio remains very small. The change being rolled out as we speak sees those final 12 months being spend in 350 litre mature casks - the 'normal' size that we are used to seeing in wineries, distilleries, and in garden centres being turned into water features. Is there a difference? You bet your cask there is.

Bold new packaging for Remy VSOP

The increased wood contact has a mellowing influence on the spirit. I don't particularly like the "rounder and fruitier" description, as I find it a bit vague, but I'll concede there is an element of truth in it. The alcohol is better integrated, making for a softer finish, and there is a notable increase in the dried fruit (apricot, peach) characteristic.The orange peel and honeycomb palate makes it a good choice not only as a digestif, but also with a mixer, or alongside a dessert in an after wine context.

I take my hat off to Remy: they've been brave enough to tinker with a winning formula, and have done so with gusto. The result is an altogether more pleasing drink. The new VSOP should be hitting the shelves in Europe around March / April 2012 - I'll let you know more precisely when I find out.

*Footnote: I've got a far geekier version of this post bubbling away in the background. There was an awful lot of technical information to take on board - think of this as the 'reader's digest' version!

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