The Global Cognac Masters 2015 results

3rd September, 2015 by Annie Hayes

In what proved to be one of the most medal-laden Masters competitions The Spirits Business has ever hosted, our judges were full of praise for the high quality pours coming out Cognac.

Global-Cognac-Masters-2015

A plethora of quality expressions were recognised in our Global Cognac Masters 2015

Despite a track record of rapid decline, change is afoot in the Cognac market. A return to growth in early 2015 hinted that this might be the dawn of a more stable long-term environment for brands – a forgone conclusion if the success of our Global Masters is indicative of the industry.

Although the number of total entries was modest, Cognac ended up one of the most awarded categories of the year, and every single entry attracted a medal from judges with little in the way of critique.

Judging took place at Canary Wharf’s One Canada Square, with independent gin consultant David Smith chairing a dexterous team of Summer Fruit Cup’s Sara Smith; Tobias Gorn, director of Chapman & Gorn; Nicola Thomson, ambassador for The Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (BNIA); Athila Roose, head sommelier at The Arts Club; Mike Best, business development manager at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET); Luca Cordiglieri, president of the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild (UKBG); and Kristiane Sherry, editor of The Spirits Business.

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Our diligent judges examined bottlings across VS, VSOP and XO along with a multitude of sub-categories

VS Premium was the first flight of the day; a selection the judges deemed “an affordable way for consumers to enjoy Cognac”. The “soft and clean” Larsen Cognac VS earned a Silver medal, while by contrast the “classic wood spice” flavours of Louis Royer VS were deemed “particularly good for a premium range”, attracting a Gold. Short and sweet, the dalliance with VS was complete, and we pressed on to a flight of VSOP Premium.

Although VSOP sales have taken a remarkably bad hit in recent years, the latest figures from the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de Cognac (BNIC) – recorded from August 2014 to July 2015 – found a “significant improvement”, with 8.9% volume growth.

This spike was reflected with the allocation of the first Master of the day, the “silky and elegant” Louis Joillet VSOP, an “exceptional spirit at an affordable price.”

Two Silver medals and two Gold were bestowed upon the flight, which Cordiglieri observed “had far more varied communication of flavour beyond the ‘VSOP’ term”.

A tiny flight next; VSOP Single Cru consisting of Cognac Frapin VSOP. The brand took home a Gold medal, the “silky texture, depth and elegance” praised by the judges. According to Gorn, the expression would be best suited to “the adventurous or experienced Cognac drinker.”

The judges pressed on to a series of Extra Old sub-categories, kicking off with a flight of the lowest priced entries: XO Premium.

The string of Gold medals continued with Louis Jolliet XO, from traditional luxury Cognac house A. de Fussigny. Thomson said: “These are fantastic value for money, and at this price there’s some excellent cocktail potential.” Climbing further up the price ranking gave way to a slightly larger flight of Super Premium Cognacs and the second Master of the day – the “subtle yet refined” Bache-Gabrielsen Cognac XO – with Gold medals for Cognac Renault Carte Noire Extra Old and Chateau De Plassac Cognac XO.

Judges-2

Many of the judges agreed that age is “not necessarily representative of quality” in Cognac

Sherry observed: “These entries mark a jump up in quality that should be expected. You’re definitely getting what you pay for.”

The peak of XO offerings arrived in the form of the Ultra Premium price bracket; the most fruitful round of the entire tasting, scoring three Master medals and one Gold.

The first Master-worthy entrant was XO Fine Champagne, a “rich, earthy, nutty” flavour with a “nice integration of light vanilla and fruit”. Second to claim the accolade was “spirit you could sink in to”, Extra Grande Champagne, while Louis Royer XO was “indulgent, with deep rich chocolate notes and hints of chocolate-covered cherries”.

Best said: “The integrity of these products is very high. They are of excellent quality – you’d struggle to find this level of quality and complexity in other spirits categories.”

Leaving price points behind, the XO Single Cru flight proved to be yet another solid selection, producing three Gold medals. Single cru status is a mark of quality for Cognac producers, so the dip in medal status was a talking point for the panel.

Sara Smith said: “Single cru is something producers are proud of; a way of expanding the range and reinforcing the heritage of the spirit, so it raises the question – does single cru necessarily mean better quality?”

A valid question for producers to ponder, but with more Cognacs to assess, we moved on to the final XO flight, Single Estate – a concept that has been slowly infiltrating the spirits industry with a rise in producers bottling a “taste of the land”. The “soft, round and layered” XO Exception and “complex” Multimillesime No.6 both picked up Gold medals, imparting some balance to the XO round.

Judges-3

Judges from feft to right: Kristiane Sherry, Sara Smith, David Smith, Tobias Gorn, Athila Roose, Mike Best, Luca Cordiglieri, and Nicola Thomson

Cordiglieri said: “It just shows how some flavours are suited to blending, while others work better when left as Single Estate.”

The next round, No Age Statement: Super Premium, was the most provocative and exhiliarating due to its very nature. The solo Master entry, 1738 Accord Royal by Rémy Martin, “packed a punch”.

Thomson said: “This is an example of how a blend is a true art, and allows for innovation and the freedom to create.”

No Age Statement Single Cru was the penultimate flight, featuring Gold-winner Grande Champagne No. 22 by Grosperrin.

Roose said: “This is an excellent example of how a single cru should be: distinctive with individual flair.”

The final flight arrived as round of Single Vintage Cognacs. A Master medal was awarded to Fins Bois 1975, but there was “something for everyone” here, according to judges, with five Gold medals and one Silver awarded to the remaining entries. Summing up the round, judges were impressed by the wide-ranging products representing the category, and agreed there is still “plenty of room” for innovation in a category so steeped in tradition.

Summing up, David Smith concluded: “There were a diverse variety of products today, from spirits for newbies to established Cognac connoisseurs.

“I was particularly impressed with the availability of affordable, accessible Cognac of good quality. The VS, VSOP and XO categories indicate the age but are not necessarily representative of quality; there was a lot of variation and blurred lines.

“There’s plenty of space for new innovations, especially for terroir-focused single estate expressions.”

Click through to the following page for the complete list of medal winners from The Global Cognac Masters 2015. 

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