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The Cognac Masters 2016 results

Cognac is experiencing a revival from its global lull – but is the category prepared? Our Cognac Masters 2016 reveals the state of play.

The-Cognac-Masters-2016
Our Cognac Masters 2016 revealed the top tipples in the category

It’s go time for Cognac producers. The latest data from the Bureau Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) revealed that shipments reached nearly 168.9 million bottles in 2015 – driven by demand from “all major Cognac markets”, in particular North America. As the category shows positive signs of recovery, with increases in both volume and value across the board, the excitement is tangible – but is this growing momentum sustainable?

Our eager panel met at Bermondsey restaurant Del’Aziz to put a selection of entries through their paces, chaired by Kristiane Sherry, The Spirits Business editor.

The expert team comprised Nicola Thompson, Practical Matters director and Armagnac Musketeer; Tobias D. Gorn, director at Chapman & Gorn; Kat Presley, writer at Whisky Discovery; Dave Worthington, writer at Whisky Discovery; Alex Huskinson, store manager at The Whisky Exchange, Covent Garden; Matt Tilbury, retail manager at Royal Mile Whiskies, London; Mickael Perron, The Library Bar Manager at The Lanesborough; and Athila Roos, private client director at Rémy Cointreau UK.

VS as a category is one of the largest drivers for Cognac, and accounted for almost half of global shipments in 2015 – so it was no surpise that the first two flights of the day, VS Premium and VS Super Premium, were a varied selection offering flavours ranging from floral to rich spice.

Judges felt the category as a whole could benefit from direction – “there was such variance across the expressions… The category needs to define itself,” said Perron.

Honor VS, Louis Jolliet VS, Courvoisier VS, and Courvoisier Gala Club each attracted Silver medals, and it was Louis Jolliet’s expression that was deemed the most resemblant in terms of style.

“What you expect for a VS is something very spirit driven, you get that much more elegant fruit, floral side of things which came through really well. Very soft, really approachable,” said Huskinson. “Maybe it would die in a cocktail but I got a real springtime feel from it.”

Departing VS, our panel embarked upon a flight of VSOP Premium and Super Premium, which, along with a Silver medal for Cognac Prunier, and a Gold medal for Courvoisier Extravagance, unearthed our first Master medal of the day. Louis Jolliet VSOP was a “noble, mature” expression that judges felt was “exactly what you want from a VSOP”.

“Crisp, soft fruit on the nose, silky palate, lovely balance – overall a great sipping Cognac,” added Sherry.

Summing up the flight, judges felt overall that the category’s potential had not been reached. “You pay more for VSOP, so you could be getting more for your money”, said Roos, and Thompson agreed: “it’s treated as an extension of VS, and the margins aren’t distinct at the moment”.

Cognac
An array of categories were examined in The Cognac Masters 2016

Sticking with VSOP, the next flight contained a small offering of Single Cru expressions, producing the second Master medalist of the day, the “very elegant” Cognac Frapin VSOP.

“I thought it was a very well balanced, modern, fruit-driven Cognac,” said Tilbury.

“It’s very exciting to see this type of category breaking away from VSOP,” said Gorn, and Perron agreed: “there aren’t many of these – they disappeared from the market because these softer styles can express really well at a young age, but they tend to go in blends.”

Departing VSOP, our judges next approached XO with a flight of Premium Cognacs. Two Gold medals were awarded here, to Mestreau XO N°28 and Pierre Ferrand Sélection des Anges respectively. Judges particularly enjoyed the first of the two, which Roos described as “a very fine XO – great for sipping.”

“I thought it was really refined, notes of mango, leather and polished wood,” said Worthington. “It reminded me of being in a big old study with old books and parchment – it’s something I would happily sit with in a library with a cigar.” The category was rounded off with a Silver medal for Beam Suntory’s Courvoisier XO.

A solid round, it was deemed “a good representation of what XO is about”, with “different styles, all well expressed” and “high quality throughout the category.”

With high spirits the panel moved up a price point to a small flight of XO Ultra Premium, where “beautiful, soft” Master medalist A.E.Dor N°9 won high praise for its “elegant and complex” nature, and Cognac Roullet XO Gold Grande Champagne secured a Gold.

Our judges then pressed on to a selection of XO Single Cru. The “brilliant, fragrant” Cognac Frapin VIP XO and “really beautifully put-together” Jean-Pierre Cointreau both scored Gold medals due to their “very skilled blending”.

Overall the selection was highly regarded by our experts. “It’s a smaller category with higher pricing – for an area of land maybe 50km wide, you wouldn’t expect to have so much variety,” said Perron.

The “simple but delicious” Pierre Ferrand Ambre attracted our fourth Master medal of the day in NAS Premium – a category which by nature, Thompson said, “can confuse consumers unless we let them know what it’s about”.

Judges
Judges from left to right: Nicola Thompson, Dave Worthington, Matt Tilbury, Mickael Perron, Athila Roos, Kat Presley, Kristiane Sherry, Tobias D. Gorn, Alex Huskinson

Rounding out the day, our panel approached the final and largest flight of the day, Single Vintage. Jean Grosperrin Fins Bois 2001 was found to be “very summery” – “like an exciting lost expression of Rosebank” Scotch whisky, according to Gorn, while its Bois Ordinaires Oléron 1989 impressed Presley with its “dry, tannic, oaky, spicy notes”.

The brand’s Grande Champagne 1970 “had a fabulous nose”, which Perron noted “was delicate for 50% abv”. However it was Borderies N°48 which truly excited the panel’s palates and was decreed an “excellent” Cognac. “I thought it was incredibly complex, so much going on,” said Huskinson. “Every time you go back to it there’s something else.”

Roos believes there should be more of such expressions on the market as “a way of giving variety to the category as a whole”. “I definitely think it’s the way forward,” agreed Thompson. “Creating a collector’s base to show the bespoke-ness, the artisan-ness, not just the commerciality. We want consistency, but we also want something to create more interest.”

As judges reflected on the day’s tasting, Thompson’s final sentiment was echoed across the panel. “Cognac has a reputation with a lot of spirit drinkers for being quite samey, and this tasting hasn’t really dispelled that. There were similarities until we got to Single Vintage – maybe that is the answer,” said Huskinson.

Roos agreed; “it’s a very conservative traditional channel in different ways, so it’s great to see producers playing around and experimenting.”

“We need more from Cognac,” added Thompson, “there is so much potential across the board. There are different blending techniques, different varietals… there is definitely more to see.”

In the search for diversity in Cognac – namely, more variety in terms of flavour – our panel turned to the similarities in Scotch whisky categories for inspiration According to Perron, the future lies in the integration of the three grape varieties.

“Don’t look at single malt whisky,” he said. “The blended Scotch profile is what they need to do.”

Click through to the following page for the complete list of medal winners from The Cognac Masters 2016.

Company Brand Medal
VS Premium
Blue Sky Brand Company Honor VS Cognac Silver
A. de Fussigny Louis Jolliet VS Silver
Beam Suntory Courvoisier VS Silver
VS Super Premium
Beam Suntory Courvoisier Gala Club Silver
VSOP Premium
A. de Fussigny Louis Jolliet VSOP Master
Compass Cognac Company Cognac Prunier Silver
VSOP Super Premium
Beam Suntory Courvoisier Extravagance Gold
VSOP Single Cru
Cognac Frapin Cognac Frapin VSOP Master
XO Premium
La Gabare SA Mestreau XO N°28 Gold
Maison Ferrand Pierre Ferrand Sélection des Anges Gold
Beam Suntory Courvoisier XO Silver
XO Ultra Premium
Maison A.E.Dor A.E.Dor N°9 Master
Les Vignobles Réunis-Roullet Cognac Roullet XO Gold Grande Champagne Gold
XO Single Cru
Cognac Frapin Cognac Frapin VIP XO Gold
Cognac Frapin Cognac Frapin Extra Gold
NAS Premium
Maison Ferrand Pierre Ferrand Ambre Master
Single Vintage
La Gabare SA Jean Grosperrin Fins Bois 2001 Gold
La Gabare SA Jean Grosperrin Bois Ordinaires Oléron 1989 Gold
La Gabare SA Jean Grosperrin Grande Champagne 1970 Gold
La Gabare SA Jean Grosperrin Borderies N°48 Gold

 

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