Interesting bits of trivia:
- Cognac became really popular after the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet in 1152, where it was a featured beverage.
- Armagnac never really became popular worldwide, as it is landlocked and distribution was difficult over land. Cognac, on the other hand, is situated right next to the Charente River, providing easy access to the Atlantic Ocean.
- To properly sniff Cognac, you must do it three times: hold it against your chest, then at neck level, and finally stick your nose in the glass.
- Contrary to popular opinion, snifters are not the ideal drinking glasses. Regular wine glasses are much more appropriate.
We tasted six in all--five Cognacs and one Armagnac. The Cognacs can all be found at the above link, and the Armagnac is on a nearby page. We tasted the Armagnac last, but I'm going to write about it first because it was the least impressive of the group, and frankly, after the really old Cognacs, it never had a chance. I found it strong and bold, rougher on the palate than any of the other selections. Much of this was due to single distillation rather than the double distillation required for Cognac. $42.
All of these come from Grand Champagne, the premiere subregion within Cognac. All were served in separate glasses and allowed to breathe for at least 30 minutes before tasting.
Cognac 1: 10 Year Old Ambre. I found it a little thin, but it had a wonderful aroma. It was definitely the most pale of all the offerings. $43.
Cognac 2: 20 Year Old Reserve. Probably my favorite of the tasting, if by favorite you mean something I could potentially afford and really enjoyed. Very smooth, with a light sweetness. Touches of almonds and licorice on the nose and tongue. $64.
Cognac 3: 25 Year Old Cigare. Designed with an attractive cigar band style label above the main label and intended for pairing with cigars. I found more orange and spice on this one, though it was in many ways similar to the 20 year old. $90.
Cognac 4: 30 Year Old Selection des Anges. Named after the "angel's share", that portion of a distilled spirit that is lost due to evaporation. A mild aroma, and smooth as cream on the palate. Smells and tastes included candied fruits, mint, vanilla. Quite complex. $116.
Cognac 5: 45 Year Old Abel. Named after the grandfather of Pierre Ferrand, and poured into a lovely handblown bottle. Smooth and creamy like the 30 year old, but even more so. Some aromas of cherry and almonds. It was hard to keep myself from licking the inside of the glass to get every last drop. $240.