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Tasting cognac – How to get the most from your experience

1 May 2013 One Comment

Hennessy Tasting - kopieChoosing a delectable, desirable cognac to enjoy of an evening is the first step to immersing yourself in the intense pleasure of this coveted spirit. However, to fully enjoy the experience and make the most of the complex flavours and aromas, you’ll need to know a little about how to taste your cognac for the maximum effect.

Preparing yourself
Getting ready to enjoy your cognac doesn’t mean doing a spot of yoga to get in the zone. But it does mean thinking about how and when you want to imbibe a spot of the golden nectar to make the most of your experience.

  • The glass: The main types of cognac glasses are the tulip, the balloon and the wobble snifter. The majority of aficionados rate the tulip snifter as the king of cognac glasses, but dependant on the situation you may be limited to a balloon or brandy glass.
  • The cognac: Your choice might be budget dependent, but whether you are going for a young VS or an older XO or Vintage, the heritage of your cognac will have a strong bearing on how it’s going to taste. Experts suggest it is better to choose a cheaper cognac from a reputable house than an expensive one from a house primarily concerned with the bottom end of the market or producing cognacs for cocktails.
  • The situation: Cognacs have blasted their way into the 21st century and are now a popular choice in many bars and clubs. However, when you really want to enjoy the complexity and value of these highly desirable drinks, it may be better to choose a quieter, more laid back situation.
  • The temperature: There are a range of opinions on the best way to enjoy cognac, although most experienced tasters will prefer their drink to be hand warmed for consumption. Whilst it is true that room temperature will release all manner of delicious flavours and aromas from older, complex cognacs, there are also a number of blends that have been specifically created to be drunk over ice or straight from the freezer.

The truth is that there is no right and wrong way to enjoy cognac, as long as you enjoy it. However, if you are looking to be able to identify some of the deeper flavours and aromas, then a good VSOP or XO at room temperature in a tulip glass has to be the way to go.

Three steps to tasting your cognac

The tasting process can be separated into three distinct processes, each one designed to help you find and identify some of the key notes found in various eaux de vie.

  1. Look: Swirl your cognac in the glass. Notice the alcohol as it runs down the sides of the glass. Longer, softer ‘legs’ will indicate a more complex cognac. Also note the colour of the cognac. As a general rule the darker spirits will be older, but sometimes younger versions have caramel colour added to them, so don’t use this alone as a judge of age.
  2. Smell: Hold your glass at chin level and breathe deeply. Try to identify some of the aromas you can smell coming from the cognac. Focus on looking for floral notes and spices. Fruity, flowery aromas indicate a younger cognac, whereas sweeter, more jam like notes are indicative of an aged cognac. If you have a good nose, you might even pick up vanilla and nuts.
  3. Taste: Cognac is a drink that is designed to be enjoyed slowly. Take a sip, but keep it in your mouth. Move it around your tongue to pick up all the different flavours using different areas of your taste buds. The tip will pick up sweetness, whilst the sides are better for salt and sour and bitterness at the back. Note the length of flavour present and the balance of the different flavours you can taste. An aged cognac should give a beautiful nip of vanilla right at the tip of the tongue that will strike early and vanish just as quick.

Depending on the age and quality of the cognac you are drinking, you should pick up flavours of everything from fruit to flowers, spice to chalk. A really good quality cognac might even display the elusive rancio flavour, which is a sweet nutty flavour, influenced by wood and oak that is unique to cognacs alone.

Thanks to Drink Aristocrat for this article!

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One Comment »

  • John C said:

    Good article… always good to reread as a refresher. Got a few good pointers on what to look for. Thanks!

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