Recently we celebrated World Cognac Day on June 4. This year, I allowed myself to partake some precious drops of a very special Hennessy, the private reserve. It is a curious little bottling which I acquired many summers ago and it has (alas) only been brought out for commemorative occasions. And this time, looking at just how little of it is now left, one can surmise that the bottle has been with me through many very memorable times.
Meanwhile, back to cognac, it isn’t all that dreary really. For one, the spirit is recognised as Interbrands’ 100 most iconic brands in the world which points out at a resurgence of sorts. Cognac is no more the fuddy-duddy brand of yesteryears but is trying to reposition itself as a fun and vivacious new brand that is traditional yet contemporary, very special and utterly versatile. Stéphane de Meurville, managing director, Moët Hennessy India, shares my enthusiasm for the beverage by saying how today it, “crosses genres, especially into music and art,” both spaces where brands like Hennessy operate. Even in mixology, cognac can, “not only lend itself to the classics but also become a part of innovative drinks.”
As someone who now swears by a cognac old fashioned I whole-heartedly agree. But this was him, a man on Asian soil, especially here in India where a significant chunk of the drinking population is increasingly getting younger (but, I hastily add, always above 25 years of age; always!) So clearly Stephane has seen cognac adapt in order to be adopted. So what about the master blenders back in France? Were they changing their outlook about how to perceive the drink? How about the way they make it, were those too evolving? The one word Stephane shared in this exchange about Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, the current 8th generation master blender, stuck with me. It was ‘emotion’.
Renaud is a curious man and likes to be creative without losing sight of quality or the long-term proposition. He is open to all and any influences and these very ‘emotions’ then become guides every time he sits down to create a blend. As a master blender, Renaud not only keeps himself abreast of the problems the winemakers face at the back-end (climate change is an added woe) but he is equally astutely aware of the problems further down the line in markets where the final product is sold.
To this extent, ‘the very special’ is aimed at young urban youth, a fun easy spirit that is great in cocktails as also with tonic or just soda. VSOP , the level up sits midways, still amenable to cocktails to give them a further refined edge and yet not too pricey. Finally, we have the XO which is a brilliant internal furnace for cold winter nights and a great evening relaxer in summers when enjoyed over ice. You may notice that one isn’t referring to age statements here and yet the sense of rising levels of nuances is duly conveyed in the traditional grading system of the region.
To sign off, the notion that all cognac is brandy but all brandy is not cognac rings true in my ears all over again. In fact, cognac to me is not just another beverage at all. Like many other spirits of refinement, it is an artistic expression of man and nature, carefully crafted and patiently honed over time. To see barrels and barrels of century old eaux-de-vie resting patiently in dimly lit cellars has less of a wow effect and more of a dawning sense of resect and silent reverence. It makes you realise that what we enjoy today was possibly put down way before we were even born! So whatever we do today is merely a transient phase before we hand it down to the next generation. In light of this epiphany, let’s resolve to keep the torch of cognac brightly lit for
generations to come.
The writer is a sommelier