There is no hangover like a cheap brandy hangover. Drink too much and you’ll wake up the next day shivering, confused, and feeling like you’ve been mouth raped by a sweaty fox.
A decent Cognac on the other hand is a thing of beauty. I recently had the pleasure of walking round the Chateau de Valois in Cognac, the home of Baron Otard, and got to see exactly how to make a proper Cognac.
The chateau was originally built in the 11th century as a fortress to keep out Vikings and the English. By the 15th century it was owned by the Valois family and was soon to the main residence of King François of France.
All sorts of other boring shit occurred; it was used as a prison for Irish soldiers during some war as well so it has lots of graffiti carved into the walls. Other stuff happened as well but essentially by the 1700’s the crafty old Baron Otard had got his hands on the place and realised it was the perfect spot for ageing eaux-de-vie and making Cognac.
The deep cellars and thick walls on the bank of the Charente River provide a constant humidity and temperature that is essential for that intensely smooth and elegant taste apparently. During our walk round our charming guide talks a lot about the legacy of the Baron and expertise of the cellar master who has been drinking cognac every day for twenty years.
The six cru’s of the Cognac mostly grow the Ugni Blanc grape but also some Colombard and Folle Blanche is thrown into the mix as well. After three weeks of fermentation this humble wine is ideal for distillation and goes through a traditional Charente copper still twice to create the eaux-de-vie that is then aged for at least two and a half years before it can be sold as Cognac.
The building itself is beautiful and it’s hard not to be intoxicated as you walk round by the atmosphere, the history, and sheer obsession involved in making the stuff. Even the stone of the Chateau is deeply infused with Cognac and covered in a black fungus that grows on the fumes given off during ageing; quite literally feeding on the angels share.
We eventually get round to the tasting room; let’s face it, the reason why we are all here on tour. We get to sample the VSOP which is at least four and half years old and the XO which has spent over six and a half years in the darkness of the cellar.
The VSOP is rich and mellow in the mouth; touches of vanilla, tobacco and a floral nose. The XO is deeper, nutty almost, you can taste that it’s spent longer in that amazing cellar as it has started to pick up a truffley edge in a very good way.
I would have loved to spent longer sipping fine Cognac but the tour was over and they seemed reluctant to fill up the glasses again. On my way out I picked up a couple of bottles and can safely confirm that the Otard hangover is nothing to fear...
You’ll wake up fuzzy but at least you won’t think you’ve gone into cheap brandy related renal failure. I have a bottle of the VSOP to give away as well, let me know why you should get it in the comments section and it could be yours. Entrants to this give-away must of course be over 18 and you can check out some more photos here as well.