Friday, 18 May 2012

Baron Otard - Cognac, France

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 Fran├žois 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.


  1. I actually don't deserve a nice bottle of cognac. I fell for a classic market stall scam of sampling a lovely cognac, buying a bottle and getting it home only to find it was paint stripper. I made myself drink it as punishment.

    1. Everyone deserves good cognac, you are in with a chance anyway!

  2. I think I deserve a bottle of cognac as I have some serious sorrows, which must be drowned. I ordered an Amazing American-style double-door fridge/freezer this week. Heartbreakingly, I had to send it back today as the delivery guys couldn't get it through my front door, despite taking it apart. Now I have to get shitty UK style separate fridge/freezers. I also have lots of defrosted food, most of which will perish.

    So have a heart,


  3. I deserve a nice bottle of cognac because ALL cognac gives me hangovers that make me feel like I have swallowed poison and then beaten about the head and neck with two-by-fours by football hooligans and I STILL drink it. And I'll be nice and share it with my mum and dad.

  4. I think I should get a bottle of cognac because I need a bottle of grown-up alcohol to help me get over the fact that I don't get ID'd in the supermarket anymore so must officially be an adult.

  5. I'm not sure I deserve free anything but I know I'd like free brandy. In fact I'd like free most things but we can start with the brandy, yes?

  6. Truly do I deserve a lovely bottle of marvellous Cognac. Who more so?

    Why, only this morning I foiled the nefarious schemes of an illegal, and swarthy, arms gang as they sought to kidnap Her Majesty. My reward? A Starbucks (skinny).

    No less than twice last year I was the hero of a people's revolution, in [REDACTED] and Rutland. Sadly, unfortunate misunderstandings involving an out of date passport and a mouldy coconut prevented me from receiving such honours as were my due. I was instead presented with a warm can of coke (diet) and a Wham bar.

    I could go on. Suffice to say, this continued lack of appropriate rewards begins to grate. A chap could be forgiven for giving up the hero lark entirely.

    Sir, your cognac could well save lives. I look forward to your prompt encouragement.

    Yours ... etc etc

  7. Like everyone else, I don't really deserve a free bottle, but I'd like one. My husband is *that* guy that despite many years out of uni, still buys rounds of shots on nights out, and it's frankly getting embarrassing. I'd love to introduce him to something a little more grown up.

  8. I'd like a bottle of free brandy because - hang on, FREE BRANDY? Free, delicious, high-quality brandy? You'd be mad not to want it. Plus I"ve had a hell of a week and it's only Monday. With only the hope of Eurovision keeping me going, it's clear that I need some good booze to perk me up.

  9. I don't deserve this bottle of scrumptious Cognac... but I know someone who does. My Dad campaigns tirelessly (and I mean tirelessly) on behalf of Marie Curie and receives practically no recognition for it. With Father's Day just around the corner, I think this would make his day!

    Sorry for the sob story - I'm a proud son!

    Just on the off chance anyone would like to donate to his most recent major endeavour, the London Marathon:

    All the best

  10. I can't compete with the stories above. I do deserve the brandy though. Why? I'm nice and try to treat others nicely too. I've never had good brandy either ...