I’ve always harboured a liking for cognac, partly because I was taught from an early stage never to mix the grain and the grape. So it was the proper and hangover-avoiding thing to do to finish a meal which was accompanied by wine, with cognac as the spirit of choice. Since then, we’ve seen single malt whisky become the most popular spirit to settle into at the end of an evening, and cognac has ended up on the back foot. However, not with me; I just love the sweet, lip-smacking taste of aged spirit, fruit and oak in varying proportions and the sheer finesse of expression that cognac has over most whiskies, which are so individual and often striking in character. The ethereal nature is so inviting, accessible and yet so reflective in its effects.
This review is an indulgence on my part, somewhat outside the brief of this website, but it does have its connections with wine via the grape. It was a luxury on my part to attend the Delamain masterclass at Boulcott Street Bistro where chef Rex Morgan was to match his food with a number of cognacs presented by Olivier Jadeau of Delamain. My further justification was that I’ve been a fan of Delamain for over three decades, having sold it in retail for over twenty years.
Olivier Jadeau conducted an excellent introduction, explaining the history of Delamain, its boutique, family-sized 14 person operation, owned two thirds by the Delamain family and one-third by Champagne Bollinger. Olivier described the Cognac region and growing areas, and the importance of the Grande Champagne appellation, the acidic Ugni Blanc grape, as well as the distillation process, including the all-important reduction stage which sees the spirit go from over 71.4%. down to 40% alc. We nosed two samples demonstrating this and the oak maturation.
It was impressed upon the attendees how small Delamain is as a producer, releasing only 100,000 bottles annually, compared with the 60 million of Hennessy, 15 million of Martell and Remy-Martin and 15 million from Courvoisier. This is explained partially by the fact they specialise in aged and mature cognac, the youngest being XO. Olivier reported a buoyant market for cognac in general, a pleasing trend that may catch on in New Zealand reversing the situation, in my experience at least, of the last decade.
On to the cognac and food matching: First pairing was Delamain ‘Pale and Dry’ Cognac Grande Champagne XO with Pork and chicken terrine with liver parfait. The cognac with an average age of 25 y.o. is light golden mahogany colour, and possesses a fine, elegant bouquet showing fine fruitiness, with peach and apricot along with vanilla. The palate cutting and extremely fine-featured, sweet fruit showing, the spirit again very refined, adding to the elegant impression. A lovely sweet finish is a feature. The terrine texture withstood the alcoholic cut of the cognac and the flavours of pork and chicken a little neutral here. However the liver parfait and the cognac harmonised, the cognac easily absorbing the richness of the parfait, while the parfait reduced the spirit. This was a successful integration and combination.
With the Delamain ‘Vesper’ being out of stock in New Zealand, the next pairing was Delamain ‘Extra’ Grande Champagne Cognac XO with Caramelized pineapple and vanilla brulee. With an average age of 50 y.o., the cognac has a darker heart of mahogany colour and a powerful, warming nose of dark citrus fruits, dried fruits and wood. On palate, it is the softness that impresses, smooth and mellow with brown fruits, plenty of oak, and exuding a richness and decadence. Here, the caramelization and the brulee were contiguous with the deeper, baroque nature of the wood maturation, the vanilla flavours of food and spirit seamless in their interaction. The pineapple flavours and acidity enlivened and lifted the cognac, making this an excellent interaction.
Third was the Delamain ‘Tres Venerable’ Cognac Grande Champagne XO with Cocoa braised beef. With 55 y.o. average age, this has a light amber-mahogany colour and a very tight, very fine steely aroma with notes of citrus peel. A cognac with great cut, intensity and concentration of flavours, extremely fine textured, and showing an unfolding, ethereal array of flavours. The beef served as a pie was hot, moist and fine in grain, with delicate game and jus flavours. The finesse and steely cut of the cognac was a contrast to the meaty textures, and the subtle flavours of the beef allowed the cognac to speak. The cocoa absorbed the moisture of the meat, and flavour interest was minimal. A physical match, and one of tolerance on the taste front. Again a success.