Cognac is the world’s best-known brandy. In India Cognac if often associated with Bollywood, “Cognac sharaab nahi hoti” said Rishi Kapoor in Chandni 1989 and then Shahrukh Khan to Kajol in DDLJ 6 years later. If you read between the lines and try to understand the deeper meaning, may be it relates to what the Indian upper classes generally think of the beverage, sophistication. Well Cognac certainly deserves the respect for all it undergoes to come into ones lead free crystal.
Cognac is made from the Ugni blanc grape, double distilled in a special copper pot still called the alembic charentaise and then ages for a minimum of 2 years in oak barrels, either new or in the ones that carried a wine or a wine-based spirit. These days a sherry or a port cask finish is quite common in the Cognac world. The time they spend in the barrel in indicates as VS, VSOP and XO in an ascending order of 2 years, 4 years and 10 years. The years indicate the youngest cognac in the bottle, the oldest may be 5 decades old. This is where the art of Cognac blending comes into picture.
The Cognac market in India is most in the Southern states of India, Tamil Nadu and Kerala where the blue collared drink locally made brandy (mostly made from molasses) and the upper strata drinks Cognac. So, the following brands of Cognac are available not so readily in India but for the top 3.
Martell: The oldest of the big four in Cognac, the house of Martell was found in 1715 by a Englishman. The brand is now owned by Pernod Ricard and is known for its Borderies focussed Cognac, Borderies being the sub-region where the terroir or the growing environment gives it’s a floral overtone.
Remy Martin: Known for its specialty the ‘Fine Champagne’ Cognac which is a blend of grapes grown in Grande and Petit Champagne the most prestigious regions known for its long-lived Cognacs. It also produces the Louis XIII Cognac, it goes at Rs 3 lakhs plus a bottle.
Hennessy: The market leader of the Cognac world, Hennessy commands a 50% market share globally. It was found by an Irishman, Richard Hennessy in 1765 and today is owned the conglomerate LVMH. They claim to have over 70 cellars in Cognac.
Delamain: Established in 1759, Delamain is one of the oldest and still family run Cognac house. They make only Grand Champagne Cognacs and only XO Cognac which put them in the top tier immediately.
Pierre Ferrand: This house was only found in 1989 and emphasises on 100% Grand Champagne Cognacs which are richer in style. They do not use the known VS, VSOP nomenclature but use proprietary ones. One called the Reserve which is equivalent of a VSOP is available in India.
Otard: Made in the building Chateau de Cognac where Francis the 1st the initiator of the French renaissance was born, Otard was found in 1795 by Jean Baptiste Otard. He was the Mayor of Cognac until his death. The brand is owned by Bacardi now. This Cognac ages in cellars which are at the level of the Charente river with very high humidity and dry cellars over ground which give more blends for the final.
Camus: A family owned company found in 1863, Camus starting 1990s emphasizes on Borderies and also have a 100% Borderies XO Cognac which is their signature. They are also one of those have wine aged expressions in their repertoire.
Courvoisier: Being the only official supplier to Napoleon , Courvoisier has basked in the glory of the title ‘Brandy of the Napoleon’ ever since. They were also the Cognac to toast the ‘unveiling’ of the Eiffel tower.
Godet: Found in 1783, this is an outlier of the lot as the house is based in La Rochelle a town in Cognac on the Atlantic coast. Going back in history this was the town where the technology of distillation met the wines of today Back then they called it "Brandwijn" in Dutch which translated to burnt wine.Today Cognac is the greatest of the burnt wines in the world.
Hine: Found in 1763 and based in heart of the Grande Champagne , Hine is know for its vintage Cognacs and specially "Hine Early-Landed Vintage Cognac" the barrels of which are aged in the damp cellars in Bristol, England. This English connection goes back to Thomas Hine who was originally English.