The Art of Blending

Welcome to our video podcast – The Art of Blending – Video Show #54.

NOTE: New Material Included in Video

Blending, or the combining of multiple ingredients, has always been part of the art of cooking. So too has it always been a part of wine making and the creation of exotic mixed drinks. So, it should be no surprise that blending the flavors and aromas of Cognac with the culinary arts results in a sum greater than its parts. In fact, this beautiful marriage of components is likely to elicit a gastronomical delight. But, as with cooking, it is all about the quality of the ingredients.

There is a familiar saying, “All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac”, and the Cognac region of France is rightly famous for its brandy, a spirit made by double-distilling wine to create an eau-de-vie, a colorless liquid of about 70% alcohol. After years of aging in large oak barrels, the spirit takes on additional complexities and various shades of amber-gold color depending upon age. During this aging process much of the alcohol is lost through evaporation (called the “angel’s share”), and after final blending the spirit is reduced to about 40% alcohol. Cognac is usually consumed on its own as an aperitif (before dinner), as a digestif (after dinner drink), or used in cooking. In addition, it has also become very popular as an ingredient in many cocktails.

GrapeRadio is pleased to present, “The Art of Blending”, a tribute to the artistic efforts of master blenders, chefs, and mixologists who use palettes of flavors to create passion in the world of wine, food and cocktails.

For More Info on Cognac: www.bnic.fr

08cognac1a.jpg Some demijohns from 1820 at rest in a Paradis cellar (‘Grande Champagne’ refers to a specific growing region, considered the most important in Cognac) – Otard

08cognac1b.jpg Barrel cellar. Alcohol evaporation causes a fungus referred to as the “angel’s share” to collect on ceiling beams and walls; note the earthen floor – Merkow

08cognac1c.jpg Château Fontpinot amid the vines – Frapin

08cognac1d.jpg Ugni Blanc grapes in June – Frapin

08cognac1e.jpg Several older barrels; note the many chestnut barrel rings, which attract bugs that otherwise might have a taste for oak – Hennessy

08cognac1f.jpg View of Cognac from the river Charente. Due to fire regulations, all barrel storage must now be located outside the city of Cognac

08cognac1g.jpg Tasting table – Hennessy

08cognac1h.jpg Fascinating lineage display illustrates the number of components blended into this bottling of Cognac – Courvoisier

08cognac1i.jpg Older bottles in cellar, some dating to 1795 – Courvoisier

08cognac1j.jpg As evidence of an old seabed, Paul-Jean Giraud shows one of the many fossils he found in his vineyards – Giraud

08cognac1k.jpg Vines and landscape around Bouteville – Giraud

22 Responses to “The Art of Blending”


  1. 1 David Fang Jan 2nd, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Fantastic video guys, beautiful! Wonderfully produced, very insightful.

  2. 2 artist Jan 2nd, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    I agree with david. Fantastic video.

  3. 3 Cris Whetstone Jan 7th, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Nice work guys. Fun to see the people with the name _Cointreau_ in the credits. As an ex-bartender it is heartening to see the trend back to the art of cocktails instead of merely making the next sweetest thing.

    What grape varieties do they use in Cognac?

  4. 4 GrapeRadio Bunch Jan 8th, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Hey Cris. Yeah, the Cointreaus own Cognac Frapin – nice operation, nice people and very nice product.

    Ugni Blanc is the primary grape used to produce Cognac, though a couple of others are also allowed by the AOC. All of our vineyard shots featured Ugni Blanc vineyards. I’ll post some pix here in the next day or two.

    Eric

  5. 5 Mark Ryan Jan 8th, 2009 at 9:48 am

    I’ve always heard that Folle Blanche and Colombard can also be used in Cognac production, however on our trip no one seemed to use those varieties. I wonder why…

    Mark

  6. 6 GrapeRadio Bunch Jan 8th, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Mark,

    I will need to check my notes, but I seem to remember one producer toying with the idea of “going back” to Folle Blanche. There are people replanting FB

    Folle Blanche is clearly perceived as superior, but Phylloxera and the temperamental nature were too much to overcome.

    Jay

  7. 7 Tom Fiorina Jan 9th, 2009 at 2:12 am

    Your “Art of Blending” video is an impressive collection of images, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the artistry employed by the bartender and chef. Cognac as the ultimate brandy is–if you’ll excuse the pun–less easy to digest. Not since the rappers sung their praise of Courvoisier has Cognac had such an impressive marketing push. Here in the part of southwestern France where I live–just outside of Toulouse, most brandy lovers would say that Cognac pales in comparison with Armagnac from small, artisanal producers. In addition to also having plenty of cobwebs, dirt floors and old oak barrels, Armagnac producers use a single distillation process (unlike Cognac’s double distillation), which leaves in more of the aromatic compounds that give brandy its complexity and floral odors. And if you want to talk history, Armagnac, which predates Cognac by a century or so, has more of it. What it doesn’t have is the brand muscle of multinational organizations (the average person selling Armagnac is more likely to be in bib overalls than a suit) and widespread distribution. If you want to drink the best Armagnac you’ll probably have to come to southwestern France to find it. That’s not such a terrible thing actually; the Gascon countryside made famous by d’Artagnan and the other musketeers and where Armagnac is produced is quite beautiful. But you’d better hurry; young people are hesitant to take over the Armagnac production of their parents (who wants to wait 10 or 20 years while the Armagnac rests in its oak barrels), so there is less and less of the best, good old brandy each year.

  8. 8 GrapeRadio Bunch Jan 9th, 2009 at 4:26 am

    Well, I would not expect Armagnac producers to feel that they are making anything inferior to Cognac producers. When generations of your family have devoted their lives to the production of Cognac (or Armagnac), you have to expect some rather strong preferences. :-)

    Your statement about “a single distillation process (unlike Cognac’s double distillation), which leaves in more of the aromatic compounds that give brandy its complexity and floral odors ” is rather interesting. Would you consider this a statement of fact or opinion?

    I have not had many Armagnacs. Any suggestions?

    Jay

  9. 9 Mark Ryan Jan 9th, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Tom,

    It’s not a question of whether Cognac or Armagnac is better — they’re just different. We at GrapeRadio would be happy to profile the Armagnac producers — so far though, no one has invited us out there…yet.

    One thing, however, that does puzzle me about Armagnac is the widespread use of a French-American hybrid (Baco 22A). In 2010 the EU will forbid Armagnac producers from using this variety, but why did they ever use it in the first place?

    Mark

  10. 10 GrapeRadio Bunch Jan 9th, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Mark, I do not know the answer to your question, but I am wondering if, by using a hybrid, they were able to get the aromatics of the FB without its physical weaknesses?

    Jay

  11. 11 Tom Fiorina Jan 10th, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Jay and Mark, Yes, Cognac and Armagnac are both excellent brandies. They’re much like champagne from the Grand Champagne Houses and producer champagnes; both are fine to drink, but for different tastes. To give you an idea of the size difference between the two–almost as much Cognac is lost annually through evaporation (the equivalent of 5 million bottles) as the annual Armagnac production. Traditional Armagnac is single-distilled to 52-55 degree alcohol. Cognac is double-distilled; first to between 26-32 degree alcohol, then to 72-78 degree alcohol. It’s later reduced with distilled water to 40 degree alcohol. That’s an excellent question about the Baco 22A hybrid. When I put it to one of the executives from the Bureau National Interprofessional de l’Armagnac (BNIA) last year. He simply said that they were discussing with Brussels about lifting the directive to remove these vines from production in the Armagnac region. I don’t know whether they’ve succeeded or not. I do know that many of the producers are ripping up vines to make way for other crops (corn, soybeans, sunflowers, etc.) that require less effort and provide a more immediate return on their investment. The Baco 22A hybrid was planted following the phylloxera epidemic, as it is a very strong, disease-resistant variety and it produces an ideal wine for distillation since its alcohol content rarely exceeds 10%. Two excellent books about Armagnac are “Armagnac: The Definitive Guide to France’s Premier Brandy” by Charles Neal (he has a home in southwestern France, but I believe that he lives in San Francisco–maybe a possible Grape Radio interview subject???) and “Armagnac: The Gers Region of Southwest France, the People, the Brandy” by Joseph Andrew Natalino Maga and Jean Louis Puech. For Armagnacs to taste in the US, I would refer you to a February 18, 2004 article by the New York Times wine and spirit critic Eric Asimov. You should be able to find it online. Of the Armagnac that I’ve tasted here, I have particularly appreciated that from Domaine de Joy, Domaine de Magnaut, Château du Tariquet and that of a small artisanal producer, Jean Sempé. Armagnac would be a good podcast subject. I hope that you’ll cover it one day. I listen to each of your podcasts, and want to congratulate you on bringing so many interesting subjects and elements of the wine world to your listeners. Keep up the good work. I hope that the James Beard award is yours again this year. You deserve it. Please let me know if I can be of any help, if you do decide to make Armagnac a podcast subject.

  12. 12 GrapeRadio Bunch Jan 10th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Hey Tom,

    Thanks for writing again. Your point about the Baco 22A hybrid seems to echo my comments, which makes sense to me.

    If you know some people responsible for the promotion of Armagnac, have them contact me. I would love to explore Armagnac in detail.

    Your James Beard comment floored me. That is a very flattering statement. Just getting nominated is HUGE. With so much out there, it hard to get noticed. To win back to back awards, well even my inflated ego would find that hard to believe possible.

    Jay

  13. 13 Amanda Garnham Jan 16th, 2009 at 3:48 am

    Dear Jay
    I was very interested to discover Grape Radio thanks to Tom Fiorina and very pleased to introduce myself as the Attachée de Presse for Armagnac generically. I represent the BNIA, here in Gascony, South West France and hope that I may be able to answer some of your questions about Armagnac, France’s oldest wine spirit(15th Century).
    Firstly I would like to address your questions concerning the wonderful grape variety Baco 22a which is specific to Armagnac. Some time ago, there was some question as to whether it should stay as it is the only hybrid permitted, though since a new Appellation decree in 2005, Baco has been given the thumbs up and will remain a very important variety for Armagnac.

    Ten grape varieties are mentioned in the Armagnac Appellation Contrôlée being permitted for distillation, including, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Folle Blanche, Baco Blanc, and to a lesser extent, other traditional and local grape varieties, such as, Clairette Gascogne, Plante de Graisse, Jurançon Blanc, Mauzac white and rosé and Meslier Saint François.

    BACO 22A is a hybrid that was named after a Landais teacher, François Baco who developed this clone of the vinifera grape Folle Blanche and an American labrusca grape called Noah in 1898, following the devastating phylloxera disease that destroyed the French vineyards towards the end of the 19th Century. The Baco created sturdier wines than either of its parents and was more resistant to vine diseases. The results were so outstanding that it became the only vinifera/labrusca hybrid allowed in the French AOC vineyards.

    This robust variety of grape is more ecological and economical, being less susceptible to mildew and other diseases, it has a tough skin and needs very little maintenance or chemical treatment. It does however, prefer to grow on the sandy soils of the Bas-Armagnac area and will not be found in the other Armagnac areas of Armagnac-Ténarèze or Haut Armangac. Bas-Armagnac producers swear by its value in the production of their Armagnacs, particularly those that are destined for lengthy ageing when its distinguishable qualities become apparent. New plantations of young Baco vines are already underway in the region.

    It is the originality of this grape variety that contributes to the wonderful diversity that is to be found in armagnac as opposed to other brandies. The typical Baco characteristics give a powerful, rich and complex roundness with aromas of ripe fruit to the eaux de vie. The variety represents nearly 40% of the volume of Armagnac produced.

    The original Armagnac grape variety Folle Blanche is also popular here, though, contrary to Baco, it is a very fragile variety to grow as it is prone to disease and therefore needs much tender loving care and attention. It does however give extreme finesse and floral aromas to the spirit.

    I hope that I have answered some of your questions and whetted your appetite for more!
    Best wishes
    Amanda

  14. 14 GrapeRadio Bunch Jan 20th, 2009 at 4:26 am

    Amanda, I wish to express the gratitude of all of us at GrapeRadio for you taking the time to post your response. Funny how a story about Cognac lead us to learn more about Armagnac. Clearly, this is a story that needs further investigation. Feel free to contact me directly so we can figure out the best way to proceed.

    Jay

  15. 15 Michael O. Jan 28th, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Jay and the Bunch,
    While viewing this excellant video I sit sipping Le Cognac de Napoleon Courvoisier the color of golden oak. Tasting it as I am being taken to the region by you is even more meaningful. I enjoyed the simple blending of flavors of food and Cognac by the chef, as well as seeing the aging rooms where very happy Angels reside, I wish they would leave us a bit more. Cognac is a very special product. Thank you for taking us there to see place and product and the people.

    Michael O
    Partaker of the Grape

  16. 16 ECwineguy Mar 12th, 2011 at 8:21 am

    love all the info guys, I’m heading to cognac region later in the year (hopefully) and I just can’t wait now.

  17. 17 Roland Mar 14th, 2011 at 3:54 am

    You guys always produce great videos.The art of blending is just another.Thanks guys and continue to inspire me because I am a sommelier with deep passion for my work.

  18. 18 Wine2Three May 15th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Another amazing video! LOVED the old barrel cellars, so cool to see, and the barrel making, wow, loved it! Keep up the great work! Will tweet this one out too! :)

  19. 19 Mike Jul 9th, 2011 at 12:56 am

    I’m just starting to learn about (and appreciate) wine and loved your video on blending – my mouth’s watering but will have to wait a while to quench my thirst as it’s still morning!

  20. 20 swtor cheats Jan 29th, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Enjoyed the podcast and learned a ton about blending. Thanks

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GrapeRadio is a wine talk show. Show topics cover issues such as the enjoyment of wine, wine news and industry trends - the hallmark of the show is interviews with world class guest (winemakers, vineyards owners, wine retail / wholesale leaders, restaurateurs and sommeliers). The scope of the show is international so expect to hear many guests from around the world.

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