Published The Drinks Business, 22 April 2016.
Trade is at the very heart of the Bordeaux region in France and just to the north of the city of Bordeaux is the home of Cognac, one of France’s most well known brandies – the other coming from Armagnac, to the south of Bordeaux.
For centuries trade has shaped the culture, industry and society of this region and it is trade that remains at the heart of one of the oldest Cognac houses in France – Delamain. With origins tracing back to the 18th century and the beginning of Cognac, the house of Delamain is run today by ninth generation descendants of founder, James Delamain.
Delamain do not own any vineyards and, unlike many other producers in the region, they do not have any contracts for annual purchasing of eau-de-vie. Instead they assess the quality of the vintage each year and purchase accordingly, helping to ensure they have access to the highest quality product on the market.
It is this negotiation and trade that heralds the beginning of the process each year. After purchasing sufficient eau-de-vie from each producer Delamain then set to determining how each batch will be utilised.
Despite their small size – 15 employees and approximately 100,000 bottles per year compared with the millions of bottles produced by the larger houses – Delamain only produce XO Cognac. This category requires the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend to be at least six years old. (There has been some press around the minimum age increasing from six to ten years in 2016 but this has been postponed to 2018.)
While XO Cognac represents 10% of the global market, here in Australia it represents 47% of all shipments of Cognac to the country. Not only does this reflect an increase in consumers who have relocated from Asia, where Cognac is very popular, it also reflects the sophistication of the Australian palate.
The skill and craftsmanship of Delamain benefits greatly from a long tradition of Cognac production whereby an impressive stock of Cognac is now available to the master blender, who has more than 35 years with Delamain. In fact, a recent release of Le Voyage de Delamain included in the blend components harvested in 1847 and in 1947. Needless to say this sold-out almost immediately.
Looking ahead to the future of Cognac and reaching a wider audience by increasing the number of occasions on which to enjoy Cognac, the Bureau National Interprofessional du Cognac (BNIC) has published a food pairing guide.
Food and Cognac was also the focus of a recent trade event hosted by long-term distributors in Australia, Fine Wine Partners and Delamain Export Manager, Olivier Jadeau. With Olivier’s expert guidance we sampled a series of dishes prepared by Fall from Grace in Melbourne together with four Cognacs from the Delamain portfolio.
As an introduction to Delamain, Olivier recommends the Vesper Cognac, which is crafted in the traditional style. And after some pressing to narrow down his favourites, Olivier mentioned he particularly enjoys dark chocolate with the Vesper. Although, during September when figs come into season in France he confesses he is rather partial to a drop or two of Pale & Dry with figs, grapes and other autumnal fruits.
During the tasting in Melbourne it was impressive to see the range of foods Cognac paired well with. To begin we were served the lightest of chicken liver pâté with brioche. The first Cognac in the tasting, the Pale & Dry, with its lifted citrus notes refreshed the palate from the richness of the pâté. For the Vesper, a steak tartare with mushroom chips was served; here the savoury notes of the dish contrasted nicely with the sweet vanilla and Christmas cake flavours of the Vesper.
To conclude the tasting, a dessert of vanilla poached pineapple with passionfruit curd, white chocolate sponge and burnt white chocolate ice cream, dotted with ginger crumble was partnered with the final two Cognacs.
The Extra, the next oldest Cognac in the tasting was beautifully presented in an original decanter, designed and blown exclusively for Delamain. The tropical fruit notes of the Extra were complemented by the pineapple and passionfruit in the dessert. But it was the ginger crumble dotted around the plate that, when combined with the white chocolate ice cream, made the final Cognac of the tasting, the Très Vénérable, sing. Très Vénérable is a very old Pale & Dry and the richer spice and dried fruit notes of this Cognac were in perfect harmony with the spice of the ginger in the crumble and the creaminess of the ice cream.
With every dish, the personality of each Cognac was brought to the fore, all bound together by the signature purity of flavour, delicacy of structure and layering of complex and delicious flavours that is the mark of Delamain.