Tag Archives: oak barrels

Martell Blue Swift

Martell Blue Swift Arrives in Atlanta

Cognac meets Kentucky in the latest release from Martell, the oldest and one of the best known Cognac houses. Introducing Martell Blue Swift, a VSOP Cognac finished in Kentucky bourbon casks.

Martell Blue Swift

Martell Blue Swift was unveiled at an exclusive launch party in downtown Atlanta earlier this month. After guests sipped on Martell VSOP cocktails, brand ambassador Karim Lateef pushed back a wall revealing a room dedicated to Martell Blue Swift. The celebration then kicked into high gear with a DJ, live artist painting and tastings of Blue Swift on its own and in cocktails.

Martell Blue Swift launch party

Blue Swift is a spirit that represents the partnership between France and America. Martell was the first to ship its Cognac to the United States more than 230 years ago. The name is a tribute to Martell’s swift emblem, a bird that can fly for extremely long distances, including across the Atlantic Ocean.

Martell Blue Swift

Blue Swift is an Eau de Vie de Vin. It starts with a base of high quality Cognac, the VSOP, and then spends additional time aging in Kentucky Bourbon casks. The VSOP has flavors of candied fruit and plum, while the bourbon casks impart notes of vanilla and smoky oak. Round and smooth, Martell Blue Swift can be enjoyed on its own or in cocktails. My favorite way to sip it is mixed with ginger ale.

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Martell Blue Swift is now available in Atlanta and select U.S. cities. It retails for $49.99.

For more information visit Martell’s website at martell.com/en-us/.

Chateau de Cayx

Guide to Cahors Wineries

Here is your go-to guide on Cahors Malbec.

For a taste that will make you fall in love with Cahors Malbec try wines from these domaines and châteaux.

The wines from each estate are generally listed beginning with entry level (easy to drink, less oak and aging, lower price point) to top of the line (excellent quality, complex, cellar-worthy, higher price point). Vine age is the average age.

Click here to learn about why the location of the vineyards — on the terraces or plateau — is so important to Cahors Malbec.

Scroll down to the bottom for a map of the wineries.

Château du Cèdre

Owned by brothers Pascal and Jean-Marc Verhaeghe who took over the vineyard from their father in 1987, Château du Cèdre produces exceptional Malbec in Vire-sur-Lot. For that “aha! moment” – when you take a sip and understand what makes Cahors Malbec so special and delicious – try the 2011 Le Cedre. In 2003 the Verhaeghe brothers transitioned to organic farming and were awarded official certification in 2009.

Chateau du Cedre wines

Location and soil: Third terrace; clay and limestone soils.

Website: www.chateauducedre.com

Wines to try:
Cèdre Heritage 2011
100% Malbec from 30 year-old vines, 18 months on the lees in tanks.

Château du Cèdre 2011
90% Malbec, 5% Merlot, 5% Tanat from 30 year-old vines. 22 months in oak barrels: 1/3 new, 1/3 one year-old, 1/3 two years old.

Le Cèdre 2011
100% Malbec from 40 year-old vines. Hand harvested. 24 months in barrel, 80% new.

GC 2011
100% Malbec from 55 year-old vines. Hand harvested. Fermentation and 27 months aging in new oak barrels.

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Collazzi Liberta Toscana

AG Pick: Libertà dei Collazzi Toscana IGT 2012

Somehow Tuscany is both approachable and intimidating. Approachable because it’s one of the best known wine regions in Italy, thanks to Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, “Super Tuscans” and an extremely photogenic landscape. Intimidating because of the number of wines produced and labels that may need deciphering to figure out what you’re drinking.

Today we’re sharing a Tuscan wine that doesn’t need an advanced sommelier degree to enjoy.

Collazzi Liberta Toscana 2012The Libertà Toscana IGT 2012 comes from the Collazzi estate just south of Florence in the heart of the Chianti Classico. Designated as IGT – Indicazione Geografica Tipica – this wine may be considered a Super Tuscan as it is made with non-native grapes and a small portion of Sangiovese (and thereby does not meet the stricter requirements for a DOC or DOCG designation).

Libertà means freedom, and is a reference to the Collazzi coat-of-arms. It is a blend of 55% Merlot, 30% Syrah and 15% Sangiovese. The grapes were hand harvested and the wine spent 10 months aging partly in oak barrels.

The wine opens with spiced red fruit aromas. Flavors of cherry and red currant mingle with cedar, nutmeg and balsamic. There is a hint of sun-baked tomatoes that calls to mind images of sun drenched Tuscan vineyards. Round tannins and a smooth, lingering finish make this a crowd-pleasing wine to sip with friends.

For more information on the wines of Collazzi visit collazziusa.com.

$24, 14% alcohol by volume

>> Connect:
Facebook: CollazziUSA
Twitter: @CollazziUSA

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Vicard barrels

From the Archives: How Barrels are Made

Originally posted on August 29, 2011

A Tour Inside Vicard Cooperage

Oak barrels play an important role in the production of wine and eau de vie. Go inside Vicard Cooperage in Cognac, France for a look at how barrels are made.

The process of making a barrel starts with the oak tree. Seventy five percent of Vicard’s barrels are made with French oak; 20 percent are made with American oak and 5 percent are Hungarian or Romanian oak. Only thirty percent of the trunk is used for barrels.

The logs are sprayed with water to maintain the level of humidity and to keep bugs away.

To make the staves, the log is split into quarters. Following the natural lines of the wood, the oak is carefully cut into planks. The wood is laid in a pattern for aging and placed outdoors for two to three years. The exposure to sun, wind and rain seasons the wood and eliminates the undesirable tannins.

To assemble the barrel, the staves are placed inside a metal hoop. Using steam and force the wood is pulled into the recognizable shape of a barrel. More hoops are then placed on the wood to maintain the shape.

Toasting the barrel is very important as the amount of toast affects the flavor of the wine inside. Vicard uses computerized technology to monitor each barrel and to ensure the ideal toast profile.

As the finishing touches are put on the barrel, the metal hoops are adjusted or removed. The round ends are inserted and carefully fit into place. The wood is sanded and new metal hoops are placed on the barrel.

The final step is to add the logo. Using a computerized system and lasers the image is burned into the wood.

Vicard produces 55,000 barrels each year.

AG Pick: Waterstone Study in Blue 2007

When trying to describe the fruit flavors in a red wine it may help to start with identifying the color that best matches the taste. You might think of a lighter bodied wine like Pinot Noir as being “red,” and from there say it has red fruit flavors of cherries, strawberries or raspberries. A medium bodied wine might be “purple,” with flavors like plum and boysenberry. A full bodied wine might be “black,” with black cherries, blackberries and black currant.

“Blue” would be the descriptor for the Waterstone Study in Blue 2007 — though of course the name gives it away. This red blend from California’s Napa Valley was so named because of its blueberry aromas and blue-purple color.

The Study in Blue 2007 is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah and 10% Merlot sourced from hillside vineyards throughout the Napa Valley. The wine was fermented in stainless steel, then aged for 24 months in 80% new small French oak barrels.

Blueberry aromas hit your nose first, followed by blackberries and woodsmoke. These smoky berry flavors are further expressed on the palate, layered with flavors of ripe black plum, cedar, nutmeg and black pepper. Elegant and silky in the mouth with gentle tannins, the wine finishes smooth with lingering berry flavors.

Rich without being heavy, the Study in Blue has the finesse its artistic name suggests.

The Waterstone Study in Blue pairs well with grilled meats, lamb shank, steak au poivre or braised duck.

A bottle of the Waterstone Study in Blue 2007 costs $45.

alcohol 14.5% by volume

More Red Wines | White Wines | Under $20

barrels

How Oak Barrels are Made

A Tour Inside Vicard Cooperage

Oak barrels play an important role in the production of wine and eau de vie. Go inside Vicard Cooperage in Cognac, France for a look at how barrels are made.

The process of making a barrel starts with the oak tree. Seventy five percent of Vicard’s barrels are made with French oak; 20 percent are made with American oak and 5 percent are Hungarian or Romanian oak. Only thirty percent of the trunk is used for barrels.

The logs are sprayed with water to maintain the level of humidity and to keep bugs away.

To make the staves, the log is split into quarters. Following the natural lines of the wood, the oak is carefully cut into planks. The wood is laid in a pattern for aging and placed outdoors for two to three years. The exposure to sun, wind and rain seasons the wood and eliminates the undesirable tannins.

To assemble the barrel, the staves are placed inside a metal hoop. Using steam and force the wood is pulled into the recognizable shape of a barrel. More hoops are then placed on the wood to maintain the shape.

Toasting the barrel is very important as the amount of toast affects the flavor of the wine inside. Vicard uses computerized technology to monitor each barrel and to ensure the ideal toast profile.

As the finishing touches are put on the barrel, the metal hoops are adjusted or removed. The round ends are inserted and carefully fit into place. The wood is sanded and new metal hoops are placed on the barrel.

The final step is to add the logo. Using a computerized system and lasers the image is burned into the wood.

Vicard produces 55,000 barrels each year.

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pineau des charentes

Pineau des Charentes: Aperitif of Cognac

Pineau des Charentes is a sweet fortified wine produced in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments in France. It is a blend of Cognac and grape juice that is most often enjoyed as an aperitif.

The juice comes from grapes that are used to make wine. For white Pineau, grapes including Ugni Blanc, Colombard or Folle Blanche may be used; for red Pineau it may be Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. The high alcohol content of the Cognac prevents the grape juice from fermenting.

In its most basic form, Pineau is made by combining approximately 25% Cognac (eau de vie that has aged for at least one year in oak barrels), and 75% grape juice. The blend is then aged for at least 12 months. From the Comité National du Pineau des Charentes:

“Pineau des Charentes is exclusively aged in oak barrels. White Pineau ages for at least 18 months, including 12 in barrel. Red and rosé Pineau are aged for 12 months, including eight in oak. This ageing is a very important part of the winemaking process, and gives Pineau des Charentes its characteristic vanilla and nutty flavour.”

From there, Pineau can vary greatly among producers. Some may blend an older Cognac with the grape juice, and some may let the Pineau age in oak barrels for five or more years.

The taste of Pineau is sweeter than wine, with a pleasant and full mouthfeel. The acidity and alcohol prevent it from being too syrupy. Pineau that has spent more time aging in barrels tends to be more complex in flavor.

Pineau ranges in alcohol from 16 to 22 percent.

Pineau should be served chilled and in a tulip-shaped glass. It is commonly served as an aperitif, though it can complement a range of foods and desserts. Pineau may also be used in cocktails.

For more information on Pineau des Charentes including serving suggestions visit the website for the Comité National du Pineau des Charentes.

Chateau Beaulon water

A Visit to Chateau de Beaulon

About 30 miles southwest of Cognac in the commune of Saint-Dizant-du-Gua in Charente-Maritime is Château de Beaulon.

The château was built in 1480, with eau de vie production on the estate dating to 1720.  From 1543 to 1574 the home belonged to Francois de Beaulon, Lord of Saint-Dizant and advisor to the Bordeaux Parliament.  Today the estate is owned by Christian Thomas, who has been producing Cognac and Pineau des Charentes at Château de Beaulon for more than 40 years.

The grounds of Château de Beaulon are open to the public and well worth a visit.  Past the banana tree, past the row of lavender in the French garden, past the more wild English garden, you come to a sight that takes your breath away – “Les Fontaines Bleues,” natural springs that are a mesmerizing blue color.

The hue is due to a type of algae that grows in the water.  These springs have been the subject of local legends, including one about a monster (now pacified), that used to pull curious people down into the depths.

Winding back through the mammoth plane trees you come to the north face of the château.  Of note are the two different roof windows.  The window on the left was built in the style of medieval architecture, while the right window was built in the classical style.

Beaulon’s production and aging facilities are a short drive away in the neighboring commune of Lorignac.  Floor-to-ceiling windows at the distillery show off the gleaming copper stills.  Eau de vie is stored in a cellar across the street.

Nearby is Château de Beaulon’s recently completed state of the art aging and bottling facility.  Here, in rooms that look like science labs, the eau de vie is analyzed to determine its potential and direction.  A large concrete cellar offers a contrast to the one by the distillery, lacking the cobwebs and black fungus that thrives off the evaporating alcohol.

The new facility was designed to be eco-friendly as well.  The roof is covered in vegetation that helps to maintain a cool interior temperature.

Surrounding the distillery and two cellars are Château de Beaulon’s vineyards.  Unlike many Cognac houses, Beaulon does not use Ugni Blanc grapes for its Cognac.  Instead Folle Blanche, Colombard and Montils are used.

For a taste of Château de Beaulon’s Cognac, I was invited to join Mr. Thomas inside the manor.  We started with a Pineau des Charentes, a blend of Cognac and grape juice (click here to read more about Pineau des Charentes).  For its white Pineau, Château de Beaulon uses Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grape juice.

The Pineau was the perfect complement to the sunny and warm afternoon.  It had flavors of dried apricots, vanilla, honey and white flowers, with a pleasant sweetness balanced by nice acidity.

Next we tasted two Cognacs: the Tres Vieille Reserve du Château, vintage 1983, and the XO Vintage 1975.  Both were extraordinary.  They were elegant, complex and well balanced, with flavors that lingered for quite some time after each sip.

The vintage 1983 was rich and intense, with layered flavors of candied fruit, spice and fresh flowers.  The vintage 1975 had a beautiful amber color, with notes of orange peel, dried apricots, cedar, caramel and walnut.  Extremely smooth, both would turn any non Cognac drinker into a fan after one taste.

From the dazzling natural springs to the exceptional Cognac, a visit to Château de Beaulon is a feast for the senses.

For more information visit chateau-de-beaulon.com.

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ABK6

ABK6: Cognac for a New Generation

Flashy labels. A name derived from typing. A blend specially created for sipping on the rocks.

This isn’t your grandfather’s Cognac.

With a mix of tradition and modernity, ABK6 is bringing the French spirit to a new generation.

It starts with the name — ABK6 is one of those internet short-hands, like OMG or LOL. When pronounced in French it sounds like Abécassis, the last name of the family who bought the estates in 2003. Francis Abécassis oversees ABK6 with his daughter Elodie, who at 24 years of age brings a unique perspective to the brand.

The packaging of ABK6 Cognac immediately catches your eye. The bottles have square shoulders and the bright labels beckon you to take a closer look. These Cognacs demand to be displayed among the premium liquors at trendy bars and restaurants, not stashed away in a dusty liquor cabinet.

Still, tradition is very important in the production of ABK6 Cognac. Each part of the process, from distillation to aging and blending the eaux de vie, is monitored closely by cellar master Simon Palmer to ensure quality.

All Cognacs produced by ABK6 are single estate Cognacs made from Ugni Blanc grapes. The wine is distilled in small Charentais stills, and the “heart” of the second distillation is aged in French Limousin oak barrels. Once the eau de vie has reached maturity it is blended with other eaux de vie from the same estate.

Click here for a detailed description on how Cognac is made

ABK6’s Cognacs are aromatic with complex flavors that unfold with each sip. The VS Premium has notes of apricots and spice; the VSOP Super Premium has notes of baked apple, vanilla and brioche; the XO Grand Cru is extremely smooth with notes of dried fruits and toasted almonds.

ABK6’s newest venture is ICE Cognac. Coming soon to the United States, ICE Cognac is the first Cognac that is meant to be served on ice. With its shimmering white bottle ICE Cognac has a look that will appeal to younger Cognac drinkers, as well as those who enjoy drinking spirits like Scotch on the rocks.

The blend of eaux de vie in ICE Cognac was specifically selected because of how its flavors progress as it comes into contact with ice and water.  At first you taste almond and vanilla; as the ice melts you taste white peach and orange blossom, then lemon sorbet and mint.

Cognac purists need not fear – ABK6 produces a number of single estate Cognacs for those who may not embrace such a modern design.  Cognac Leyrat is produced with grapes from an estate in the Fins Bois region.  It’s here, among the rolling hills that are blanketed with grapevines, that ABK6 has its tasting room.  ABK6’s other Cognac is Le Reviseur, which is made with grapes from an estate in the heart of the Petite Champagne region.

Modernity and tradition – ABK6 successfully blends both with a range of Cognacs for either taste.

For more information on the Cognacs of ABK6 visit www.abk6-cognac.com.

bottle images from ABK6’s website

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Hennessy

A Visit to Hennessy

You can’t talk about Cognac without mentioning Hennessy. It is the big daddy of Cognac, making up 43% of Cognac production. As a comparison, the next largest producer is Remy Martin at 17 percent.

Hennessy dominates the market, but also makes it possible for the smaller producers to exist.  Hennessy buys a large portion of its grapes and eau de vie from other growers and producers in the region, who are then able to sustain their own Cognac production.

Hennessy is located within the town of Cognac, along both sides of the Charente River. A visit begins with a boat ride.

Our guide was Marc Boissonnet, Ambassadeur de la Maison. He did what would seem to be impossible – make Hennessy, the giant of Cognac, feel intimate and special.

Marc was particularly knowledgeable and engaging, and had some of the best analogies for Cognac production.

“Keep the spirit, dispose of the body,” is how he described the process of making Cognac. It’s a pretty good simplification of the distillation process, which reduces the liquid to approximately one tenth of its volume while retaining the essence of the grapes and wine.

Kids, adults and relationships played roles in other parts of the Cognac story.

As Marc explained, just like with children, the character of eau de vie must be shaped when it is young. Early on the potential of the eau de vie is assessed, and then the proper oak barrel is selected for aging.

After aging in oak the eau de vie is blended, a process that Marc described as similar to a marriage. You need to be mature when you get married, and eau de vie needs to mature before it is blended. It is up to the cellar master and blender to determine when an eau de vie has spent the ideal amount of time in barrels. With seven generations of blenders, Hennessy uses the memories of experience to determine the potential of and future course for the eau de vie.

Marc continued with a statement that sounds good whether you’re talking about Cognac or people. “Aging is good,” he said. “Because aging means living.”

The highlight of the tour was stepping into “Le Paradis.”  Meaning paradise in English, this is the cellar where the rare and precious eau de vie and Cognac are stored.

Barrels in Le Paradis contained eau de vie that had been aging for 50 plus years. I found eau de vie from the birth year of my parents, then just steps away found eau de vie from the birth years of my grandparents and great-grandparents. Beyond the barrels were shelves of demijohn bottles that contained Cognac from the 1800s.

Enjoying a wine from your birth year (if even possible) is a rare and special treat. But enjoying a Cognac from your birth year, well, that might not yet be ready to drink.

Hennessy’s goal is to produce Cognac that is perfectly balanced, rich and complex. It also strives for consistency; fifty year-old Cognacs from Hennessy should be identical, no matter the year they were bottled or where they were purchased.

At a tasting following our tour we had a chance to sample a variety of Cognac from Hennessy.

The first glass had perfectly clear eau de vie that hadn’t been aged in oak barrels. With 70% alcohol, this was not something you would want to drink. However after a sniff and placing a drop on the tongue, it was possible to make out the fruit and floral essence necessary for producing a high quality Cognac.

With the next two glasses we were able to compare the use of barrels. Both were Cognacs that were approximately five years old. The first, lighter in color, was Cognac that had been aged in previously used barrels. The second Cognac was darker in color because it was aged in new barrels.  Newer barrels impart more color and flavor to the eau de vie.

Our fourth glass took us back in time to 1983. This Cognac was darker than the previous two because of the longer time in oak. It had flavors of dry fruit, spice and “rancio,” a French term that means a desirable earthy, nutty or musty characteristic.

Going back to 1956 with our next glass, we had a chance to see how Cognac softens and becomes more complex as it ages. This Cognac had lovely floral aromas with flavors of vanilla, nougat, almond and honeysuckle.

Our final Cognac was the Hennessy XO, a blend of Cognacs. Darkest of the group, this Cognac was refined, polished and elegant, with flavors of hazelnut, black pepper and dark chocolate.

Even with the focus on age, history and tradition, Hennessy keeps Cognac modern and fresh. One look at the limited edition Hennessy VS (pictured at left) and you can see this isn’t your grandfather’s Cognac. At a party later that evening inside the Cognac Blues Passions music festival, Hennessy cocktails were all the rage. Mixed with apple juice, muddled fresh berries or (my favorite) ginger ale, Hennessy Cognac is ever evolving, long after it leaves the barrel.

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