Cognac Brands To Discover Beyond the Big FourBy Stephanie Moreno
Cognac is the world’s most popular style of brandy and we Americans are its biggest fans. As a matter of fact, the United States accounts for half of the world’s exports. But while there are hundreds of cognac brands made today, The Big Four–Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell, and Rémy Martin–dominate the cognac market. You’ll likely begin your cognac journey with one of these brands.
But as each cognac house has its own style, you should try different brands to determine which you prefer. It’s worth your time to get to know a few cognac brands, up close and personal.
Augier is believed to be the oldest cognac house with records dating back to 1643. However it only recently became available in the US in 2016. This brand places a particular emphasis on single varieties of its grapes. Unusually, Augier sees no problem with promoting the least regarded cru on its label.
Augier’s Le Singulier is a fine champagne cognac made with the rare folle blanche grape. Meanwhile its Le Sauvage is a petite champagne cognac made with the more traditional ugni blanc grape. Finally, L’Océanique uses ugni blanc grapes grown near the Atlantic Ocean on the Island of Oléron, which is technically in the Bois Ordinaires cru.
Originally established by a group of wine producers led by Jean-Baptiste Camus in 1863, Camus is the largest family-owned cognac house. All Camus cognacs include at least some eaux-de-vie from the Borderies region. Also its one of the few cognac brands to use folle blanche in addition to the widely used ugni blanc grape in its production.
Camus uses a patented “INSTENSITY” distillation method. The cognac brand also distills on the lees which adds a rich character to its eaux-de-vie. Lightly toasted small casks are used for maturation. The VS Cognac is a great entry-level cognac to try. But make sure to try the XO Borderies Single Estate which is produced exclusively from the Camus family’s private vineyards.
Frapin is a single family estate with all 240 hectares of its vines located in the Grande Champagne region, the highest cru in Cognac. So what does this mean exactly? It means that the estate grows all of the grapes used for its Frapin Cognacs. Additionally, the eaux-de-vie is distilled and aged on the estate as well. These practices aren’t typical for most cognac production.
Limousin oak is used for maturing the cognacs. The cellar master moves the cognacs from new barrels which provide color and aroma to older barrels called roux for longer aging. Then the cognac is moved to centuries-old barrels which don’t give off any color or aromas. The VSOP and the XO Fontpinot are bottles to seek out.
Located in the heart of Grande Champagne, Ferrand Cognac has been under the leadership of Master Blender Alexandre Gabriel since 1989. This is another one of our recommended cognac brands which uses both ugni blanc and colombard in its production. Unusually the brand eschews away from the standard VS, VSOP and XO aging designations. While Ambre is considered its entry-level cognac, it is on average 10 years of age.
In addition to releasing a cognac suited for cocktails, Gabriel has experimented with using wine barrels for maturation. For the Double Cask Cognac Gabriel used Banyul wine barrels, a sweet fortified wine. He followed that up with 10 Générations which incorporated Sauternes casks in its production. Other experimentations include Renegade Barrel No. 2. That bottling wasn’t allowed to be called cognac due to the use of the chestnut casks.
Thomas Hine travelled from England to France in the late 18th century to learn about making cognac, his father’s favorite drink. Hine fell in love and married the daughter of a cognac négociant. Eventually Hine took over the family business changing its name to Thomas Hine & Co. in 1817. Today HINE is one of the remaining family-owned cognac brands. HINE features cognacs from the top two crus: Grande and Petite Champagne.
In addition to its blended cognac offerings, HINE also has a cognac specifically designed for cocktails. Also notable are the vintage releases from its own Domaine Bonneuil estate in the Grande Champagne region. Furthermore, the cognac brand sells Early Landed Cognac — cognac which is aged in Jarnac for several months in new French oak then sent to the UK to be further aged in a bonded warehouse. Even wilder is that HINE offers some of the same vintages of cognac aged in France and cognac aged in the UK so it’s possible to compare the results of the differing climates.
The Pasquet vineyard has been family owned since 1730. In 1995 Jean-Luc Pasquet and his wife Marie-Françoise decided — after having made wine conventionally on this seven hectare estate — to explore organic winemaking. They were granted the Agricultural Biologique certification in 1998 and released their first organic cognac five years later.
In addition to its organic status, Pasquet does not chill filter any of its cognacs nor do they add caramel or sugar to its products, all common in cognac production. Recent releases include the L’Organic 04, a blend of two eaux-de-vie aged for 4 and 5 years, respectively as well as the L’Organic 07, a blend of 7 and 8 year eaux-de-vie.
Cognac Park is the flagship brand of Distillerie Tessendier, a cognac house established in 1880. Today brothers and Master Blenders Lilian and Jérôme Tessendier create their cognac bottlings using distillates of wines from four Cognac crus: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois. This includes wine distilled from its own 25 hectare estate in the Borderies.
In addition to its blended releases, Park also bottles singular crus as well as single barrel and vintage releases. One of the most recent releases from Park includes a cognac finished in unused Japanese Mizunara oak barrels, a first for the cognac category.
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