In this blog post SMWS Ambassador Phoebe Brookes reviews the Society’s oldest Cognac release to date.

It’s always exciting when the Society bottles from a new distillery. If you’ve read my review of the December Outturn, you know I’m particularly excited about C3.1 A fragrant ramble – the Society’s oldest Cognac release to date.

Before I delve in, I thought it would be helpful to give a little information about how this wonderful drink was made.

Cognac is a variety of brandy named after the town of cognac in France. There are very strict guidelines that producers must adhere to in order to comply with The Cognac AOC – appellation d’origine contrôlée or controlled appellation of origin. Essentially, it is made by distilling wine and then it is aged in French oak barrels. The barrels are traditionally made from two types of wood: Limousin or Tronçais. 

Earlier in the year, SMWS Spirits Manager Euan Campbell took a trip to Cognac to visit some Cognac houses and sample some casks.

He was particularly interested by the way in which the cognac was stored in the warehouse.

“One of the most striking things about the warehouses is the pyramid-like structures they build with the casks.  Each cask is elevated from the supporting casks with wooden blocks so that they can open and sample/top up casks at the top any time without moving them all. The smell in the warehouse is one that any whisky drinker who’s visited a distillery would appreciate. A lot like dunnage warehousing but the French oak and grape distillate add a certain spice”, Euan said.

XO is the oldest age designation for Cognac. Essentially it means that the youngest brandy in a blend is stored for at least six years. However, in 2018 the minimum storage age of the youngest brandy will change to ten years.

The C3.1 is of XO designation, however, terms like Extra and Extra Old are used to highlight certain releases which greatly exceed the minimum for XO, usually into a number of decades.

Imagine all of the casks in a row were filled on the same day with the same spirit from the same distillery. To obtain the best maturation for their Cognac, distillers will regularly top up each of the casks to the top using one of the barrels in the row.  Over the years the spirit will be consolidated and the number of barrels in the row will decrease until you have a few barrels of really old spirit, filled on the same day with the same spirit from the same distillery, but married throughout the maturation.

It’s at this point that the master blender would sample and select casks from different rows to construct a blend, which could be comprised of various distillates, ages, grape varieties, Cognac regions and wood types.

Our releases to date have been “pre-blender” i.e. they have been consolidated over the years but we have bottled them in isolation as the contents of a single barrel, before the blender used them in a recipe, providing a unique snapshot of the spirit.

C3.1 A fragrant ramble
It’s as intriguing in the glass as it is on the nose. The deep, rich tawny liquid hugs the glass and is very inviting. On the nose it’s incredibly sweet and delicate – sweet peas, vanilla scented blooms, a splash of musky perfume and fine wood shavings. With a little time, blackcurrant jam, packed pears and freshly cut Lisianthus. A hint of lemon zest, red apple skins and sugary baked grapefruit appear on the palate, followed by wonderful spices – nutmeg, cinnamon and heaps of brown sugar. On the finish it’s rich, deep and all-encompassing. A dry, dusty mouthfeel makes for a pleasant and satisfying finish. It’s the perfect Cognac for Christmas celebrations. 

Flavour Profile: Old & dignified
Drinking Tip: A lovely accompaniment to caramelised sugar desserts or ice cream.
Age: EXTRA XO
Outturn: 1 of 558 bottles (258 available)
Cask: French oak barrel
Region: France
Alcohol: 50.9%
Bottle Price: £350

C3.1 is available is part of the December Outturn. It will be available for members to buy online or in venue from 9am on Friday 2 December.