After experiencing brandy lately, I’ve found a new love for the spirit that many countries seem to be producing these days. It only makes sense then to look at a brand that dominates many a bar, especially in the UK – Courvoisier.
In the uncertain climate of the aftermath of the French Revolution, Emmanuel Courvoisier and Louis Gallois, the mayor of Bercy, decided to open a wine and spirit company on the outskirts of Paris, just north of the river Seine in 1809. 1828 saw Felix Courvoisier and Jules Gallois, the sons of Emmanuel and Louis respectively, taking a bold change of direction for their business. They wanted more control over the quality of the brandy they had built their reputation on, so moved their headquarters from Paris to the town of Jarnac, in the heart of the Cognac region which is still the home today. When Felix Courvoisier died without a male heir in 1866, he left the management of the business to his two nephews, the Curlier brothers. Soon after, Courvoisier’s reputation continued to grow, with the cognac gracing the tables of the Royal Courts of Denmark, England and Sweden. Napoleon III, the nephew and heir to Napoleon Bonaparte, also personally requested Courvoisier, conferring Courvoisier the much sought-after title of ‘Fournisseur de la Cour Impériale’, or official supplier to the Imperial Court.
The Simon family from England assumed leadership of Courvoisier in 1909. Alfred Simon, who had been the Courvoisier agent in the UK, bought the company, while George Simon went to work in Jarnac in 1912, quickly becoming the assistant to the Director and then Managing Director in 1923. They establishing the recognisable and iconic Napoleon silhouette. A century after Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his power, 1910 saw the launch of Napoleon Cognac. This revolutionary move gave birth to a new grade of cognac, ‘Napoleon’, and came complete with the iconic Napoleon silhouette that has adorned every bottle of Courvoisier since.
History was made in 1960 when Courvoisier became the first cognac brand to appear on TV, with the feat repeated in 2009 when it became the first drinks brand to broadcast a 3D advert on terrestrial television.
Courvoisier were honoured with the ‘Prestige de la France’, the highest accolade for quality in France, and remain the only cognac house to hold such an award. Using cognacs from the ancient Paradis vault under the Courvoisier Château, the fifth Master Blender, Jean-Marc Olivier, celebrated the turn of the Millennium by creating a fusion of historic and peerless vintages spanning generations of tradition. L’Esprit contains no cognacs younger than 1930, with many significantly older, from the famous Paradise cellar where there are cognacs dating back to when Napoleon came to power after the French Revolution.
A storied history! But how does it all come about?
All of the Courvoisier cognacs are made exclusively with Ugni Blanc grapes from the Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois crus. Harvesting grapes in October, the wine growers press the grapes and the juice is allowed to naturally ferment over seven days, transforming the grape sugars into wine. Using micro distilling, where the wine growers ferment their wine in small batches before the selection to go forward for distillation. Alambic Charentais copper pot stills are used for the double distillation and are one of the few cognac houses to distil using the ‘lees’, the wine’s yeast residue, a remarkably difficult process that imparts even greater depth and complexity to the cognac. From the beginning of November, they distil the wine 24 hours a day until the March 31st, the legal deadline for the spirit to be called a cognac. Thereafter it can be nothing more than a brandy.
For cognacs at the start of their ageing, Courvoisier have championed a unique kind of storage, maturing them vertically rather than horizontally. This upright position improves its movement in the cask and its extraction of flavour from the oak. To be legally called cognac, eaux-de-vie must be aged for at least two and a half years. Once matured, casks are blended to create each expression and then bottled.
So how does the range fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes on my experiences so far –
Courvoisier VS – 40%
A blend of cognacs aged for up to eight years. Fresh, light fruit on the nose that carries on over to the palate. Floral flavours and grape, pear scents combine well to create a long finish.
Courvoisier VSOP – 40%
A blend of cognacs up to 10 years old. Light and floral with a hint of wood following on the nose. Well-balanced on the palate with Champagne notes coming through. A long finish that dries a little.
Courvoisier VSOP Exclusif – 40%
Combining spirits from the four best crus in the Cognac region, including a 12yr from the smallest, most exclusive Borderies cru, hence the Exclusif name. Apricot scents on the nose with a slight cinnamon aroma edging in. Slight burst of fruit on the palate with vanilla, caramel and chocolate flavours mixing well to create a lively, long finish.
A great range by the French, with many other varieties available including an XO, 12yr and 21yr as well as limited editions and highly sought after. Worth grabbing a bottle of this classic name.
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