Cognac in SA | The rise of Bisquit Cognac

Coming amidst the down turn in local brandy sales, it is interesting to see a new push into the South African market of a true classic and well know French Cognac, Bisquit. We were lucky enough to be invited along to an evening with Alexandre Lechat, Global Brand Ambassador for Bisquit Cognac on his maiden trip to South Africa.

Chatting with Alexandre Lechat

During the course of the evening, I managed to get a 5 minute chat in with Alexandre and ask him a few of the questions I still had in my mind regarding Cognac and how it differs to our local potstill brandy.

Cognac and pure potstill brandy are for the most part identically produced. Both are double distilled from base wine in copper potstills, both are aged in toasted French oak barrels for minimum stipulated terms, and both are blended from numerous matured barrels to the master distillers own secret recipes.

Bisquit Cognac | How it differs from Brandy

So where then do the two differ? Primarily it’s in the terrior and grapes from which the base wine is made. In South Africa we use primarily Chenin Blanc and Columbar grapes for brandy base wine. Cognac is distilled from Ugni Blanc grapes, and to a degree some Columbar.

Interestingly enough according to Alexandre, less and less Columbar is being used now in Cognac as it appears climate change has taken its toll, and sadly the varietal no longer ripens very well in the region.

Also, Cognac contains only 100% potstill distillate, column stills and neutral wine spirit are not permitted to be used as they are in all 3 of our brandy styles. Although, clearly our local brandy producers are taking a note from the French production book here as soon only 100% potstill distillate will be permitted in a potstill style brandy. Yum, I look forward to that!

Fab Pigalle food to match the fab Cognac

Another big difference in Cognac – the size of the potstills used for distillation. Here in South Africa, our biggest potstill (Big Bertha at Oude Molen Distilleries) holds 25000 litres. The smallest potstill in Cognac – Aleaxndre smiles as he mentions the 30 hectalitre capacity (30000 litres!)

Any other difference between the two, it seems, is entirely down the the individual master distillers and blenders, their history, traditions and secrets they hold, ahving been passed down by those craftsmen before them.

Bisquit Cognac | Deciphering the designations

One of my questions for Alexandre, something I had often wondered about was the three designations of Cognac. VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) and XO (Extra Old). What exactly do they mean? Much like our local laws, the designation given to a bottle of Cognac relates to the youngest matured component of the final Cognac blend. VS contains a minimum age maturation of 2 years in oak, VSOP 4 years, and XO 6 years minimum maturation. But with most cognacs in each designation, the average age of their component blends is much older, for XO’s around the 20 year mark. And in Cognac because of the age and history of production in the region some blends can contain Cognacs over 100 years in age!

Bisquit Cognac | Tasting the goods

Bisquit Cognac and Fillet Steak

After a very enlightening chat with Alexandre and a few welcome cocktails it was time for us to be seated and prepare to sample Bisquits’ range of cognacs. Alexandre gave a brief introduction to his passionate craft and then after that it was onto the cognac. We tasted each in age order and each cognac was served with a stunning course of food. The starter I chose was beef medallions in a rich gravy sauce, followed by Beef Fillet served on a bed of mustard mash and broccoli. Dessert was a spread of different delights, and the food was much enjoyed and appreciated by all.

The cognac too was excellent. I think for me personally the main difference I can pick up taste wise between our local premium brandies and exclusive Cognacs is the strong powerful peach and apricot fruit backbone. In most of our local brandies, it’s present. In Cognac, while the fruit is still there and obvious, it is not as powerful to taste. Not unlike our big fruity South African wines compared against their French compatriots. And there are numerous layers of complexity underneath, cinnamon, vanilla and lots of peppery spice. A slightly higher bottling strength too, 40% as opposed to mainly 38% for potstill brandy gives a slightly warmer finish. The XO, was superb and its smoothness incomparable to the other two in the range. It is softer too on the nose and palate, and an all round winner as far as I was concerned.

Thanks very much to Afrika and Alexandre for a delightful and educational evening. For those looking to explore Cognac, Bisquit is the perfect way to start. Watch out for more Bisquit functions and tasting events in the coming months.

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