Cognac tasting is one of the things we truly enjoy. We’ve spent a lot of time with our noses in glasses, arms extended while admiring the color and clarity, and with our taste buds sprinkled with flavors almost too complex for deciphering. Cognac is something we take very seriously, and like many aficionados, we believe in promoting proper tasting and etiquette. First and foremost, it must be said that while similar, cognac should not be tasted using the same methods for wine or other spirit tasting. Here is the generally accepted method of proper cognac tasting:
* It is necessary to have a proper tasting glass. Most tasters will use a tulip shaped glass of medium size. Not too small, but not a fishbowl either.
* Pour a small amount of cognac into the glass (15-20ml). Hold the glass so that your hand is cupping the bottom of the “bowl” part of the glass. You want to “warm” the cognac using the natural heat coming from your hand. 5-7 minutes should be enough for a cognac poured from room temperature.
Naturally, if the cognac was kept cold or in the sun (bad news…) adjust the duration of the “palm warming”. Never use fire or any other expedited method of warming. This is an often overlooked step that is essential to releasing the full aroma of the cognac for smelling, and is often the cause of muddied or overlooked scent notes.
* Hold the cognac to a light so that you can see any sediment or cloudiness in the liquid. Take note of this, as a good cognac should have good clarity and no sediment (in most cases). Gently slosh the cognac against the sides of the glass, notice any “legs” or “tears” that run down the glass. This is a sign of good age.
* Smell the cognac. Now, this is primarily a matter of personal preference, but there are a few guidelines to be aware of. If you stick your nose too far into the glass, you’ll have a good chance of “ruining” your nose due to high alcohol presence, especially on the younger V.S. cognacs. Likewise, if you’re too far from the glass, you’ll have a hard time picking out lesser defined, soft scent notes. Try a few distances until you strike the balance of good, well rounded scent. Some of the most common notes are vanilla, nuts, flowers and caramel. Gently slosh and repeat.
* Finally, taste the cognac. Take small sips (1-3ml) and let the cognac coat your mouth and tongue. Take note of how the cognac feels to the mouth, is it warm or does it outright burn your mouth? Contemplate the balance between this, bitterness and acidity. Notice the “shape” of the taste. Does the cognac feel rounded and astringent? Is it soft and oily? Warm and leathery with a strong floral aftertaste? This is best discussed with friends and can sometimes benefit from being paired with a cigar, some coffee or chocolate.
Don’t be surprised if it takes you quite a few tastings before you can start to really tell the difference between brands or grades of cognac. Some are never able to fully appreciate cognac flavor, and others can taste like a connoisseur from the start. Be mindful that cognac is quite alcoholic and know your limits.
For all questions and issues concerning the world of Cognac. Feel free to ask questions!
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