Saturday, May 12, 2012

May 11th – Cognac Tasting

For our second day in Bordeaux, I joined the ship's tour to the brandy-producing town of Cognac. Of course, this isn't any old brandy they produce here - in Cognac, they've made their brandy into an art form, and they go through a number of very particular processes that give their product a unique quality that allows them to charge an arm and a leg for every bottle.

We went to the largest Cognac house of them all – Hennessey – a place where the visitor experience is as slick and silky smooth as the best Cognac. You catch a boat over the Charente River to visit their ageing warehouses, and as soon as you enter the dark buildings, you're hit by the heady aromas of Cognac – according to our guide, Hennessey has about €1 billion worth of Cognac of various ages (some well over 100 years old) stored in its different warehouses.

These aromas we were smelling are part of the so-called "angel's share", as each year about 2-3% of the contents of the ageing barrels are lost into the atmosphere by evaporation. Since that's the equivalent of 20 million bottles of wine a year, those angels must be very happy indeed.

On our guided tour, we were taken through the complex processes of Cognac production, and the magical blending processes that ensure that every single Cognac bottle of a certain classification will taste exactly the same. Of course, to test that, we had to pit our expert palettes against the Cognac, so we had a tasting of a couple of different ones. I'm not used to drinking Cognac in the morning, but even at this odd hour to be having a brandy, you could tell it was pretty good stuff (even if it was a little too strong for me).

Just to prove that the day was turning upside down, after having the quintessential after-dinner drink, we then went for dinner at a local restaurant – where the food was typically excellent.

A culinary feast like this is the perfect way to finish off our 4 and a half months of travelling around the world. About a week ago, I'd actually lost around 12 pounds in weight over the course of the world cruise – I think I've put I've put it all back on again over this last leg from Monaco.