Discover what different cognacs and bourbon share in common, and what sets them apart.
Does cognac taste like whisky? Well, yes and no. To understand why, one needs to understand the processes involved in producing cognac and whisky, and the similarities and differences between these.
Let’s focus on a few key factors that influence the taste of each.
Firstly, cognac is derived from grapes – a majority Ugni Blanc grapes grown in the Cognac region of France, to be precise. Whisky, on the other hand, is made from any combination of fermented cereal grains. As a result, cognac is imbued with fruit and floral notes: think dried apricots, lychee, orange zest, peach and plum, which is not the case with whisky.
Second, the distillation. Whereas cognac must be distilled in alembic copper pot still, whisky can be distilled in any type of still. Whether for cognac and whisky, the differing sizes, shapes and dimensions of the stills contribute to the aromas and qualities of the spirit to the taste.
The third factor is maturation. Cognac is matured in French oak barrels for a minimum of two years. As for whisky, any oak cask is acceptable, and there is no minimum ageing. Both cognac and whisky contain traces of the wood ageing process, which express itself as notes of vanilla, cinnamon, leather and coffee.
The best cognac glass is the classic, tulip-shaped glass, with 12 cL sufficient in size. Its tulip shape is designed to concentrate the aromas and help identify them. The glass should always be perfectly transparent in order to better appreciate the colour of the cognac, which is the starting point for any tasting. Always hold the glass by the stem or the foot (the rounded part that holds the glass upright on the table), and never by the base of the glass. Otherwise, the natural heat from the fingers or palm can amplify the alcoholic aspects and make the taste harder to appreciate.
Holding the glass by its stem also makes it easier to swirl the glass and let less volatile aromas express themselves.
What does cognac taste like? In short, cognac tastes like no other spirit, a reflection of the region it comes from, the way it is produced, and the savoir-faire of the cellar master who oversees the blending of eaux-de-vie.
Distilled from grapes grown exclusively in the chalky soils around the Cognac region of France, one can discern fruit and floral notes. Martell XO, for example, has notes of fig, red fruit and blackcurrant bud, while Martell Noblige has abundant notes of pear and prune.
The taste of cognac will also reflect the maturation process. The eaux-de-vie is aged in French oak barrels, which impart woody notes and character to the cognac. The older the cognac, the more distinct the woody character becomes.
Then there is blending to consider. The cellar master draws on generations of savoir-faire to combine eaux-de-vie in imaginative ways that reveal luscious and elegant notes.
Take your knowledge further with our ‘How to cognac’ classes.
Cognac, a symbol of excellence and conviviality, can be tasted in different ways and on numerous occasions.
Understanding how to appreciate cognac starts with the essentials, such as how to hold a cognac glass or open a cognac bottle.
The Martell cognacs can be enjoyed as an aperitif or in a cocktail during a drinks party, but also during lunches or dinners, and as a digestif.
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