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Am I crazy to get a sherried flavor from some Cognac?

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I am new to Cognac and had my first VSOP yesterday - Remy Martin. I thought it was very similar to a couple of sherried Scotches I am quite familiar with - Macallan 12 and Balvenie Doublewood.

I can't seem to find any references that mention sherry cask aging or flavor in connection with Cognac, so I am wondering if I am totally off base here? Or is there some other similarity in the flavor profile or aging process that is causing me to get this? (I didn't get this in the VS version at all.)

I can't really do a side-by-side comparison as I have no Macallan at this time and I fear my Balvenie has become oxidized, as the nose seems way off, and my palate needs time to recover before I can really judge it accurately.

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  1. Cognac has to be aged in oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais. Sherry barrels can't be used. But you can get sherry tones in cognac.

    1. JMF is exactly right -- one cannot use "sherry casks" (typically a "sherry butt" is 600L capacity and is made from American white oak) for aging Cognac, which must be aged in French oak from the Tronçais or Limousin forests, and generally run 350L in capacity. (This, as opposed to the typical barrique used for aging wine, which -- of course -- can be made from any type of wood [though most often oak of one form or another] and has a capacity of 225L.)

      But "sherried notes" or "sherried flavor" (or "rancio") is often a descriptor used in describing spirits aged for a long time in cask.

      1. Thanks guys, that makes me feel better - was wondering if I actually was correct in what I had identified as sherry taste in Scotch.

        6 Replies
        1. re: ncyankee101

          Well, remember that several single malts DO age their whisky in oak previously used to mature Sherry. Macallan is the most notable, but there are several others. They procure barrels from producers in Jerez, Spain, previously used to age Olorosos.

          Other producers of Scotch whisky prefer used American oak from Bourbon producers, such as Maker's Mark (to name but one), or makers of other American whiskey like Jack Daniel's.

          Still others utilize casks in which Porto was matured.

          Etc., etc., etc.

          There are a couple of producers (Glenmorangie is one) that bottle their single malt in several versions, the only difference being the oak used for aging. Glenmorangie bottles their malt as "Original," as well as bottlings that feature their 12-year old malt matured in oak casks formerly used for aging Port wine, Sherry, and Sauternes . . .

          Just to make it clear: that rancio character I mentioned is more obvious the longer the Cognac ages in wood. Thus, it isn't surprising that you would not notice it in a VS Cognac. Hasn't been aged long enough.

          1. re: zin1953

            Yes I know about the ageing of Scotch, which is why I referred to the Macallan and Balvenie, which are two rather Sherry-forward Scotches that I have experience with. I also have a bottle of Glenmorangie Lasanta, which is the newer rendition of their Sherry finish.

            I also noticed this same characteristic even more strongly when I tried the Courvoisier VSOP tonight - which I can't say I loved, much prefer the Remy. In fact the woody taste was so prevalent in the Courvoisier that I thought it was somewhat unbalanced, compared to the Remy.

            1. re: ncyankee101

              Of the Big Four (Couvoisier, Hennesey, Rémy Martin, and Martell), I personally have found Couvoisier to be the least impressive overall, with many of their offerings to be unbalanced, somewhat coarse, rough, and hot in the finish. But I also suspect that they are that way on purpose for the American palate.

              What were Americans drinking prior to World War I? Mostly Bourbon and Rye, often rough, coarse -- think the classic "rotgut" whiskey of western movies. With World War I, soldiers who went to France discovered Cognac, and Courvoisier -- rougher, more coarse -- was a favorite.

              The situation/quality levels didn't really improve with Prohibition and bootlegging, although decent Canadian was still available. And with World War II, many American soldiers -- again in France -- (re)discovered Courvoisier, but also Calvados with the invasion of Normandy. Those serving in the 8th Air Force came back to the States with a taste for Scotch whisky, and those fighting in Italy often came back with a taste for wine . . .

              Just an observation -- no scientific proof, but lots of anecdotal support based on the people I know in the trade from the 1950s and 1960s who served in WW2.

              1. re: zin1953

                I'm pretty sure that Bourbon and rye came into popularity in the late 1700's, especially around 1800. Before that it was rum for the working class, and brandy and cognac for the upper classes. Then it came back somewhat in popularity after Prohibition.

                1. re: JMF

                  And how do we disagree?

              2. re: ncyankee101

                Bushmills Blackbush whiskey is also aged in sherry casks.

          2. The first time I tried sherry, I thought it tasted like weak, winey Cognac.

            1. And let's not forget, the base material for both Sherry and Cognac are grapes. It is hardly a stretch to consider there would be some shared organoleptic characteristics. While I think we can often get (and sometimes for good reason) distracted by production and aging processes, it still matters a lot what the liquid is made from. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Pisco tastes just like Cognac, or Sherry, but picking up Sherry notes in Cognac, or vice versa, totally makes sense to me regardless of aging (length or barrel type).

              What I think is really interesting is that some people find Madiera notes in Cognac. But those of us that also spend too much of our time in the wine business know, madierazation (or oxygenation) quickly turns into something that is considered a flaw in still wines. Unlees you are British. But that is for another post. Zin's reference to the "rancio" Cognac producers love to talk about, actually has a closer relationship to "madierazation" as opposed to Sherry notes in my mind. But this is getting terrifically nuanaced. And I haven't even gone down the road of Madiera's and Sherry's and solera's and exposure to oxygen during aging and fortification and how all these products are actually produced originally only hundreds of miles from each other, not thousands,--to be sure, the South of France is not usually confused with Jerez or Cadiz, but still, it is strikeingly close by train. Okay....I'm done.

              Except I'm not. Also fun to remember in regard to Zin's history lesson, was that before Rye and Bourbon, the American South drank, Cognac. Think "the Louisiana purchase," Fleur de Lies, Beignets and Sazerac's. Were it not for phylloxera (and well then Prohibition), Cognac could easily be as relevent as a base spirit for cocktails as Bourbon or Vodka or Gin today. Sadly it is not except for the few cocktailians who try to continue the tradition of the French 75 or Stinger or Vieux Carre.

              8 Replies
              1. re: ellaystingray

                Cognac WAS the base of Sazerac cocktails before T. Hardy "shifted" to Rye -- but I wouldn't go so far as to say "the American South drank Cognac." Not only was Louisiana in Spanish hands from 1762, but it was only returned to the French in 1803 -- three weeks before the ceremony was held turning the territory over to the US.

                Still, there's no denying the French heritage of New Orleans and Louisiana, but Mississippi? Florida? Tennessee?

                Cheers,
                Jason

                1. re: zin1953

                  It would be more accurate to say that before whiskey took over in the South, brandy was one of the two spirits of choice, the other was rum. The Spanish make brandy as well, just not cognac.

                  1. re: JMF

                    Jeez you two, so picky. But you are both right. I should have said something more along the lines of "In the aristocratic South around New Orleans, cocktails were as often made with Cognac as anything else..." And while I agree with Rum, was there much Spanish brandy being imported? If Wondrich is correct, there was some, but it doesn't sound like it was prevalent. Maybe that is just me trying to weasel out of this. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

                    1. re: ellaystingray

                      I was just doing some research and ran across info that Mexico imported and consumed 12,000 barrels of brandy in 1791. I assume figures as large were being consumed in the Spanish territories in what is now the USA.

                      Another book has a journal passage from a traveler in North America in 1798 and it describes brandy and rum as being drunk in large quantities with meals.

                      I also ran across trade info. circa 1740 by Hudson Bay Co., and brandy was listed with it's comparisons in trade with other things like beaver pelts,etc. It said brandy was a significant item of trade, although tobacco, firearms, and cloth for clothes and blankets were more dominant.

                    2. re: JMF

                      By Cognac, I meant the French.

                      1. re: JMF

                        Speaking of aging in sherry casks, a lot of Spanish sherries do just that. It gives them a darker color and more rounded flavor. While they are different from Cognacs, they are great for mixing and good deals can be had (like $17-20 for Pedro Domecq Fundador Solera Reserva).

                        http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/

                        1. re: yarm

                          To anyone else briefly scratching their head, yarm is referring to Spanish *brandies*.

                          1. re: yarm

                            Teaches me to post before my first cup of coffee cools to drinking temperature here at work. Thanks Dan!