When Penny from the Bluebird wineshop told me she was hosting a cigar and cognac tasting, I was excited, a bit hesitant but also very curious to attend a cigar and cognac tasting because I'd never been to one. Although I love a good Cuban (cigar or otherwise), cognac has a rather fusty old image in my mind and I didn't really fancy sitting around all evening with grandfatherly figures discussing the merits of cognac. But it turned out to be a smartly casual affair with plenty of mingling and good conversation.
The event was presented by Amanda Laden from Delamain Cognac and Simon Chase the cigar expert from Hunters & Frankau. H&F also brought along the head of production for the Cohiba Cigar factory in Cuba, Eduardo Diaz, to demonstrate the fine art of cigar rolling. Eduardo spent most of the evening rolling cigars. I spoke to him afterwards and he told me that he's here for 2 months doing demonstrations for H&F. I was curious about the tobacco leaves he was using and asked him if he had brought them with him. He told me that the unrolled leaves are imported by H&F for him to use specifically to make cigars during these demonstrations.
We were treated to 3 XO or higher cognacs (XO signifiying that the cognac was aged for at least 6 years. No need to worry here as the youngest cognac was 25 years old) and 1 Hoya de Monterrey Especial cigar. Even though Eduardo was from Cohiba, we were smoking Hoyas because the big boss, Terence Conran -who was attending the tasting, prefers Hoya. Since there is an indoor smoking ban here in England, the tasting was held in the patio of the Bluebird. It was very nicely set up with small tables scattered about (adding to the informal atmosphere) and outdoor heaters nearby, although they weren't needed because it was a balmy evening and the rain had miraculously stopped.
We enjoyed champagne and canapes while we were watching Eduardo roll cigars before the tasting started. Amanda then began by explaining a bit of the Delamain history. Briefly, the house was founded in 1759 in the town of Jarnac, in Charente. Today it's now run by the 7th generation of the family, so they know a thing or two about Cognac. While we were sipping the cognac, Simon took the stage and explained the art of cigar rolling and smoking.
The 25 year old Pale & Dry XO was the youngest, the grapes being a blend of 100% Grande Champagne first growth - I know what you're thinking but Cognac is not from the Champagne region, Cognac country is situated south of Bordeaux. The Pale & Dry was matured in well seasoned Limousin French oak casks. I don't know a lot about Cognac, previously I considered it akin to firewater but this example was smooth, clean and elegant. It had a inviting fruity nose with undertones of caramel and toffee. Amanda said that there's no need to heat the glass as some people do, just sit back and enjoy. By this time we had lit our cigars and Simon invited us to take a puff and then a sip. It was fantastic. The cigar brought out the fruitiness of the cognac. Wonderful!
We then moved onto the 55 year old Cognac, the Vesper, again, a 100% Grande Champagne blend like the Pale & Dry but aged much longer. This one, to me, was the best, most complex of the three. The nose was quite floral at first, then layers of fruit, spice,toffee and vanilla followed by a light smokiness on the finish (and this was before I started puffing away). The palate followed through very nicely on the same themes. All the cognacs slipped effortlessly down with nary a backward glance and there was no burning sensation, just a nice warm feeling. The cigar certainly brought out a mocha finish to the cognac. I was definitely beginning to like the combo of cognac and cigars.
The last was Reserve de la Famille, made from 100% Grande Champagne grapes. It's not, unusually for a cognac, a blend, and it comes from a single vineyard and single cask. It's aged in the barrel until it has benefited from maximum aging. The minimum age of the cognac was 60 years. Previously it was produced only for the Delamain family and friends but is now available to the general public. I found it exceptionally soft and refined, very subtle with sweet spice, toffee and cinnamon. I was reminded of freshly baked apple pie as I sipped this one.
After the tasting, platters of charcuterie and cheese appeared and we were invited to eat and pair the cognac with the food. I paired the Vesper with a spicy sausage on offer and it went fantastically well, the cognac agreeing nicely with the black pepper of the sausage. I found it also went well with cheese and left an amazing dark chocolate finish. Delicious.
All in all a wonderful evening. I'm certainly glad that my curiosity lead me to this tasting. You know what they say, "Curiosity killed the cat....but satisfaction brought her back." Words I live by....
All the cognacs are available from the Bluebird Wineshop
All prices approximate
Pale & Dry XO - £75
Vesper - £95
Reserve de la Famille - £200