BI Fine Wines & Spirits: Grande Champagne Cognac

3 mins read

Cognac is a famed brandy from the Charente in the South West of France.  While the legal requirement for cognac is to be twice distilled in copper pot stills and the resultant eau-de-vie aged in French oak barrels for two years, in reality the best examples can remain in barrel for decades and live for 200+ years.

Grande Champagne is regarded as the premier cru of the six cognac regions in the Charente; cognacs from this area come from vines whose roots extend some 25 metres into the chalky substrata with the chalk allowing the vines to benefit in dry periods.

Cognac is a region also defined by small producers with long family traditions of producing high quality cognac.  While there are large houses such as Remy-Martin, who source very widely and add value to the end product via blending from a large stock, of equal significance are the “negociant” operations who find and sell directly some of the finest and rarest old parcels of liquid from these small family producers.

We have recently sourced an ultra rare parcel of 135 year old, 1885 Grande Champagne cognac from a negociant with whom we work closely.  The parcel is 125 litres – originally from a single barrel – and is currently stored in inert glass “demijohns” (the traditional post-barrel storage for cognac pre-bottling).

This parcel is particularly remarkable as the liquid spent over 100 years in barrel (vs. 50-60 more quality for top quality cognac) – the liquid is usually removed earlier as the ABV is falling too fast with age due to evaporation, but this barrel was clearly very well looked after and has created an extremely rare opportunity to benefit from the additional complexity imparted by longer-term aging.  The ABV of this liquid is still 46%.

Stills around this period were fired by wood and the distiller would have slept in the distillery to ensure the ‘eau de vie’ did not burn. Incredibly difficult to control temperatures, it was not an exact science as to when to make the cut in the second distillation, which makes the quality of this particular cognac even more remarkable.

The cognac is completely natural and there has been no reduction or dilution, simply the natural “angels’ share” evaporation from the passage of time in barrel.

Cognac of this age is very hard to find – parcels like this are seen by us only around once a year, even before allowing for the rarity of the specific long-barrel-aged profile here. 

Even though we had high hopes given the age and provenance of this cognac, the sample of this parcel still markedly exceeded our expectations, seeing all of the benefit from the extended barrel ageing that one would hope for.  Below is a tasting note from our Head of Spirits, Richard Ellis:

A rich chocolate colour which is an indication of its great age.

Many of these old and rare cognacs from the 19th century have developed an intensely rich rancio aroma; this being one of the finer examples. The initial smell of molasses characterises an extremely well-aged rancio, when development of the madeira-esque richness is enhanced even further. Spiced cherry and roasted walnut aromas also fill the nose.

If the nose is remarkable, the palate is sensational – the molasses, cherry and roasted walnuts are all there but also are turmeric and black truffle, medlar, all-spice, fig, cocoa and almond.

For a cognac at 46%, the balance is remarkable and simply surpasses that of anything we have tasted in recent years.”

Head of Spirits, Richard Ellis

A prospective buyer would be able to taste a sample and discuss the liquid on a video conference with Richard.

This parcel is equally suitable for a collector or an investor, or indeed a collector who wants a high level of confidence around the ability to sell at a significant profit if such flexibility becomes desirable.

From a collector perspective, especially in a family context, the c.175 bottles of this liquid would represent an ongoing supply of superlative quality 1800s cognac, something which is both very special and extremely difficult to source.  The liquid could be bottled in stages and in different formats / decanters, in order to commemorate special occasions or family generations.  We could also facilitate a visit to The Charente to view the liquid in context and get a better feel for the area and its remarkable terroir – such a visit with our Head of Spirits would be hugely insightful.

From an investor perspective, this is one of the most interesting parcels we have seen in the Spirits space in the last 12 months, both from a quality and value perspective.  In the last 18-24 months, we have seen signs of strong upwards momentum in cognac, but we continue to believe that there is real potential for outsized price gains over the coming years – especially given the large movements in areas like whisky, which has risen by 20% per annum for a decade.  In particular, the absolute rarity of the > 100 year category means we believe the greatest investment potential lies within this area.

We would be very happy to discuss this cognac with any of Sandaire’s clients, so if interested please contact the Family Office Services team.