Shari Sheffield

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A Summer-Opening Virginia Wine Country Guide

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Smell of Change: Wines of Spring

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Luxury in a Glass

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Fire and Spice-Cognac: a Distilled Wine

Cognac is graded by age and quality. Some believe the older the cognac, the finer. Like champagne houses, each cognac maker’s goal is to consistently achieve its trademark house style year after year. This is achieved by blending lots of brandy from different harvests and aging them. The process is very labor intensive, and thus reflected in the high price of fine cognacs. Consequently, they are typically sipped and enjoyed alone.

The basic grades of cognac are as follows, in order of increasing quality:•VS-Very Superior-determined by the youngest eau de vie (the base resulting from the best cut of the liquid produced after the second distillation)

•VSOP-Very Superior, old pale, VO (very old) and Reserve

•XO-(Extra Old), Napoleon, Extra, Vieux

Want to enjoy cognac like a professional taster? Leave the brandy snifter on the shelf and invest in thin-lipped crystal tulip shaped glasses. Big balloon glasses and snifters release the co- gnac’s fragrances too harshly into your nose.

Cognac tasting is very different from wine tasting. Cognac should be served at room tem- perature or slightly chilled and allowed to warm in the glass. Prepare the glasses for tasting by placing a small drop in the glass and then dis- carding. Then pour about an inch of cognac the glass for tasting. Check to see if the cognac is clear or cloudy. Very old cognacs may become cloudy if exposed to the cold. Next note the color. Cognacs can range in color from light amber to darker caramel color.

Hold the glass just under your nose with the opening just at chin level. Don’t stick your nose into the glass to sniff. If you do, you might find yourself staggering back overwhelmed with the 40% alcohol head rush! This shock also paralyz- es our sense of smell. If you can’t smell it, you won’t be able to taste the flavors either. So, relax before you inhale and slowly bring the glass up to your nose. Then take small sips. Note the fla- vors. Are there spices like cinnamon or vanilla you detect? Do you taste herbs, coffee or leath- er? Noting these will help you identify a style of cognac you like, as you taste different producers.

"Fine Champagne" is a designation given to cognac made of grapes solely from Grande and Petite Champagne districts in Cognac.

I recently had the opportunity to taste some of the cognacs from the producer Delamain. Delamain only use grapes from the Grande Champagne district in Cognac. Moreover, they only produce XO quality and above cognac.

Delamain XO The entry-level cognac for Delamain is Pale and Dry XO. This cognac is aged 20-25 years. It is much paler then traditional cognac and the sweetness of the cognac only comes from the natural sugar of the grapes. You will notice its light amber color with flecks of gold. You will also taste the natural sweetness of the grapes. Look for floral and cinnamon aromas. Upon sip- ping you’ll taste vanilla and possibly liquorice.

Delamain Vesper Made with blends of 30-35 years, this cognac expresses a more classic cognac style. Cinna- mon, clove, toffee and vanilla flavors can be de- tected along with oak aromas. This is an elegant and full-bodied cognac.

So grab the throw, light the fire and enjoy the world of fine cognacs. Cheers!

Wine-Lover’s Luxury Gift Guide

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Tastes Great, More Filling: Guide to Washington Area Wine Dinners

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Wines for Your Thanksgiving Feast

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