A sweet spin on Cognac.
Founded in 1863, CAMUS remains the largest family-run and independent Cognac House. Cyril Camus is the fifth generation at the head of the company and, whilst continuing their tradition of Aromatic Cognacs blended from the different terroirs of the region, he has introduced Single Cru Cognacs that take a leaf out of the Whisky playbook.
The Ile de Ré is the most westerly part of the Cognac appellation, lying off the west coast of France in the Charente-Maritime. Thanks to the proximity to the Atlantic, Cognac benefits from a maritime climate. On the Ile de Ré the climate is more moderate than the mainland but the big difference in ‘terroir’ is the saline influence from the ocean spray. The iodine content of grapes here is 10 times that of Cognac from the main land, enhancing the natural flavours in the grapes and giving a unique minerality to the finished product.
Distilled and aged on the island by Camus, everything is done to maintain that iodine flavour and the preservation of the influence of the salty microclimate is an unashamed nod to the famous Whisky from Islay, but as there is no peat on Ré the parallel ends there.
Food and Cognac matching was another revelation for me on this trip. I was stuck in the traditional rut of serving Cognac as an after-dinner drink. No longer. As well as serving it over ice as an aperitif or sipping it as an after dinner drink, Camus recommends serving their Ile de Ré with other local products from the island such as oysters, or their famous new potatoes sprinkled with the local sea salt. Simply delicious.
Camus has a bit of a thing for single Cru Cognac. With my declared bias for sweet white wines and a soft spot for Sauternes finish whiskies, such as Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or, a bottle carrying a mention of Monbazillac caught my eye. It’s a little known fact that a small corner of the Dordogne is included within the Cognac appellation and the village of Saint-Aulaye, is one of the last villages in Dordogne entitled to the Cognac Appellation. In 1998, the town started acquiring planting rights to preserve this unique status. In 2014, Camus signed an exclusive collaboration with the town that started the production of Cognac there.
There are two plots of grapes, producing just 3000 bottles. The wine from the grapes is distilled on site with the lees in small (2500l) pot stills. The resulting eaux-de-vie is aged in fine-grain oak casks, made with oak from the nearby La Double forest. Keeping it local, ageing takes place in one of the towers of Saint-Aulaye Castle that dates back to the XIth century.
After this primary ageing, the Cognac is transferred into barrels previously used for ageing the local Monbazillac sweet wine for their ‘finish’. The oak staves of these smaller (225l) casks release the sweetness and unique Monbazillac aromas trapped in the wood. As well as a smooth and complex finish on the palate with familiar notes of sweet spice and orange peel, the casks impart a lovely golden amber colour.
Here the inspirational Cognac and food matching is with local Perigord foie gras on gingerbread perhaps sprinkled with local black truffles or walnuts.
As sweet Bordeaux wines move away from the somewhat clichéd, but never the less delicious, foie gras and Sauternes pairing, here’s a new foie gras pairing to try – let me know if it works for you.