One of our master blenders once likened the art of tasting cognac to a first date – a process which shouldn't be hurried but should be slowly savoured. You wouldn't introduce yourself to someone new with a kiss on the lips, and the same applies to tasting a cognac.
It is important to take the time to acquaint yourself with your cognac; admiring the colour from a distance, gently inhaling the subtle aroma, before slowly lifting the glass to reach your lips. To help you fully appreciate your cognac's complex character I've outlined the dating process below:
First and foremost, you'll need to allow time for your cognac to breathe in order for it to fully express all its aromas. Pour the cognac into a tulip-shaped wine glass – the glass should be filled to its fifth, in order to leave room for the aroma. Don't be in a rush to drink a cognac: the cognac should breathe at least 30 seconds per year of its age, so for example, an XO cognac at 20 years should breathe for a minimum of 10 minutes before tasting it.
Gently swirl the glass so the cognac sloshes against the sides of the glass; the softness of the ‘legs' or ‘tears' which run down the glass indicate the complexity and age of the cognac. Don't bring your nose directly to the glass to inhale but gradually approach it from a distance to allow the nose to take in all the levels of flavours – the initial notes are usually floral or fruity but can range anywhere from violet to apricot to nut. Around 80 percent of what we perceive as taste is actually smell, so this is a really key stage.
Cognac is sipped, not drunk — you want to be able to taste all the different nuances. Since cognac is around 40% alcohol, if you drink cognac like it's beer you'll be left with a burning sensation in your throat and you won't experience the complex characteristics and varied flavours cognac offers; from rich dried plums to the vanilla notes of crème brûlée.
Once you've taken a small sip, hold the cognac in your mouth whilst the cognac makes contact with the key taste sensors on your tongue: sweetness is tasted on the tip of your tongue, bitterness at the back and saltiness at the sides. Also pay attention to the lingering flavours in your mouth as the finer the cognac, the longer the finish.
Not a bad first date, wouldn't you agree?
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