The Angels’ Share, La Part Des Anges, that’s what they call those elusive vapors that are constantly escaping from the production of cognac, and which feed a black mold that covers all buildings where cognac is aging. It’s a dead giveaway to deliciousness, even if it does make the town of Cognac look rather drab.
There’s really nothing in Cognac except, you guessed it, cognac, and cognac houses, which are everywhere you look. We were there on a Saturday when most were closed, including the larger producers like Rémy Martin and Hennessy, so we went on a guided tour of the Baron Otard facility.
The visitable part of Otard is housed in the chateau where King François Ier, or Francis I, was born in 1494. It’s a lovely old place,
and remained his home until he died in 1547. He was a friend of Leonardo da Vinci
who designed this vaulted chamber for him, with ogives in the form of a Y instead of the more common X shape. The guide told us this, as I can’t claim to know one ogive from another. Baron Otard bought the chateau in 1795, expressly for the purpose of making cognac there, and is credited with having saved the property from destruction during the French Revolution.
English prisoners were also stockpiled there during the French and Indian War for Canada, and they left their marks behind, rather neatly.
While visiting Otard we learned all sorts of useful and arcane little tidbits,
like the fact that because the cellars are infested with tiny wood-eating bugs, the oak barrels are rimmed with bands of the lighter chestnut wood, which work like sacrificial anodes, the bugs evidently preferring them to the oak itself.
Spiders are also encouraged to inhabit the cellars, because their main diet is those wood-eating bugs. It’s a whole ecosystem down there.
The visit ended with a tasting, although since it was before lunch I didn’t indulge much. Actually I spent a lot of time watching parents lifting their really small children up to sniff the different glasses, but they all moved faster than my camera as the parents were anxious to get their own noses in there. French kids do seem to be really interested in cognac, however.
The shop is at the very end of the visit, but the stuff is really high end, starting at around 145 Euros a bottle. We didn’t get to taste from this 3200 Euro bottle, but I’m guessing it’s pretty special.
To clear our heads of those insidious vapors we walked around a bit in search of lunch. This is the prettiest building we saw, much of Cognac being rather uninspired. However, we did find a very nice restaurant, La Table d’Olivier, and since Cognac is reputed to be a culinary wasteland, it’s worth going there if you find yourself in town and in need of sustenance.
Then, for a complete change of pace, we drove to the little hamlet of Chaniers to visit the very small production facility of Clos de Nancrevant. A pocket-sized family-run business, Monsieur and Madame Quéré-Jelineau are the current generation of producers, making cognac, Pineau des Charentes, and Charentais wine. When we arrived Madame mentioned that her husband was “in the cuve” which I first took to be a translation error on my part, since normally spirits are in the cuve, not people.
But in the cuve he was, and he popped out faster that I could snap a good picture of him. I think the vapors were slowing down my shutter finger that day, or anyway that’s my excuse. Distillation was to start the next day and he was scrubbing out the cuve in preparation.
They have a beautiful alembic for their distillation, and Madame explained to us that Charentais craftsmen are in demand all over the world for their expertise in both alembic and barrel making.
Somehow kids and cognac just seem to go together.
Our visit was bisected by the arrival of a customer wanting her plastic jugs filled up with wine. It seems a shame to me to put wine in plastic, but many people in France do buy wine this way, as it’s a lot cheaper than the bottled stuff.
Clos de Nancrevant also bottles sparkling rosé and white grape juice, which made Shel very happy, since as far as he’s concerned, the angels can have all of his share of cognac. Which means, as you might imagine, more for me, and that I’m lucky enough to always have a designated driver, just in case I don’t really leave the angels their fair share.