An Afternoon With Courvoisier’s Master Blender Patrice Pinet

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Recently, an invitation arrived asking would I be interested in meeting with Mr. Patrice Pinet, the master blender of the premiere cognac brand, Courvoisier as he will be in Los Angeles scheduling only four appointments with media representatives.

Mr. Patrice Pinet, who is known globally and specifically in the world of fine spirits he is considered a celebrity. His skill as a master blender, and only one of six over the more than 200 years Courvoisier, has been in the Cognac making business, precede him.

Our tasting/interview began with an overview of the brand and process of crafting the finest Cognac in the world. Beginning with an explanation of the process. The Courvoisier brand has taken unprecedented steps to ensure the integrity and precision of the process.

Cognac has a distinctive reputation as a after dinner drink served neat. What few know is that Cognac is also delicious as a "Cooler" served with crushed ice, a splash of Apple juice, Ginger Beer and lime. As the palate of the connoisseur evolves mixologists work to create libations that introduce Cognac to the mainstream.

The Courvoisier Brand

Our tasting began with a background of the Courvoisier brand. Beginning in 1809, the Courvoisier Family has been crafting cognacs in France and toasting special occasions for more than 200 hundred years. Courvoisier is personally requested by Royal Courts of Denmark, England, and Sweden.


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The making of the cognac, of course, is a time honored and precise process. As with the wine regions of France, cognacs also have specific regions where the grapes are grown specifically for the making of cognac and under strict regulation from the Appellation d'Origine Controlee, which governs all cognac production.

The exact process begins with the grapes. Cognac grapes can only be produced from Colombard, Folle Blanche or Ugni Blanc grapes. Regulators select six regions selected for the terroir. The grapes are harvested in October. The juice of the grapes ferments over seven days.

The wine is double-distilled by applying a direct flame. The process is very expensive and time consuming and ensures the highest quality. The distillation process occurs 24 hours a day from November 1 to March 31st. Before or after these dates and the product can not be considered cognac.


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The final product is separated into three parts: the head, the heart and the tails. Only the clear liquid from the heart is used to craft Courvoisier Cognac. This distilled spirit of "eau-de-vie" literally meaning "water of life" is then ready for the aging process.

The aging process is lengthy and all cognac must be aged for a minimum of two years. The XO or extra old must be aged from ten to thirty years, with a minimum of ten years. The liquid becomes more complex and smooth the older it gets. At Courvoisier, the cellar houses stock some of which dates back to the 18th century.

The Tasting

After he explained the process, we proceeded to the tasting. He had set up four blends of the Courvoisier brand. The VS (Very Special), the VSOP, (Very Superior Old Pale) the XO, (Extra Old), and L'Essence de Courvoisier.

"The first pleasure of cognac is always the nose. Beautiful notes. Cognac is a spirit made with wine. So we have quite the same approach. I consider the VSOP an old cognac very good to be drank neat like that and the VS cognac is much better if you take it in long drinks, in cocktails," he said.

As he continued to explain the aromatic associated with each blend, he also explained the "notes" which if one imagines a piece of music the notes are flavors, with higher notes, sharp, and lower notes more, smoky or dark. Tasting notes of the Cognac are ripe fruits, spring flowers and fresh oak, the VSOP has clear citrus or peachy, toasted almonds and jasmine. The XO has notes of Candid Orange, Crème Brulee and Iris Flower.


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The Courvoisier brand is proudly obsessive. With a meticulous process that could be considered fastidious, the distillation process begins. Aged first in young oak barrels. After some months, maximum two years, in a young barrel, the cognac from the young barrel to an old barrel. Then the cognac is moved from one cellar to a different cellar as the humidity or dryness of the cellar can affect the flavor of the cognac.

The company has contracts with local vineyards, some that date back more than one hundred years. Very few changes are made to the process as altering the process can enhance or adversely affect the outcome of the product so changes only come after exhaustive research.

Two significant changes in the process occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. First was the switch to gas in distilling process and the second was finding and purchasing oak trees, some two centuries old, for the aging process.


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The final brand he introduced is the L'Essence de Courvoisier, ($3,500.00) and is simply referred to as the Essence. The Essence is a special handcrafted recipe. The Essence is a full bodied, full aromatic, rich, smoky, deep notes and following the rules of sniff, swirl, sip the first notes one can pick up are the cigar leaves and sandalwood and for the experienced toffee and marzipan can be discerned. Most cannot distinguish every note so when the Essence is sampled the taste brings the flavors of Liquorice dried plum and apricot. The finish, the aroma and taste that lingers after the Essence or wine is sipped, should be a combination of the dark smoky notes and the citrus of the taste.

The tasting was a truly one of a kind opportunity to learn about the process of one of the world's truly unique and distinguised brands and experience an exclusive guided tasting tour  alongside Courvoisier's master blender.

All images courtesy of Courvoisier and used with permission.

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