Cognac Book Review
I’ve been lucky enough to visit the town of Cognac and the area around it several times, including once for the best part of a week when I visited many of the major cognac distilleries in both Cognac and nearby Jarnac. It’s a fascinating region, with of course a fascinating history, and if you’re truly into cognac there’s no better guide than Nicholas Faith and his book, Cognac: The Story of the World’s Greatest Brandy.
Originally published in 2013 it’s been updated for 2016 by the author for the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library, a fine initiative for resurrecting older titles, keeping classic titles in print, and initiating new guides to the world of wine and spirits. I’ve already reviewed another of the titles in the series, Spirits Distilled, on my companion website, The Vodka Guy. As well as several wine titles the series also has books devoted to port and sherry.
Nicholas Faith has probably forgotten more things about cognac than other people know. He’s written countless newspaper and magazine pieces on the subject, founded he International Spirits Challenge in 1996 and, as if that wasn’t enough, in 2010 he became the first person ever to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bureau National Interprofessional de Cognac.
With such a wealth of knowledge it would be easy for the author to go right over the heads of his audience, and lose them. That’s something ne avoids, though, with a natural style and making no assumptions about how much you know or don’t know. The only assumption he makes is that you’re interested in cognac – and even if you weren’t he would make you interested through the wealth of facts and anecdotes that he shares with the reader.
The book begins not with the history of cognac (and Cognac) but the story of how it’s made, why it’s made here and what makes this part of France so special. It is much more than just the legal requirements that mean you can only make cognac in Cognac, it’s the combination of the unique terroir, the history and the people which makes this spirit unique.
The book does then continue with a history of cognac right through to the present-day, though I have to admit there were parts of this I fast-forwarded as the stories are so detailed. Besides, I wanted to hurry on to the last section, which begins with the enjoyment of cognac. The author is far from pretentious and believes firmly that cognac is for enjoying, in whatever way works for you.
He does relay a marvellous anecdote, though, about the French diplomat, politician and bishop, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord.
There follows a catalogue of all the cognac makers who the author believes to be making noteworthy cognac, and for those only familiar with names like Martell and Courvoisier, it’s a long and fascinating list. And long may it continue to grow, as people keep producing this magical style of brandy known as cognac. The drink can have no finer champion than the author of this book, which belongs on the shelves of anyone remotely interested in the subject.
Cognac by Nicholas Faith is published by Infinite Ideas Ltd at £30 in the UK.