First published in the Irish Times, March 11th, 2017
In the 18th century, Irish businessmen were very prominent in the Cognac region. Two houses are direct descendants of Irish families and many others had strong Irish connections. These are detailed by historian Louis Cullen in his book The Irish Brandy Houses of 18th-Century France (Lilliput Press).
Hennessy is well-known. The family has been involved in Cognac since 1724 and there are still several Hennessys involved. Maurice travels the world as brand ambassador, as well as selling grapes from his vineyard to Hennessy. His brother Frédéric lives in the original Hennessy homestead in Cork. The Hennessy three-star is very popular in this country. Richard Hennessy created the first XO for his friends. The current version is a real treat.
The other “Irish” house is Delamain. Nicolas Delamain settled in Ireland in 1639. His descendent Henry was the first in Ireland to fire delftware with coals, examples of which can be seen in the National Museum, and were illustrated in a series of stamps. Henry’s nephew James Delamain moved from Dublin to France and, in 1759, formed a partnership with his father-in-law, proprietor of one of the oldest cognac houses. The company is still owned and run by two descendants of the original Delamain, and is one of the only family-owned companies in Cognac.
Delamain is unique amongst cognac houses in that it produces no three-star or VSOP cognac. The entry level is an XO, and that is made from 25-year-old spirits (XO or extra old needs only to be six years old). They do not add caramel or syrup to make it darker and sweeter, hence the name Pale & Dry. It is my favourite Cognac.
Method & Madness
Irish Distillers, by far the largest producer of Irish whiskey, is now owned by French company Pernod Ricard. They have just released four new whiskeys under the banner of Method & Madness. These are intended to be a blend of curiosity and intrigue (the madness), with the tradition and expertise at Midleton Distillery (the method). Each is distilled or aged in a different way, giving it a unique flavour. Prices run from €49 to €79. Other new releases include Roe & Co, a new premium blended whiskey from Diageo, named after George Roe, who in the 19th century ran the largest distillery in Thomas Street. It is deliciously smooth, rich and concentrated. Down the road Teeling have released the third bottling of The Revival Single Malt, a 14-year-old whiskey aged in Pineau de Charentes casks priced at €120.
Finished in French Chestnut barrels, this is a superb whiskey brimming with spice and subtle dried fruits ending with a lingering rich complex woody note.
Stockists: Specialist off-licences and Duty-free.
A slightly lighter (hence the name) and more delicate cognac, but certainly not lacking in flavour. Exquisite, smooth rounded and complex fruits.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Baggot Street Wines.
Richer in style than the Delamain, but equally attractive – spice, leather, vanilla and oak. smooth
Stockists: widely available.
Craft 3 Chenin Blanc 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Lightly floral nose with crisp apple fruits, a touch of honey, a hint of caramel, wand a dry finish. Plump and very moreish.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer