21 December, 2012

Olivier Jadeau, export manager, Europe, says: “People in Asia are still looking for the big names and brands, but the market is maturing and opening up, and we are now doing some business there. Consumers there will get more curious about what else is available.”

Delamain is unusual among cognac producers in offering single cask bottlings from time to time, something more usually associated with scotch whisky, and a growing number of vintage releases are also being marketed by a variety of houses, with Delamain’s most recent offering being a 1977 vintage, of which just 511 bottles were released.

Despite being a mass-market operator, Courvoisier, owned by Beam, has also seen the potential in putting ages to cognacs, being the first major house to sell bottlings with age statements, namely a 12 year old and a 21 year old, while most of the major producers insist that blending an often complex and disparate variety of styles and ages of cognacs is the only way of ensuring ongoing consistency.

According to Jennifer Sernovick, head of trade marketing relations for Courvoisier: “The age statements were done partly to compete with single malt scotch whiskies – consumers understand age statements, when sometimes they are confused about different types of cognac.

“It definitely appeals to Asian consumers and this is an area we will continue to explore in future. Asians definitely have a cognac palate – they love the smoothness and voluptuousness of it. In China both men and women drink cognac, and they tend to drink it diluted and over ice.”

Flavour innovation

While on one hand Courvoisier produces cognacs with age statements and ‘high-end’ XO cognac variants with luxurious presentations aimed at the Asian market in particular, it has also innovated with younger cognacs intended principally for mixing and targeted at the US, and has gone further still with flavoured cognacs. These include Rose Courvoisier, which is specifically aimed at female consumers and comprises cognac and red wine from Grenache, plus Cognac Gold, a blend of Muscatel wine and cognac

Sernovick says: “There’s a real trend at present for mixing cognac and wine in the US, which is why we launched Courvoisier Rose and Courvoisier Gold there. Cognac is traditionally drunk by men, but there’s now a perception that it can be drunk in various ways. You can’t get everybody into making cocktails, it’s too complicated for many people to do at home, so we have Courvoisier Rose and Gold.”

In aiming to attract a more urban-based and youthful demographic, notably in the US, Courvoisier mirrors the activities of its major competitors. While Courvoisier launched ‘C’ earlier this year, designed to be served chilled and with a clear ‘gangsta rap’ feel to it, cognac market leader Hennessy’s Black hit the shelves this summer.

Black is a lighter style of cognac intended for mixing, packaged in an opaque black bottle and with its dedicated theme tune, When I Step Into the Club, performed by DJ rapper Swizz Beatz.

Of course, the link between cognac in the US and the African-American rap movement is not new, having been established at least a decade ago, but the correlation clearly still has legs, and more than half of all cognac sales in the US are to African-Americans.

The latest cognac variant from Bacardi-owned Château de Cognac, which also produces the altogether more traditional Baron Otard range, is D’Ussé. The initial expression – endorsed by the rapper Jay-Z – is a VSOP.

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