Saturday, September 03, 2011

2011 Streak Day 221/365 (Aug 9th): Cognac (not the town)

2011 Streak Day 221/365 (Aug 9th):Run - 5 miles, Time 47min, Weather - A beautiful morning with a mist rising over the fields
My last solo run of the holiday so I decided to go by the beehives. It was a beautiful morning and as I looked over the fields at the rising mist, I made a point of appreciating the view. This run is only for enjoyment I told myself - just go with how you feel, and if tha means a little rest, then so be it. But funnily enough, having given myself permission to ease back, I didn’t. I trotted along at my standard pace and felt good.
The main activity of the day was a walk along the Charente from Jarnac to Bourg Charente and back, probably about 5 or 6 miles. With the river on one side and woods on the other it was lovely. I do not mind out and back routes because everything looks different when you are facing a different way.
We passed many things of passing interest, like a nursery for vines with thousands of the young plants packed closely together; or two red, classic sports cars, with two silver haired couples pulling out their picnic hampers - the English middle class on a touring holiday; or a Nike trainer floating downstream - for a shoe it made a very fine boat; or the way French fisherment take their lunch far more seriously than their iEnglish counterparts - full picnic with table and cloth as opposed to the grabbed sandwich by the canal bank; or the size of some of the riverside houses and the wealth that has come from cognac.
Talking of cognac today’s picture is of Braastad, a cognac better known in Norway than the UK, probably because it was founded by a Norwegian. As far as the UK market is concerned I would guess there aren’t many brands sold beyond Hennessy, Martell, Courvoisier, and Remy Martin (perhaps also Hine, which can be found in Waitrose and Monnet, which make the Marks and Spencer own label could be added). But there are many more cognacs than that.
We bought our bottles two days before from a small producer with an estate near the village of Bréville (which interestingly has used wood carving to regenerate its fortunes).
Monsieur Boutinet is a grey haired man, probably in his late sixties, with the comfortable shape of a patron. At some point he must have had a throat operation of some sort because of the quality of his hushed, gravelly voice. His wife was a little younger, probably early fifties. She was an artist, who has exhibited in Russia and England as well as France. Her studio was in one of the side buildings and we started the visit with a view. Her main interest was movement and the blurring of space around figures in crowds or people performing athletic (in its broadest sense) activities - meat and drink  for a running blog. But although I could relate to the theme and recognise the skill they weren’t quite to my taste. 
After that it was the main business of the day, a degustation.
A big old barn was laid out with a table, chairs, glasses and array of the different cognacs. We started the tasting with Pineau, both red and white and then went onto the brandy - a VSOP, followed by a Napoleon, then an XO,after which was an Extra followed by a Cigar  (it was a blend of XO and Extra as a complement to an after dinner cigar - not my style at all). Finally we were given a taste of a 60% cognac, which was a very different drink that made the lips feel numb.
It was fascinating to compare the different flavours, make judgements, and notice how the taste became richer and more complex with age.  I won’t go all poncy and try to describe those flavours with exotic analogues - not through any fear of seeming pretentious but because I really can’t do it, I don’t make those associations. On the website, however, there is a wonderful sentence: “Napoléon, XO, and Extra reveal their richness and complexity only after a tender moment of complicity in your hand.”  
I just love the idea of a tender moment of complicity; it perfectly described what is happened here. We had the full attention of the proprietor of an estate which has grown vines for two centuries and willingly drank the idea of tradition augmented by the sense of the old buildings with each sip of the brandy. We wanted to find something special. 
It is not a bad thing and I am still delighted with the complicity and more than happy to have blown the souvenir budget on XO.

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