We Started In La Rochelle, France
After our quiet day exploring the town of Brest, our ship headed to La Rochelle, France and we headed out for cognac tasting in Cognac. It was a tasty stop on our cruise along the coast of Western France.
We always loved to sample local products when we travelled. When we visited Porto in Portugal, we made sure we had port in Porto. On our travels in Prague, we learned more about Absinthe. We were in the heart of the Bordeaux region and there were a whole range of wine tours. On our later port stop in Bordeaux we definitely toured the local wine region.
But on our stop in La Rochelle, we booked an excursion and did cognac tasting in Cognac. It was a full day outing with lunch and walking tours in addition to our cognac visit. We visited the small town of Saintes and got a quick look at La Rochelle. It was a busy day that left us wanting more.
Heading To Cognac
We boarded our bus in La Rochelle. The bus took a small causeway and got off the commercial pier. There were three islands off of La Rochelle. Two (Ré and Oléron) were connected to the mainland by large causeways. These islands were used historically for salt marshes. Bordeaux finishing salt might make it home as a souvenir!
A third (Aix) was a small island with only 240 inhabitants. But it had two museums and Fort Liédot. Napoleon spent his last days in France here before he surrendered to the English. And then went to exile on Elba.
The bus headed out for our cognac tasting in Cognac. The route went along the La Charente River – past Rochefort, Saintes and Cognac. It was a lovely day for the drive in the country. Our guide explained that Rochefort was created to be the military port while La Rochelle was the deep water commercial port.
We knew we were close when we started to see vineyards.
We Started With A Visit To Chateau De Cognac
The bus stopped at Otard Chateau de Cognac for our cognac tasting in Cognac. Like most historic properties, the chateau had a long and colourful history.
The chateau was a fortress during the Hundred Year War. Francois I was born in this castle and went on to become king of France. The Otard family left Scotland in exile. Otrard descendants bought Chateau Cognac as their estate and made cognac here since 1796.
Our visit started with a tour of the inside of the Chateau De Cognac. It was a large stone chateau and was largely empty. We did not see a historically restored chateau as we did when we visited St Petersburg. In one area we saw the remnants of stairs that used to go to private quarters.
In several of the rooms historical plaques, carvings and busts detailed the history of the chateau. Francis I used the salamander as his symbol. We found it everywhere as we toured the chateau.
In one room we saw various posters that showed the history of Otard as a cognac house over the years.
A tour of Chateau de Cognac was a great start to our cognac tasting in Cognac.
Learning More About How Cognac Was Made
We got a little eduction about cognac during our tour. There were six regions in the area of Cognac that produced cognac. Chateau de Cognac was located in the Grande Champagne region.
Otard does not own vineyards nor does it do the distillation at the chateau. The chateau had the ideal conditions though to age the cognac for 10 to 70 years. The Chateau de Cognac had 3 metre thick walls. The close proximity to the Charente River resulted in a very high humidity in the cellars (90%). The temperature was maintained at 17℃.
The first part of our tour took us through the dark and damp cellars. Spider webs were everywhere. Spiders were a good thing since they ate the bugs!
Distillation And Aging Of Cognac
Cognac was produced from white grapes with a double distillation. One of the secrets to making cognac was said to be the swan’s neck-shaped alembic still used to distill cognac. There were 3 stages of liquor produced during the distillation. Otard buys the middle stage for its cognac.
Producing cognac resulted in a very large amount of evaporation. Evaporation was often called the “angels share”. The evaporation in high humidity environments such as these was mostly alcohol. This made the ceilings and walls dark. We learned that in the Cognac region, 23 million bottles evaporated each year. Otard itself had about 300,000 bottles of evaporation. We saw evidence of this evaporation in black walls of the buildings.
Cognac was aged in oak barrels. The new barrels were toasted before they were used. After 60 years the barrels were sold and used for whisky production. We heard the same thing about barrels used in wine production in other regions of Bordeaux.
Once the cognac was aged, it was stored in white barrels. Once in the the white barrels, there was no more aging.
Insight into the process to produce cognac was a great introduction to our cognac tasting in Cognac.
We Did Cognac Tasting In Cognac
As we toured the cellars, we got a hands-on opportunity to see various facets of cognac production. The first exhibit was about aroma. We were surprised to learn that aromas were actually added to the cognac. Different aromas were added to different vintages. The aromas added included vanilla, coconut, floral and spicy. We certainly smelled the different aromas in the samples.
After we learned about the process of distillation, we got to smell the different stages of evaporation. The middle stage that was used for Otard cognac had a definite smoother smell. Next we did a smell test of the various vintages produced at Otard. The top of the range offered was “1795 Extra” Several other vintages were offered down to VSOP and VS blends.
After all the teasing, we finally got to try cognac tasting in Cognac. We taste tested two different vintages (VS and VSOP). At 3270€ (about $4,000 USD) a bottle for “Crystal St Louis”, we did not taste test the top of the line cognac.
After the tasting we wandered the shop and looked at the wide variety of cognac for sale. Many people went home with bags. A perfect way to celebrate our cognac tasting in Cognac.
A Very French Lunch Break
We left Chateau De Cognac and the bus dropped us off at a town square. Our short walk to and from the bus was our only view of the small town of Cognac.
Our lunch was a delicious slow multi-course French meal with fresh local produce. Of course it was served with local wine. There was a lot of chatter around the table about our morning cognac tasting in Cognac.
Roman History In Saintes
From Cognac we headed to the town of Saintes. Saintes was first occupied by the Romans. Remnants of the Roman period still stood in the town. We started with a photo stop at the Roman amphitheatre. Not much of the original structure still stood. But it was clear that it was still used as an outdoor venue. We saw the steeple of St Eutrope Church in the background and again over the town.
The Charente River ran through town. We got a view along the river banks and then saw the quiet streets of the town. We stopped for a close up view of the L’Arc de Triomphe roman arch by the water. This used to the gate into Saintes.
We saw the St Peters Cathedral tower in the distance as we drove by. It was built in 1500 but then destroyed in religious wars before it was re-built.
Our final short stop was at the Abbey of the Girls (Abbaye Aux Dames). This was the first Benedictine abbey for women in this region of France.
Our visit to the old town of Saintes offered a very different view of this region than our cognac tasting in Cognac!
Photo Stop In La Rochelle
We raced the clock back to La Rochelle. As we entered the city, the bus went past the large train station. It took only 3 hours by fast train to reach Paris.
Even with a tight deadline to get back on board before the ship sailed, our guide set out on yet one more fast walk. She was determined that we see a little of La Rochelle before we left.
The bus parked and we started our tour at the waterfront. We saw the towers that once guarded the entrance to the harbour. A large regatta was on and we saw many sailboats in the harbour. There were two lighthouses in the port.
We wandered through the small alleys of the old town. Several people peeled off from the walking tour and shopped. We then waited for them when we re-boarded the bus. Our guide pointed out several buildings with slate seams where wooden seams once were.
Old Churches In La Rochelle
There was a short stop at the Dames Blanches Cloister. This was a quiet green space in the middle of the old town. At times exhibitions were held here.
We stopped outside the L’Eglise Saint-Sauveur Church. We saw remnants of the original church decaying on the outside. There was a service in progress so we did not get to go inside.
The bus headed back to the dock. Our Oceania Cruises ship had already started up when we arrived. We saw the smoke coming out of the funnels. It was a long day for cognac tasting in Cognac.
Great First Visit To French Wine Country
It was a great first excursion into French wine country on our cruise along the west coast of France. Our visit for Cognac tasting in Cognac was delicious and informative.
The little town of Saintes offered us a view into the history of this region. But the short stop in La Rochelle just teased us for a return visit.
Have you done a cognac tasting in Cognac? Have you toured this wine region?
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