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Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spiritby Kyle Jarrard
Synopses & Reviews
Victor Hugo called it the "brandy of the gods." It is a universal symbol of high refinement and quality. Often expensive, always classy, Cognac is the gift of gifts—the best of the best—to mark a grand success. And just as remarkable as this coveted amber-hued nectar is its epic tale. More than once, this great drink faced certain doom at the hands of despotic sovereigns, soft-headed politicians, and greedy businessmen—not to mention Mother Nature—but incredible twists of fate rescued it each time and helped seal its glorious future.
Cognac is the first comprehensive history of this celebrated spirit, charting its origins in the Charente wine region of southwestern France and turbulent growing pains to its present-day status as a multimillion-dollar worldwide business. Kyle Jarrard lays out a winding journey through Cognac country filled with a colorful cast of characters who had a hand, one way or another, in shaping its destiny—from Romans, Vikings, and kings and princes of England to La Rochelle traders, Dutch distillers, Catholic zealots, and even German invaders.
Beginning in ancient limestone bedrock, this engaging history of Cognac sweeps through Roman times and the Dark and Middle Ages to the birth of an eau-de-vie toward the end of the sixteenth century. Jarrard then traces the drink's four-hundred-year struggle to dominate markets the world over—a challenge made all the more difficult by war-halted commerce, contraband, usurpation of the Cognac name, and business feuds fought across the Atlantic. He reveals how Cognac distillers weathered vineyard die-offs, the struggle through the world wars, and the unprecedented postwar boom. There's also the unforgettable story of Gustav Klaebisch, a German lieutenant assigned to oversee Cognac's efforts during World War II, who protected the stocks from his own thirsty armies by creating a quota system—effectively preserving the brandy's future.
In addition, Jarrard takes a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, Martell, Delamain, and other finely tuned companies whose decisions today will make the Cognacs of tomorrow.
Capturing the mystique of the French city and region, as well as the drink itself, Cognac deftly illustrates the spirit's compelling transformation into the world's most sought-after brandy.
"It's fitting that a Paris-based novelist and International Herald Tribune editor should chronicle the history of the famously refined French brandy. And Jarrard does a nice job of it, offering a thorough, well-researched and objective history of cognac. He begins with a geological history of the French province of Charente, on the Atlantic coast, where the town of Cognac is located. The Romans brought the first grapes to the region, but it would be centuries before viniculture really took root there. The earliest attempts to make what we now call cognac began during the Middle Ages, as alchemists and apothecaries experimented with putting local grape pressings through their distillation apparatuses. While France evolved from a feudal kingdom into an imperial, colonial power, the cognac-making process developed, although factors like weather and warfare often prevented distilleries from obtaining the necessary raw materials. By the Napoleonic era, however, cognac began appearing on the world market, and its makers worked at refining their product and their methods as demand for the elegant, amber, aromatic brandy increased. Jarrard brings the story to the present, examining the various brands dominating the market today, including Hennessy, Rmy-Martin and Courvoisier. Although a more driving narrative and some strongly defined characters would've given this text more life, it's a must for aficionados. B&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Called the "brandy of the gods" by Victor Hugo, Cognac is a universal symbol of refinement and quality. In the first comprehensive history of this celebrated drink, Kyle Jarrard charts Cognac's birth in the 1500s and its transformation into the world's most coveted brandy. Along the way, he reveals how Cognac distillers weathered vineyard die-offs, the German occupation, and other challenges over the years-and offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Hennessey, Remy-Martin, Courvoisier, Martell, and other legendary brands.
For any Cognac lover, this fascinating book will make the perfect gift.
Rave Reviews For Cognac
"An enthralling volume. . . . a compelling story, not just about the world's best-known eau-de-vie, but about the people who make it and the often violent history of the remarkable but little-known region of France from which it comes."
—Frank J. Prial, wine critic, The New York Times
"Kyle Jarrard has turned his fine eye and writer's skill to the subject of Cognac, that most elegant of all the spirits. . . . While rich in history and admirable scholarship, Cognac really appeals because of Kyle's personal and anecdotal sketches. It's a fine grande champagne of a book, to be savored over and over."
—Patricia Wells, author of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris
"Having read the wonderful book by Kyle Jarrard about Cognac, an anecdote immediately springs to mind. . . . Here now, are the two gems of our cellars, two very rare flasks; these two bottles of Napoleon brandy are the very ones that André Terrail used to take legitimate pride in. . . . True, alas, there is only one left. The other one was stolen by Pierpont Morgan and replaced with a letter of excuse and a blank check, which André Terrail just sent back. That's how the cellars of the Tour d'Argent are perhaps the only place in the world where a billionaire has ever staged a holdup."
—Claude Terrail, restaurateur, La Tour d'Argent, Paris
"Kyle Jarrard has written an authoritative and exquisitely detailed word portrait of Cognac, both the geographic region . . . and the seductive golden spirit that is its most renowned product. This is a book for lovers of both, and for all those who understand that food and drink are not just something to enjoy around the table but a true expression of history, geography, culture, and humanity."
—Nancy Harmon Jenkins, nationally known food writer and author of The Essential Mediterranean
"An intoxicating tale of Cognac, as rich and rewarding as a sip of the amber liquid itself. The people, places, and intensely French history that created this magnificent drink come alive. . . . Readers will be sorry when they've finished the bottle Jarrard serves up so elegantly."
—David Ignatius, columnist, The Washington Post, and author of A Firing Offense and The Sun King
About the Author
KYLE JARRARD is a senior editor at the International Herald Tribune and the author of two highly praised novels, Over There and Rolling the Bones. His work has appeared in numerous literary publications, including North American Review and Mississippi Review. Jarrard has lived in France for more than twenty years—now in Paris but first in Cognac country with his wife, whose family roots run deep there—and has written extensively about France and specifically about the Cognac industry and region.
Table of Contents
The Grapes Are Coming.
Much Ado about Salt and Wine.
The Difficult Birth of an Eau-de-Vie.
Mayhem on the Charente.
Rising Houses, Rising Fortunes.
A Distillate Turns Golden.
Phylloxera and The Texas Cure.
The German Who Saved Cognac.
Glory Years, with Feathers.
Tale of a Big House,
Tale of a Little House.
The Last of the Mohicans.
From the Nursery to the Glass.
Agendas for Tomorrow.
The Spirit Flows On.
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