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Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit Hardcover – 11 Mar 2005

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“…informative and entertaining…the sort of admirable guide you’d want on hand if you ever visited the region of contemplated buying a bottle…” ( Business Traveller , 1 st November 2005) “…a good read…” ( Wine International , October 2005) Cognac isn′t just any brandy. Named after the western French town on the Charente River near Bordeaux, only those spirits distilled in the Cognac region may carry that distinction, according to a 1909 French law. Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World′s Most Coveted Spirit delivers plenty of factoids about the famed brandy, which has been produced there since the 1500s. Jarrard is an American journalist and novelist based in France since 1981, when he married into a Cognac–region family. Today, the four top–selling manufacturers, Hennessy, Remy Martin, Martell, and Courvoisier, control 74 percent of world Cognac sales, which in 2003 amounted to 1.3 billion euros ($1.7 billion). Of 127 million bottles of Cognac produced in 2003, 121 million were exported, according to the Cognac trade bureau. Jarrard offers picturesque details about how the industry leaders got started: Hennessy Cognacs was founded by Richard Hennessy, an 18th–century Irish soldier of fortune who fought for French King Louis XV, after which he stumbled onto the Cognac region and decided to get into the less perilous business of distilling brandy. Lice, Mildew There are dramas like the 19th–century epidemic caused by a louse, the Phylloxera vastatrix, which ate the roots of vines and threatened the entire region′s production. Grape vines imported from north Texas, where chalky soil was similar to that of the Cognac region, saved the day but also caused a devastating epidemic of mildew. Both of these scourges, Jarrard gloats with the aplomb of an assimilated emigre to France, came from plants imported from the U.S. Jarrard also freely casts blame about Cognac′s record during the Nazi occupation of World War II, when business boomed. “In 1962, after the death in Germany of Gustav Klaebisch, the Nazi Lieutenant who was overlord of wartime Cognac, some local Cognac businessmen still wanted to name a square after him,” he writes. While this may dismay some Cognac consumers, others will be pleased to read about the Hennessy Tasting Committee, which meets at 11 a.m. daily to sample some 40 drinks, in search of perfect “elegance.” Some brandy drinkers may legitimately prefer Armagnac, from the Gascony region south of Cognac. Or they might follow Winston Churchill, whose favorite “Dvin Brandy” is made in the Ararat Valley in Armenia; a bottle of Dvin was presented at the 1945 Yalta Conference by Joseph Stalin to Churchill, who said, “Always remember that I have taken more from brandy than brandy has taken from me.” Readers of “Cognac” will take away lots of information about the alluring—if not, in fact, unrivaled –– French brandy. ( Bloomberg News wire, March 15, 2005) 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, Rémy–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. (Mar.) ( Publishers Weekly , January 10, 2005)

“…informative and entertaining…the sort of admirable guide you’d want on hand if you ever visited the region of contemplated buying a bottle…” ( Business Traveller , 1 st November 2005) “…a good read…” ( Wine International , October 2005) "...Jarrard does a nice is a must for aficionados." ( Publishers Weekly , January 10, 2005)


"Kyle Jarrard, whose fiction has delighted me in the past, has turned his fine eye and writer′s skill to the subject of cognac, that most elegant of all the spirits that flow from France′s numberless distilleries. 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 Andrè 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 Andrè 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 hold–up." —Claude Terrail, restauranteur, La Tour d′Argent, Paris "An enthralling volume. Kyle Jarrard has put together 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 written an authoritative and exquisitely detailed word portrait of Cognac, both the geographic region, the chalk hills of the Charente in southwestern France, 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. Cognac, and the artisans and families who have created it over the centuries, is a noble subject and Jarrard has done it justice." —Nancy Harmon Jenkins , nationally known food writer and author of The Essential Mediterranean

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Great read, great drink 4 Jun. 2005
By Joe Murray - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It isn't often a book will change your life. This one semi sort of did. Leastwise, it changed my drinking. Mid-way into my 60s, I've set aside single malt scotch and switched to cognac. The book is just as satisfying, as much a history of France and it is cognac. Then, of course, one is pretty much the other. If you aren't a fan of cognac, you may soon be. Happy reading, happy drinking!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Cognac -- book to savor 20 April 2005
By Michael Lauer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Kyle Jarrard has voiced the subtlety, complexity and passion of a grande champagne wafting across the tongue. His gift for storytelling carried me from the dawn of time, through the emergence of the "eau de vie," to a promising future. The journey is fraught with peaks and valleys, perils and rewards, villains and heros. His infectious reverence for the people, region and products of Cognac blends poetry and journalism in a book that is parts history, personality profile, science text, gourmet cookbook and market analysis.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The Secret of Cognac is safe 24 Feb. 2008
By Marion J. Rickard Jr. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book provides an admirable, if tedious history of the Cognac region through the middle ages. Beyond that, it is basically a bald tout of the Cognac industry with no critical elements to it at all. Worse, it provides virtually NO useful information on the specifics of how Cognac is made beyond grand allusions to how wonderful it is. Very disappointing read and an obvious promotion of the industry and region.
Good Read 1 Aug. 2015
By jld - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Father's Day gift for my husband, who loves Cognac, and he has read it twice.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Too much whitewashing 19 Mar. 2015
By Lance Christopher - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
There is rarely a mention about African American culture saving cognac and how all four major brands are disproportionately bought by blacks. Mind you, yes Cognac is grown in Cognac, France and is apart of the fabric of a greater European history. However, the fact hip hop culture supporting Cognac houses barely gets a mention indicates the author doesn't know the subject of cognac as well as he thought he may have, or he selectively chose not to mention this glaring fact (which would indicate at the very least a serious prejudice).
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