Maestro named Cognac personality of the year
The first International Cognac Personality of the Year award was given to Salvatore at the "La Part des Anges" Charity Auction and Dinner event, held on the banks in the Charente in Bourg-Charente, France. Nominees for the awards came from France, Germany, the USA and the UK.
Salvatore's comments following the night's events were published in Theme Magazine:-
'I was recently back in the arms of my first love. Seriously. It was amazing. The lure was to go to one of the annual highlights of the Cognac calendar, the 'La Part des Anges' Charity Auction and Dinner, held in Bourg-Charente in September. However, my wife Sue accompanied me, which was great because she was able, finally, the understand where my passion for this liquid gold developed.
Some of the world's rarest cognacs were auctioned before an international audience of 500 people. The sale of 23 lots of rare and unique bottles of Cognac, all donated by Cognac houses such as Hine, Remy Martin, Delamain and Hennessy, raised 49,800 euros.
The other reason the Bureau Interprofessional du Cognac (BNIC) asked me involved a secret, they were awarding me the first International Cognac Personality of the Year award! Nominees for the awards came from France, Germany, the USA and the UK. The ceremony was in French and I heard the announcement, then my name. I walked to the stage, amazed. There I was, among all of these cognac professionals, writers and legends of cognac, and they were giving ME the award! Are you sure you have the right person? I said. I am an Italian, here in the heart of a very French world!
It was a great honour to be given this award. Cognac was born a refined spirit and has remained that way. Other spirits - rum, vodka, gin, tequila and whisky - were not born to be refined, but are today. Cognac was always the leader and for me is the noblest of all.
After a few 'Cognac Summits', the official event cocktail, we trooped into the marquee for the dinner. The waitresses went round the tables pouring what looked like a chilled white wine. Imagine the scene: the best noses in the industry nosing this in the glass (it had a hint of citrus and dryness), then tasting it, puzzled looks were exchanged! The drink was completely flat. The Russians were knocking it back like there was no tomorrow. At this point, someone said, 'think the wine is off' I was sitting with the master blender from Hine, laughing, with tears in my eyes ... the liquid was nothing more than a palate cleanser, a very light mixture of cognac and chilled water! Instead of a one to four mix, they had made a one to 10 mix, so the essence was there but it was basically water. Who said the French have no sense of humour!
To me, this visit was like returning to a magical place. When I researched my book, Cognac A Liquid History I visited Cognac and spoke to many master blenders, taking away with me an intense experience of cognac. This was like a replay of that marvelous trip. At Frapin, 87-year-old Max Cointreau welcomed me (it turns out he shares the same birthday as my wife, Sue) for lunch at the family's cellars. Olivier Paultes, the cellar master, has won many awards for his cognacs. The house is re-introducing the folle blanche grape variety. We walked out to the vineyard, where on one row of vines you could see the usual ugni blanc grapes; on an adjacent row, were folle blanche grapes, and you could see why they are difficult to raise. They are tighter in the bunch, sweeter, and their skin is thinner. If any bacteria goes into the grapes, the bunch will get mold quickly so you have to keep a close eye on them.
To blend a cognac requires every note to play its part, as in an orchestrated symphony. At Frapin, we were honoured to taste some of that liquid music when our hosts opened a cask of 1976, located in the dry cellar, the year Sue and I met. It was dry, with floral and spicy notes, with a hint of vanilla and cinnamon; it was just 50% abv in the cask because it was not yet cut. The taste was just beautiful. I commented that it was a shame it might be cut one day. I hope not!'
We also visited the house of Pierre Ferrand where host Alexandre Gabriel cooked a barbecue at home. We downed some 20-year-old with the barbecue food, then a 30-year-old, sipped a 45-year-old and sighed over a 70-year-old. We finished with a superb 1914 (The Year of the Lady).
Another highlight was a trip to the cooperage to see how the barrels are constructed. Only a small section of the French limousin oak is used and the wood must be at least 100 years old. That's why they are rare. Many of the modern casks are made of American oak. The art of cognac starts with the oak cask- you can have put the spirit through the best distillation but if you don't have the right oak to put it to sleep in, then you have wasted your time!
Salvatore is pictured receiving his award from Jerome Durand, Marketing and Communications Director of the BNIC and with Monsieur Max Cointreau on his visit to the House of Frapin.