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QUESTION: Greetings. I'm writing a novel and for a scene that takes place in Vienna in 1944 I need to include specifics about brandy. I would like to know if you could suggest the name and year of a fine brandy, cognac, etc, which someone might have served in that year, which would be considered either rare or at least very special, to impress another person? It could be something that they found in the cellar of the house, for example, it did not have to be commercially available (the person who is living in this mansion in Vienna was not the original owner, it was stolen/reappropriated from a wealthy Jewish family in 1938). The first person I asked did not get back to me. Thanks for any advice!

ANSWER: HI Judith  

What a great and fun question. I have to admit that the trend for rare and limited bottlings by many of the top Cognac houses is a relatively recent thing.  In the old days they made far fewer products, and sold them under different labels.  So it isn't so easy to just come up with a quick name that would work for you.  

It was far more likely that a Cognac house would make a bottling for a particular private collector or noble family.  So instead of trying to find a historic bottle that might not have existed (you could always just say a nice Napoleon Cognac--but these days there are LOTs of those, so it might not seem special to your readers) why not create your own?

I suggest that it could be a private bottling of rare Cognacs from Felix Courvoisier's nephews, selected for the wedding of Gisela Louise Marie, Princess Imperial and Archduchess of Austria, to Prince Leopold of Bavaria in the 1870s.

That's quite believable...and there isn't a connoisseur in the world who would give his or her right arm to taste something like that.

Hope that helps

Paul Wagner

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for the suggestion. Just to clarify,I have a few questions:

1. is it conceivable that someone might hold onto a bottle of Courvoisier for 70 years?

2. What "age" would a "very good to excellent" bottle of C. be? Ten? Twenty? Forty?

3. Since the person serving it is not in the family whose house this is, and he doesn't know anything about the provenance of the cellar contents, would this person introduce this as a "Courvoisier, 1870" - i.e. IS THAT THE RIGHT WAY TO PUT IT? or would one phrase it some other way?

Sorry for all these questions, I do want to get this right. Most stuff about the war you can look up on wikipedia, libraries, etc, but not this.

(THANK GOD there are no vintage cigars in this novel!!!)

Answer
HI Judith

Now you are making it more complicated.  

1. is it conceivable that someone might hold onto a bottle of Courvoisier for 70 years?

yes---particularly a treasured one like this.  Remember that they wouldn't buy one bottle, but might have started with 24 or 36 or more...this could be the last bottle of the lot.

2. What "age" would a "very good to excellent" bottle of C. be? Ten? Twenty? Forty?

Distilled spirits are so high in alcohol that they don't change much once they are bottled.  That's why they don't vintage date Cognac...they simply tell you about the blend.  It's the aging in barrel and the selection of the blend that makes them special.

3. Since the person serving it is not in the family whose house this is, and he doesn't know anything about the provenance of the cellar contents, would this person introduce this as a "Courvoisier, 1870" - i.e. IS THAT THE RIGHT WAY TO PUT IT? or would one phrase it some other way?

I think he would introduce it by reading the personalized label on the bottle---which would explain what it was.  Bottled for the wedding...etc.

Sorry for all these questions, I do want to get this right. Most stuff about the war you can look up on wikipedia, libraries, etc, but not this.

(THANK GOD there are no vintage cigars in this novel!!!)
HA!

Hope my answers helped.

Paul Wagner  

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Paul Wagner

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Wines of the world, wine a food matching, wine and food service questions. I currently teach Wine courses at Napa Valley College, am an international wine judge, written many articles for publication, and have been a guest speaker at way too many wine conferences to remember. 25 years in the business. With Liz Thach and Janeen Olsen, I authored the definitive book on wine marketing: Wine Marketing & Sales, Strategies for a Saturated Market by The Wine Appreciation Guild, which won the Gourmand International Award in 2008 for the best wine book for professionals! With Rick Kushman of Capital Public Radio, I host a radio show and podcast called Bottletalk at rickandpaulwine.com, where I answer questions about wine and food on the air.

Experience

30 years in the business.

Organizations
Society of Wine Educators, Academy of Wine Communications, American Wine Society

Publications
Vineyard and Winery Management Magazine, Fine Wine Journal, les Amis du Vin Journal, Society of Wine Educators Journal, and more.

Education/Credentials
I have taught at Napa Valley College for the last twenty years.

Awards and Honors
Spanish National Wine Fair: A lifetime dedicated to wine award. Espaderino della Castelania di Soave in Italy.

Past/Present Clients
Wineries include Caymus, Wente, Parducci, Shannon Ridge, Paul Dolan Wines, Vigilance, and others. Wine regions include the Union des Grand Crus de Borcdeaux, Union des Grands Crus de St. Emilion, Consorzio di Chianti CLassico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Consorzio di Franciacorta, Rioja Alavesa, and others.

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