Paris - Cognac - Angoulême
Aug 9, 2005
|Today's drive takes us past Orléans, the site of Joan of Arc's first great victory. Then on to Cognac to visit a distillery, before arriving in Angoulême for the night. (Buffet breakfast/ Dinner)
What an amazing day we had today! We start at Orléans and learned a whole bunch about Joan of Arc. Also known as Jeanne d'Arc, Joan the Maid, the Maid of Orléans and the Maid of Lorraine, Joan was a simple peasant girl who claimed to hear the voices of saints telling her she must help the Dauphin gain the throne of France. This she did, though whether it was through her leadership or through her use by others as a pawn is still debated.
Not long after the Dauphin was crowned King Charles VII, she was captured by the Burgundians, turned over to the English, and tried and burned as a heretic. Her martyrdom did much to unite and invigorate the French, who turned the tide of the war and at last drove the English out of France 20 years later.
Then we went on to learn how Cognac was born - and to taste no fewer than 6 different varieties.
The Saintonge vineyards were created in the 3rd century A.D. when the Roman emperor Probus extended the privilege of drinking. Eventually, the marriage of Alienor of Aquitaine with Henry Plantagenet had thrown the Guyenne over to the English, who established, in the 18th century, a monopoly over all wine production and commercialization in Aquitaine.
Facing this competition, the North European merchants developed, with the Dutch impetus, two new wine-growing regions :
- one to the south of Bordeaux, which later became the Gers vineyard (Armagnac), with an access to the sea via Adour basin,
- the other one to the north of Bordeaux, in the Charentes (Cognac), its production having been transported on the river Charente and from the port of La Rochelle.
Wine was then indispensable to provide daily drinking needs for the sailors, who were making long sea voyages and who couldn't keep their drinking water for very long. During the second half of the 16th century, many Dutch ships came to the Charente to look for the famous "Champagne" and "Borderies" vintages.
In the 17th century, the Dutch acquired a habit of importing the Charente vineyard's products in the form of brandy, which meant a reduced cargo volume and was thus cheaper to transport. Once mixed with water, this product recieved the name of "Brandywine". It was also noticed that this brandy, traditionally kept in cask, improved with age and could be drank dry.
That's how the "cognac" was born.