The Palate Press Advertising Network recently ran the 2011 Cognac Writing Contest, sponsored by The Cognac Board (BNIC) with the support of the EU and France. We received dozens of entries and accepted nine of them as final entries. The winner receives an all-expenses paid trip to Cognac for the Cognac Blues Passions Festival and tours of Cognac. Second prize is $500, and third prize is three bottles of fine Cognac.

The entries were reviewed by an international panel of judges, and we are pleased to announce the winners.

First Prize, and the trip to Cognac, goes to Robin Austin, of The Amateur Gastronomer, for Cognac: Pleasing to Any Palate.

Second Prize, and $500, goes to Clive Pursehouse for Waiter, There’s Wine in My Cognac; A Wine Blogger’s Take on Cognac. Clive’s work can be seen regularly at The Oregon Wine Blog.

Third Prize, and the bottles of Cognac, were won by Alice Feiring, who really needs no introduction, for her wonderful story, Finding Solace in the Big (Cognac) House. Alice’s work can be seen on her eponymous website, Alice Feiring.

The winning story:

Cognac: Pleasing to Any Palate

by Robin Austin, The Amateur Gastronomer

Apricot. Orange peel. Vanilla. Cinnamon.

These are some of the aromas you’ll find in women’s perfume. They are also aromas and flavors you’ll find in Cognac.

So why does it seem like Cognac is mainly for men?

As a woman who enjoys Cognac, I want to change this misconception. With its warm and nuanced flavor Cognac is just as pleasing to women’s palates as it is to men.

Whether you’re female or just new to Cognac, allow me to demystify this spirit so that you can enjoy a glass.

I’ve tasted many kinds of distilled spirits and eau-de-vie but have always returned to Cognac. It’s a name synonymous with quality; all elements in a good Cognac are in balance. Cognac is a celebratory drink, the exclamation point at the end of a delicious meal or a pairing with chocolate, cigars or a fireplace on a cold night.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Cognac is brandy produced in and around the town of Cognac, in western France. Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche are the main grapes used to produce the wine that is then distilled twice. The resulting eau-de-vie is a clear liquid that is 35% to 40% alcohol. For at least two years the eau-de-vie rests in oak barrels which impart flavor and color. The final Cognac is a blend of eau-de-vie from several years, as determined by a cellar master whose skill and finesse produces a high quality spirit.

When smelling and tasting Cognac, you’ll want to be a little more restrained than with wine. Due to the high alcohol content you’ll burn your nose if you inhale deeply. Instead, hold the glass slightly away from your nose and take small sniffs to appreciate the aromas.

When you sip the Cognac take just a little of the spirit into your mouth. Let it coat your tongue as you look for different flavors and sensations.

Your first feeling may be heat, but go beyond and you’ll find more:

Fruit notes — apricot, peach, orange, lemon, dried fruits

Spice notes — cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper

Floral and herbaceous notes — rose petals, clover, lavender

Other — honey, almond, vanilla, cedar, toffee, coffee, butterscotch

With each additional sip your ability to pick out flavors will increase, as will your enjoyment of Cognac.

So don’t let any preconceived notions of who can enjoy Cognac prevent you from trying this French spirit. With this new knowledge and tips on how to taste you’ll find that Cognac can be pleasing to any palate.

This article is a submission to the 2011 Cognac Writing Contest which is sponsored by The Cognac Board with the support of the EU and France.