News Release

Detecting aromas in aged cognac

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Chemical Society

For connoisseurs of wines and spirits, part of the enjoyment is noting the various flavors and scents that are revealed with each sip. Aging transforms alcohol's aroma further, especially in cognac, a type of twice-distilled fortified wine. Now, researchers reporting in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have identified a few compounds not previously known to contribute to an aged cognac's complex aroma.

Smell plays a key role in the perception of flavor, and in alcoholic spirits these aromas are a result of an array of volatile organic compounds that transform over time. Unlike other liquors, cognacs are aged for upwards of several decades before they are blended into a final product, giving them a unique profile that can be difficult to characterize. Previous research has focused on "young" cognac distillates, which have floral, fruity notes, but little is known about how aging contributes to aroma. The aging process is impacted by compounds from the oak barrels used to house the cognac distillate, as well as evaporation of ethanol over time, known as "the angels' share." To further uncover what olfactory factors are at play in aging cognac, Fannie Thibaud, Marie Courregelongue and Philippe Darriet combined analytical and sensory technologies. 

The researchers began with a series of cognac distillates from a well-known producer, ranging from just under a decade to nearly 50 years in age. From there, they used a combination of gas chromatography/olfactometry and mass spectrometry to separate and smell the various components of the distillates, as well as to identify and measure them. Of the myriad volatile compounds found with this method, several terpenoids -- which give wines their floral notes -- were identified for the first time in cognac. Finally, using the collected data, the team conducted a sensory panel to see how some of the cognac compounds, when mixed together, contribute to aging aromas. For example, they found that (Z)-whisky lactone and (E)-β-damascenone enhanced the sensation of a mix of terpenes found in aged distillates, but these compounds did not appear to have an effect on a terpene mix typical of younger distillates. These results provide new insights into what makes cognac tick, and could help manufacturers develop better-tasting liquors. 


The researchers acknowledge funding from Rémy Martin, Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin and Association Nationale de la Recherche et de la Technologie.

The abstract that accompanies this study is available here.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS' mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people. The Society is a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and most read within the scientific literature; however, ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a specialist in scientific information solutions (including SciFinder® and STN®), its CAS division powers global research, discovery and innovation. ACS' main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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