I am pleased to welcome an original contribution by Gareth Charlton, who provides useful information on a little-known French mallet bottle type, coming from Western France.
La version abrégée de cette contribution, traduite en français, sera postée dans le courant de la semaine ou ce week-end. Merci pour votre patience!
« Dear Reader,
I am presenting to you 4 bottles of Cognac dating from the mid-18th century, the bottles carry no label or signs of ever having done so since equally no capsule or trace thereof.
I acquired the bottles firmly in the belief that both the bottles and the accompanying story were authentic and coherent, however believing is a question of faith and pride demanded that I prove my faith and so I have assembled every element that could shed light on the history bottles. The first step was to taste the unknown liquid. However before precipitating toward that subject I feel it is necessary to inform and remind ourselves of the period of history bottles like these and the Gautier 1762 have lived through.
1762 – France was a monarchy, all Americans were colonists and Australia was untouched by Europeans, the 7 years’ war between France and England was drawing to a close with disastrous results for France the loss of Canada, India and most importantly prestige. Over the coming years France would experience the most turbulent period of its history.
Our story as told begins in 1795. A family of landed Vendean nobility in fear of the oncoming republican army and knowing they will be attacked leaves their ancestral chateau and moves into one of the farms on their holdings, hiding whatever items will be most attractive to pillaging revolutionary soldiers. The Chateau was indeed attacked and burnt to the ground. Fast forward 220 years, the descendants of the noble family still live at the same farm and during renovation workers discover behind a wall several bottles of unknown continence.
As an English person living in France I am aware of the Vendean Wars but know very little about it, I assume I am not alone in this so I have included below a brief history of the events. In order that we can understand the chain of events leading to the discovery of our cognac.
Historical reminder (Full article available at https://www.poitou-charentes-vendee.com/the-vendee/history/vendee-wars/)
To truly understand the Wars of the Vendée, we need to first understand the mental attitude of the region. Initially, the French revolution was well received. However, the new ideas were only slowly accepted in the Vendée or Bas Poitou as it was then known. Vendéan priests were held in extremely high esteem and the peasants were not happy that not only had the revolution led to the execution of their king: Louis XVI in 1793 but it had also forced upon them new priests who were really the puppets of the changed order and who demanded much higher taxes to be paid to the republican government.
The last straw really was the republican government’s decision in 1793 to bring in conscription in order to raise a 300,000 strong army to defend France’s borders against invasion by neighbouring states.
At first the rebels were extremely successful and between March and June local towns were captured without too much bloodshed. but soon however, the Republicans who had at first been ill-prepared for the conflict were reinforced by General Jean Baptiste Kléber’s crack troops – known as the ‘Mayencais’ and very soon, Nantes was lost.
Soon after, almost 100,000 vendéans crossed the Loire River heading north in an attempt to take a port on the Cotentin. From here they hoped to secure help from the English. Unfortunately they were forced to turn back and once again had to cross the Loire. They were in much disarray and were easy prey for the Republican armies who showed none of the chivalry that their enemies had shown them – only 4000 vendéans came home and the worst was yet to come. The republican General Turreau sent his ‘infernal columns’ of infantrymen to the Vendée with the objective of capturing and holding 13 villages but setting fire to all the rest! Most of the able-bodied men had been killed in battle but the women, children and old people left behind were to be badly persecuted. In February 1794, the Cordelier column went in Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne and killed 564 people: men, women and children.
The violent and turbulent insurrection that was the Wars of the Vendée lasted for three years in total and took a terrible toll on the region.
Once I had the bottles in hand everything falls into place I can see the glassware is very old , the family are present at the property , The town of Cognac itself is quite close and history is on my side . Now to what extent can I prove this?
Step 1 – Tasting
I called the cognac producer A E DOR owners of “Le Paradis”, the finest cognac cellar in the world and ask if they will taste with me something that may well be or equally not be a very old cognac , I take an un-opened bottle to A E DOR I open the bottle in the presence of Maître de Chai and the Commercial Director, we all understand inside could be almost any alcoholic beverage pineau, eau de vie etc. Immediately the bottle is opened before a glass is served the Maître de Chai says categorically “it is cognac”
The commercial director actually says “he has never tasted the like” (taste is subjective) I do however agree.
The maître de chai has stated that she is perfectly happy for potential clients to call her about this bottle and to confirm it contents. Obviously she can only vouch for the bottle opened in her presence and not the others.
The bottle has also been tasted at Christies Paris. Where the initial appraisal of the glassware was done also confirming the assumed age.
The remaining cognac has been consumed except 2 small samples kept back, one of which has been used for Radio Carbon dating at Oxford University, England.
Step 2 – Glassware (supporting emails available)
After extensive research a final confirmation of the origin of the glassware and has come from the blogmaster that bottles of this type are rarely seen and are specific to the Loire Atlantic/Charente region that covers both the Vendee and Cognac, dating from the 18th century and at the very latest the very beginning of the 19th century. The glassware is indisputably from the period all made by the same hand, and from the region of discovery.
Step 3 – Radiocarbon dating (supporting document available)
Radiocarbon dating is as close as possible to an exact science although there are some uncertainties in the recent ages, as here the period 1650-1950. It excludes definitively certain dates i.e. post 1950 because of atmospheric perturbations. In the interval 1650-1950, radiocarbon dating gives an age, which actually is a series of age range probabilities. When used in conjunction with other evidence, either physical or historical, this age is a useful tool determining the age of organic substance/objects. The radiocarbon date will here apply to the cognac itself and not when it was bottled
Radiocarbon results say:
- Definitely not post 1950 thus not a recent fake
- Definitely not older than 1650
- 99.7% probability covering 2 results either mid-18th century or mid-19th century
Step 4 – Interpretation and conclusion
Either we have a 100% authentic mid-18th century Cognac in which case there is little to discuss
the bottles were refilled in the 19th century possibly around 1870
Why 1870? This Cognac has certainly spent time in the barrel, at least 20 years and maybe more, tasting shows Cognac is clearly of Folle Blanche extraction thus grapes would be from circa 1850
– this interpretation requires certain conditions to be met
During the late 19th century many Cognacs were marked 1811 though being from any older stock, an early marketing ploy or the first fake bottles depending on one’s point of view. These bottles therefore cannot fall into this group. They were filled for personal consumption – there are no traces of labels or capsules if they were refilled in that period it has been done innocently and not for commercial gain.
In the early 19th century and before bottles were expensive and it was very usual (in France as in the UK) to use and re-use bottles many times until they broke. It was not the throwaway society of today. The same problem applies to the Gautier bottle. i.e. was the 1762 Cognac bottle found and drunk by someone and the bottle then refilled, leaving the label in place. It is impossible to be 100% sure. The glassware of that bottle is clearly of 19th century provenance. I do not wish to put in doubt the Gautier bottle just to point out the facts.
Of our bottles three have been opened and drunk, I am the only person to tasted from each bottle and confirm that each contains the same beverage.
If these bottles have been refilled around 1870 this means that 7 bottles clearly made by the same hand survived intact and together for at least 70 years through Revolution, Civil war, Napoleonic Wars, more revolutions, use and re-use, loss breakage theft and gifts, whilst remaining in the area of production.
The open and now empty bottle from the initial tasting (available for inspection) shows no signs of use, no chips on the lip, no signs at all of use on the base. The bottles have not been used and re used, once cleaned they are virtually as new.
This leaves only the possibility that the bottles lay undisturbed for 70+ years then to be filled or refilled for another 140 years of solitude. Though not impossible I do feel this pushing to the limits of the plausible. The accumulated deposits on the bottle pictured above clearly proves the bottles the bottles have not been disturbed for a very long period.
I feel the only reasonable conclusion is that the Cognac does indeed date from the 18th century. Dating from the period 1740-1775.
I hope to have made an even handed analysis of the available evidence, I am more than happy to discuss all the various points made here and to supply the supporting documents and well as contact details for others cited in the article.
At the very least I hope the article was interesting and informative. »
The contribution below has been submitted by Thierry De Putter, editor/blogmaster of
The bottle taken from my own collection (TDP n°81; pictures below) is 23.5cm in height. It has a relatively short neck and weights a considerable 1,005 grams – actually more than a champagne bottle – the lower part of the body being heavier, due to the presence of a rough blowpipe scar in the push-up. It contains only 780 ml when filled 4 cm below the mouth.
Gareth’s bottles (pictures above) are in the same range in height: 23.5-24 cm. Weight is lighter (810 grams) probably compensated for by the longer neck on these bottles (more neck/less body). Colour is black/amber rather than black/olive. They contain 650 ml when filled as mine.
Photo’s of bottle (TDP #81) found near Nantes – very close to the source of the bottles of Cognac and dating from the same period. The bottles shows a striking similarity.
Of particular interest are the signs of repeated use on the base of the bottle which is to be expected, these marks are completely absent from the cognac bottles above. Strongly suggesting that these bottle have lain undisturbed since their manufacture and first use. These bottles have not slid back and forth across a bar or dining table.
The text above suggests that these « mallet » bottles were made for cognac, though the glasshouse involved in their production is not yet known. These bottles are quite unusual in France and further display striking similarities in shape with contemporaneous English ones, raising the possibility that they were made for export to this country. As England had a considerable bottle production on its own and French wine and spirits were mostly exported in barrels, a more likely hypothesis is that there was some degree of transfer of technology and/or standards or simply copying of foreign styles/design, as happens constantly throughout history, to this day. The people in Port cities in the west of France interacted and met with far more English people than they did Parisians. The same being true in English coastal towns too. The production of bottles known as “anglaises” at Dunkerque, Northern France (see https://bouteillesanciennes.net/2014/09/07/aujourdhui-une-anglaise-dunkerquoise-today-an-english-one-made-in-dunkerque-france/) further supports this hypothesis.
The story above makes clear that these French mallet bottles were actually filled with Cognac and stored in cellars in the Vendée region, for local use.