The Great Comet of 1811 was one of the largest comets in history and visible to the naked eye for around 260 days. It was thought to be responsible for the long, hot summer and dry autumn and the following abundant harvest that year.
Cognac houses have always attributed successful vintages and ideal weather conditions like those of 1811 to comets, hence the name ‘comet vintages’. The year on the label, or a picture of the comet on the bottle, became synonymous for outstanding quality.
That is why, by the end of the nineteenth century there were a lot of 1811 cognacs that were very fine, but not really from 1811 at all. Producers simply used the year on the bottle to signify this was their best blend, regardless of the actual years used. In the 20th century in America ordinary brandies were rebottled under fake 1811 labels, but these are apparently easy to recognize by the connoisseur. “I have about 32 bottles from 1811, no one in the world has this many”, the collector says. So how can he tell they are the real thing? “You can conclude that a bottle has to originate from that period by the shape and mould and age of the bottle, the glass, the cork, the lead or the wax seal, the house and its origin”, and these judgments in the right order, he explains. “But you can’t see if the inside cognac is from 1811 or 1870. You have to assume, look at the color, the viscosity and use your expertise. I know where each bottle came from. I bought each and every bottle, mostly at Christie’s and Sotheby’s and other respectful auction houses in France.”