Saturday, February 16, 2019

1994 Gilles Sarraute Bas Armagnac, 43.5%

1994 Gilles Sarraute

The name on the label is Gilles Sarraute, but according to Astor Wines, the producer is Domaine Camille Sarraute. Either way, not a whole lot comes up when I do a search on this producer. Anybody have any info? Please share in the comments!

One interesting detail: according to Darroze, Gilles Sarraute has been overseeing grape production at Domaine de Salié for the past decade.  There's another familiar name that is related to this domaine that some armagnac and more specific L'encantada fans may recognize: Le Frêche.

So, now that we've got that fairly exhaustive overview of this producer out of the way, let's move on to the tasting.

Nose: Fairly straightforward nose that doesn't give too much away. Some fresh fruit. Berries. Orange liqueur. There's also almonds, leather, some bitter chocolate.

Taste: Oranges, lemons, caramelized sugars.  Very juicy upfront.  It transitions to some heavier notes of burnt caramel, milk chocolate. More fruit. Strawberries and cream. Towards the finish there's a sweet nuttiness - like candied roasted nuts. Some more typical oak notes of light tannins, wood polish.  The fruits and tannins all come together really nicely.

Overall: This is a juicy armagnac with enough sweet complexity to keep it interesting.  There is a balance from the oak that comes through in the finish, but we aren't even close into "oaky" territory.  I find this style very enjoyable.  It's fresh which is always a plus for me.  This is available from Astor Wine for $115. Worth grabbing one, especially if there's a 15% off sale.


Friday, February 8, 2019

1994 Fanny Fougerat (Through the Grapevine), 52.8%

Quick thanks to Justin for keeping things going while I battled an epic head cold that just didn’t want to go away.

This is a review of a 1994 vintage cognac coming from Fanny Fougerat.  It was bottled by the La Maison Du Whisky label - Through the Grapevine - which highlights single cask, cask strength, vintage cognac from small producers.  We’ve reviewed some of these TtG releases in the past. There have been some true gems in there (Lot 87 Remi Landier (A-), ‘71 Francois Voyer (A) ). After Master of Malt discontinued shipping to the US, these bottles became even more difficult to obtain.  Recently, a handful of TtG bottles were brought into the US market, thanks to the work of Kate Perry, who is the North American Market Manager for LMDW & Velier.

So, who is Fanny Fougerat? Like so many of the small houses, they only sold their cognac to the big labels for many years. It was only in 2013 that they first began releasing cognac under the Fanny Fougerat label.  Their production is split between two regions - Fins Bois and Borderies with 30 hectares of Ugni Blanc vines.  All of their cognac is distilled on site. From what I’ve gathered they bottle their cognac without additives, and their official bottlings range in proof from the traditional 40% up to a more respectable 44%.

This particular cognac is from their Borderies grapes (some really wonderful fresh fruit-forward cognac has been produced in this region - I’m thinking of the 1974 Giboin (A-) ).

The details:

Producer: Fanny Fougerat
Distilled: 1994
Region: Borderies
ABV: 52.8%

The tasting notes:

Nose: Honey, floral, heavy on walnuts, some caramel, sawdust 

Taste: There’s an initial hit of juicy sweetness. Loads of citrus and green apple. Also bittersweet cocoa, caramel. Brown sugar. The mouthfeel is thick and even slightly sticky. More tart fruit. tangerines, grapefruit, and sticky candied apples.   Lots of thick sugars in this cognac. 

Finish: A slightly medicinal twist on the finish with wood polish, propolis, echinacea. I like this. It starts off very traditional and ends with a more challenging set of flavors.  There is enough lingering sweetness with the layered complexity that continues to invite you to take another sip.

Thoughts:  This is a cognac I keep coming back around to and continues to reveal more layers with each visit. I’m a fan and hope there is more to taste from Fanny Fougerat. Are some of these small houses a one stop show never to be seen again? I hope note. No regrets on this purchase. It was around $150 at K&L.

B+/A-, but let's say a strong B+

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Bourgoin Cognac Brut de Frut 22 Year 55.3%

Here’s a quick review of a brandy from Bourgoin Cognac, a small grower/producer located in the Fins Bois region (at least from what I can tell looking at the AOC map). BC definitely caters to the whisky crowd by producing untainted, un-boised, un-sugared brandy. Their website even says “save whisky, drink Bourgoin Cognac.” At least they have a target market in mind. This review is of one of their cask strength offerings and can be found in some spots in the USA (mostly the left and right coasts).

On to the review (from a sample from a friend)...

N: a little new make’ish, like cedar, and also pears, dried mango, lychee, and no. 2 pencil.

P: the pears really pop, some light tropical fruits, almond slices (like the ones on a summer salad)...a little heat but its not too hot.

F: the pears and mango ride a wave of gentle heat until it’s gone.

Notes: this is a bright, fruity cognac...a summer brandy if you will. And I like that Bourgoin isn’t messing around with what goes into the bottle outside of the actual distillate. With that said, this one was dumped a little too soon despite 22 years in oak - it tasted young. And the pricing is pretty high (over 100 for a 375ml in some places). Overall, this teetered on the B / B+ line, but I can’t ignore the subtle heat (and pricing here in the States).

Grade: B

Monday, January 28, 2019

“Mars” Domaine de Pouchegu for K&L Wines 49.6%

I’ve heard a few people say we are in a “golden age” for brandy. I don’t disagree. There are amazing bottles of cognac and armagnac that you can purchase right now without breaking the bank. It takes a little leg work, research, and an open mind with an equally open palate to figure out what brands to explore. But if you are making the effort today, I think you’ll be able to reflect on your exploration and purchases with a smile.

Yet, while we may be in a golden age, I don’t think we are in a brandy “renaissance.” Small houses - the places that have produced the best brandy I’ve consumed over the last year - are thinning. I fear that the the slowly changing landscape will chip away at the elements which currently make brandy the best pound-for-pound spirit on the market (rum and mezcal are not far behind). The increase in contract distilling due to big-house demand...the consolidation of vineyards...the cellar clearing and blending of liquid antiquities by big-houses...the end of legacy's all part of a death by a thousand tiny cuts. I wonder if parallels can be drawn to other spirits? Hmmm...

Anyways, this review is of a bottle that potentially screams “golden age brandy” at you, the “Mars” Domaine de Pouchegu for K&L Wines. Domaine de Pouchegu is a small house armagnac producer. The details of this bottle are provided on the K&L site, which is linked below; David OG has a very nice and informative write-up. Unfortunately, the distiller, Pierre Laporte, passed away in 2013. One thing to note about this bottle is that the spirit, which is a distinguished 38 years old, was aged entirely in new oak.

Onto the review...

Nose: graham cracker, Hershey chocolate, rose petals, a hint of gourmet black licorice, and oak...a lot of oak.

Palate: dark, rich, and dense...this is a flavorful spirit. Oaky flavors and tannins jump right out, and behind the woody veil are a bunch of other tasty notes like blood orange, rum raisin, vanilla, coffee creamer, and a ton of other nuanced things I’m probably missing.

Finish: it has a real nice length and depth - it doesn’t last forever but it doesn’t leave after the first act, either...I'll say its medium-long???

Thoughts: I want to reiterate this is dark, rich, and dense (that could be a title to an Ohio Players song, I dunno). A word of caution here: you better be a woodchuck if you plan on snagging a bottle of this. The oak is very in-your-face. With that said, if you like chewing on toothpicks (I do), you might really like this bottle. I’m not oak-sensitive if that helps with interpreting this review. I primed the palate with the Lincoln Road L’Encantada “Le Freche” (A minus grade), and side-by-side, I slightly prefer the Mars - it’s richer, a tad more concentrated, and feels more mature. With that said, I don’t think the Mars deserves a better grade than the Le Freche. Instead, I’m giving the Mars the same grade. I guess all “A minuses” are not the same, which incidentally is something I learned while working as a teaching assistant in college. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Jean-Luc Pasquet L'Esprit de Famille "Le Cognac de Bernadette" 44.8%

Following up from the earlier JLP “Jean” review, here is a review of the “Bernadette,” the other fall special release by JLP. Below is the story on the Bernadette:

Le Cognac de Bernadette

In 1974, Bernadette Grimaud took over her father’s Bouteville, Grande Champagne vineyards.This bottle contains 500 milliners of a barrel of the eaux-de-vie that she distilled from her very first grape harvest that same year. At the time, she worked 15 hectares of Ugni Blanc vines. During her career as a wine-grower and distiller she went on to add three more hectares to the vineyards she inherited from her father, Gabriel, who, likewise, had followed in his own father’s footsteps.

Pierre Grimaud, Bernadette’s grandfather, had come to the Charente from the neighboring Deux-Sèvres department with his four brothers, in order to repopulate the Cognac region after the Phylloxera crisis forced many farmers off their land. In addition to tending his livestock, Pierre decided to replant grafted vines. The vineyards flourished and when Gabriel, Pierre’s son and Bernadette’s father, took the reins of the family business, he installed a pot still shortly after World War II. The 15 hectoliter still, modern for the time thanks to the auger system supplying the charcoal pellets to burn, is the one Bernadette used her entire career. Having no heir, she turned to a young Bouteville wine-grower to pick up where she left off.

Bernadette was a pioneer for women in cognac. Her mark remains in the finesse of the flavors contained in this bottle. The result of a manual harvest, native-yeast fermentation, small-pot still distillation, and maturation in a single cask until 2018, this cognac is remarkably elegant.

Another great story and one thing of particular worth noting: this was distilled by a woman. The spirits industry tends to be a bit masculine and dominated by men seizing their family heritage and following their grandpappies traditions of making booze...seldom do we hear about a daughter taking over the means of production from her father. The gender landscape in spirits is definitely changing and women the likes of Rachel Barrie and Marianne Barnes are taking the helm of production at well known distilleries. But the keyword in the previous sentence is “changing.” Historically, there are not many stories about women being involved in the production process of spirits. That’s not the case with the the JLP Bernadette, which from my perspective makes this bottle pretty remarkable.

Lets put ‘Ole Bernadette's first swing at distillation under the microscope and see if she retained what she learned from her father…

Nose: sweet sugar candies jump out right away, including Smarties and Pixie Sticks...a bunch of citrus fruits including tangerines and grapefruits...nectarines show up, too...then there are some sweet floral qualities, too, like lilacs and honeysuckle...some muted blueberry underneath all of that.

Palate: it starts with less-citrusy citrus fruits, such mandarins...then melons (honeydew), nectarines, orange liqueur, vanilla, and a final rich, tannic-earthy thing I can’t put my finger on (horse saddle?)...It’s not too tanic or woody though, not at all, and the overall spirit is incredibly balanced and bright...the alcohol is almost non-existent, but that doesn't mean there is a lack of flavor - this is a great, complex's something I can just let sit on the tongue and slowly drip into the back of my throat while the waves of flavor just keep crashing over my palate.

Finish: it just goes, and goes, and goes...still ends with a nice bitter citrus note.

Thoughts: I love this bottle. I bought 4 more and might still need to get one or two more. It reminds me of the VT Tres Vieux Fins Bois (which I personally loved) but with a little more staying power...the finish and balance on this bottle gives it a slight edge, and since I gave the VT TV a A minus, the Bernadette gets an...

Grade: A

Vintage liquors and Cognac Expert have this in stock - definitely worth snagging at least one.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Jean-Luc Pasquet L'Esprit de Famille "Le Cognac de Jean" 49.6%

This fall, JLP released two different 500ml bottles sourced from casks they purchased. The stories that accompany these bottles are chock-full of French romanticism and family heritage - I love it. These days, so much gets lost in the wake of corporate spirits growth and acquisition, fictitious narratives about brand history, non-transparent sourcing, etc..."True" family stories about historical production and relationships, like the ones accompanying the "Jean" and "Bernadette," are fleeting. I like JLP - and what they bottle for that matter - and these releases are just another one of the reasons why I do.   

Here's the background straight from JLP:

Le Cognac de Jean is a blend of 1969 and 1977 eau-de-vie from Jean Biais, who was a fellow vintner, distiller, and our neighbor. 

Just after the Second World War Jean, who was originally from Cognac, married Mauricette Clavaud and began working with his father-in-law on the family’s Eraville property. Jean and Mauricette had about a dozen hectares of vines in Grande Champagne (Eraville) and Petite Champagne (Chateauneuf) as well as livestock in the beginning, but no distillery. Jean decided to install an eight hectoliter, wood and charcoal-burning pot still in 1960 and another 14 hectoliter one a couple of years later, after falling in love with the intricacies of the distillation process.

Jean was also passionate about the life of his village; he served on the mayor’s council for a number of years and founded the town social and hunting clubs. Beyond his involvement in his community, he was elected as the first president of the regional wine-growers’ union. He played an pivotal role, alongside Jean Brillet and Paul Hostaing, in negotiating the first contracts between vintners and the big cognac houses they supply. Since then, these agreements have become the norm.

After 40 years, Jean retired, leaving his 14 hectares of vines to his two daughters, Clairette and Josette, who continue to make cognac on the property today. Jean passed away in 2005 at the age of 84, but his legacy remains.

Our bottling of Le Cognac de Jean ties our two families together, and we are proud to pay tribute to our friend and neighbor. When Jean-Luc arrived in Eraville, it was Jean who welcomed him and helped guide him. Subsequently, Jean-Luc has aided Clairette in the cellars, actually blending these two vintages with her. This is a cognac of character, like the man who crafted it from grapes to eau-de-vie. Intensely spicy yet round, bursting with aromas of citrus, oak, and ginger, Le Cognac de Jean finishes in a warming black pepper fade.

Amazing! And with that, here is my take:

Jean-Luc Pasquet L'Esprit de Famille "Le Cognac de Jean" 49.6%

N: violets and red grapefruits initially - I'd call it an earthy citrusness - followed with some other sweet candy notes...with more air I just get more and more citrus (and some lemon)

P: there is some bitter citrus but it doesn’t pop as much as the nose (but its definitely not weak, either)...vanilla, sweet walnuts, rose petals, and a nice spicy/peppery quality...I’d call this farmy cognac but I heard someone describe this as "rustic" and I think that’s a better description

F: the citrus returns and then a final floral note bullies off all the other flavors resting on the palate...there’s nice length and no lack oomph

Thoughts: I like this and will pick up another bottle at some point. While it's not overly complex, it’s very tasty cognac and if you're a fan of brandies containing the notes I listed above you'll definitely dig this one. It actually reminds me of some of the good VT Petite Champagnes I've had. Overall, I like the JLP Tres Vieille a sliver more, so I'm giving the the JLP "Jean" a very solid...

Grade: B+

I'll review the second bottle from this series, the "Bernadette," shortly, but as a quick preview I'll mention that I immediately bought 4 more bottles of the Bernadette after trying it (and will probably buy one or two more)...It's a fantastic cognac and my first bottle is just about drained already. Both the Jean and Bernadette can currently be found at Cognac Expert and Vintage Liquors.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Vallein Tercinier Lot 89 Fins Bois for Maltbarn 51%

I’m excited that indie bottlers are looking more and more to cognac. Indie bottlers really pushed the envelope for scotch and they could do the same thing with cognac (if they take the right approach). Maltbarn is a great indie scotch bottler so it was nice to see them pick a VT.

Here are my notes...

Nose: caramel, candy apple, canned peaches, honeydew, and rice pudding

Palate: peaches and apricots...this is really fruity...plenty of vanilla, walnuts, and caramel...some light orange liqueur notes in the background

Finish: great length, has plenty of staying power

Thoughts: this was a great selection - I definitely wouldn’t mind having a few of these in the bunker. The flavors are well integrated and there is no astringency. It’s sold out now, unfortunately, but I bet VT is sitting on plenty of casks like this - seldom do they disappoint.

Grade: A minus

1994 Gilles Sarraute Bas Armagnac, 43.5%

1994 Gilles Sarraute The name on the label is Gilles Sarraute, but according to Astor Wines, the producer is Domaine Camille Sarraute. Ei...