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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

November 15, 2013


Malternatives, a bag of 33 cognacs
(thank you Zuckerberg)

After quite some rums, tequilas and mezcals, I thought it was about time we tried to find a few more malternatives in cognac. I had gathered thirty-three of them from various houses (many famous houses are missing, though) including a few intruders, and so decided to have them all, in three large sessions, the whole being then published in three chunks, so on three different days. Yeah right, and then I had the stupid idea to ask our friends on WF's little Facebook page whether it wouldn't be a better idea to publish everything at once, since after all, this is whiskyfun, not cognacfun (by the way, the Interprofession du Cognac - so not the malt maniacs - have started the 'cognac maniacs' in 2010, how smart was that?) Vox Populi, Vox Dei, they say, so as I mainly got answers such as 'go for the full monty', 'go the whole mile' or 'rip off the bandaid', well, here's the whole shebang! Wish me luck...


A bag of cognacs, part un

Yeah, malternatives, I have to say that every time I spot a 'new' price for some not even remotely interesting new Scotches (such as a 35yo Brackla in a miserable Franklin-Mint-decanter for £8,000), I feel the need to taste more of those malternatives. Mezcals, rums, armagnacs, calvados or, yes, cognacs. Just like Scotch, cognac can be rubbish, but just like Scotch, I'm sure it can be wonderful. The problem is that I do not know much about cognac (yes I'm French), so maybe the best and funniest way to build this little line-up would be to have these cognacs at random, whichever their prices, their theoretical ages or... the silliness of their decanters. In cognac too, it's a good thing ridicule never killed anyone.

Courvoisier VSOP (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Courvoisier VSOP (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) One of the Johnnie Walkers of cognac. Say Black Label. And one of the rappers' favourites, it seems. Colour: amber. Nose: raisins, honey, caramel and liquorice allsorts. Not repulsive at all but this is why I'm into whisky. Mouth: sweet, caramelly and coffeeish. Same feeling of liquorice allsorts, this time diluted in Kahlua. Too sweet for a Scotch drinker and even more so for this Scotch drinker, but it's probably acceptable. Having said, that the mouth feel is surprisingly big at 40% vol. Finish: long and seriously too sweet almost sickly sweet. That's a problem. Comments: I'm sure it's all fine but all this sweetness is not for us. SGP:820 - around 65 points.

Rémy Martin VSOP (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Rémy Martin VSOP (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Two stars This one by the new owners of Bruichladdich. Colour: amber. Nose: less 'expressive' than the Courvoisier and a tad grassier, while being less caramelly and smooth. It's a bit earthy as well, delicately mushroomy... So far, so good. Also notes of quince pie, which I enjoy. Mouth: very sweet as well but less so than Courvoisier. Less liqueury and syrupy for sure, one can find some distinct fruits such as melons and muscat grapes (not just liqueurs and syrups), but yes, it remains much too sweet for me. Finish: another one that's quite long but again, it's too sugary for my taste. Comments: I think it's all right. After all, this is no high-end cuvée. SGP:730 - around 70 points.


A. de Fussigny 'Supérieur Fine Cognac' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Two stars and a half Technically a VSOP, so aged for more than 5 years. It's a blend and I have to say I like the bottle. So much for Franklin Mint! Colour: amber. Nose: nicely peachy, maybe hinting more at cognac de propriétaire (estate cognac). It's even less honeyed/caramelly than the Rémy, but there are notes of caramelised apples, tarte tatin and such. Maybe a little calvadossy? Mouth: ah yes, it's not one of these cloyingly sweet cognacs. Sure it's sweet, but there's also 'chiselled' fruits, apples, pears, peaches... These earthy touches again as well, a little mint, a little grass... Not the same level for sure. There's more terroir, if you will. Finish: quite long, fruity and grassy. The absence of any feeling of sugariness (how circumlocutory, S.!) is great news. Comments: no big thrill but another level than the big commercial houses'. SGP:541 - around 78 points.

And already an intruder...

Ararat 10 yo 'Akhtamar' (40%, OB, Armenian brandy, +/-2013)

Ararat 10 yo 'Akhtamar' (40%, OB, Armenian brandy, +/-2013) Two stars I've informally tried a few Armenian brandies last month, including this baby, and I must say I've been positively surprised. Colour: amber. Nose: it's probably a little rougher than the Fussigny but there's more happening than in the two previous ones. For example, there is a little smoke, some menthol and touches of putty that add dimension. As far as fruits are concerned, I rather find cassis and the expected raisins. Mouth: this baby has no cause to be jealous of the previous cognacs. It may have a little too much sugar again but it's not molassy and it's got this very pleasant jamminess that would involve blackcurrants again as well as dates and figs. Finish: not very long and maybe a little molassy now. Or a tad sluggish. Comments: it's less complex than the Fussigny and loses points because of that, but it's high quality brandy, no doubt about that. SGP:720 - around 76 points.

And while we're dealing with intruders...

Gran Duque d'Alba (40%, OB, brandy de Jerez, +/-2013)

Gran Duque d'Alba (40%, OB, brandy de Jerez, +/-2013) one star and a half This sherry brandy is made by Williams & Humbert. I wasn't too fond of their rums, the Dos Maderas, but I've drunk some excellent manzanilla from this House. Colour: deep amber. Nose: what I like in this is the fact that it smells just like some old sherry. There are walnuts, mushrooms, some tobacco, a seasidy side (ha!), a little putty, raisins... Sadly, there's also too much oak, pencil shavings and such. Now, there's also a nice camphory side. The jury's still out. Mouth: quite. The oak's too apparent for me, and the slightly muscaty side doesn't cope with that too well. It's also too sweet again - I mean, too sweet for me, but on the other hand, the big notes of orange and walnut cake are very pleasant. It's hard to make up my mind. Finish: short, this time. Sweet. Comments: a well made spirit but again and again (and again), the sweetness prevents it from becoming a worthy malternative in my opinion. The Armenian worked better. SGP:730 - around 68 points.

Meanwhile, back at our ranch in Cognac... I think we won't climb up the cognacqy ladder just now and rather have a few more VSOPs before tackling the super-mega XOs and out-of-ages. Who knows, maybe we'll find some worthy malternatives at the smaller houses? Or at the larger ones ?

Landy VSOP (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Landy VSOP (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Two stars I think Landy is a brand by Cognac Ferrand. It's a blend of Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Fins Bois. Colour: amber. Nose: much less vinous than the brandy de Jerez, less smooth and certainly spicier. I also find quite a lot of vanilla, which gives it a modern side, as well as apples and only a moderate honeyness. Rather subtle. Mouth: good stuff indeed. It's no big cognac and once again, there might be too much sweetness, but these sweet fruits and the jams made thereof work well. Strawberries, peaches... Finish: rather short, sweet, with just a touch of cloves. Comments: pretty harmless, honest, good quality cognac. SGP:730 - around 76 points.

Yeah, the VSOPs can be a little boring. I am bored actually, but what wouldn't we do for our common cause?...

Monnet VSOP (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Monnet VSOP (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Two stars and a half Colour: amber. Nose: more presence and a bigger Calvadossy side, which means more raw apples and maybe also more honey, especially our beloved chestnut honey. There's also a little leather and nuts, as well as touches of pencil shavings - but not as much as in the Grand Duke, mind you. Mouth: a bigger, slightly fatter body than with all the previous cognacs. Nuts again, some oak, a curious maltiness, some honey... Did I mention nuts? Finish: rather short, with a little caramel over baked apples. And roasted peanuts. Comments: very all right and maybe better balanced than others. No more, no less. Reminds me of some recent Macallans, I don't know why. SGP:640 - around 78 points.

Game for more VSOP? I'm not, but since you insist...

Croizet VSOP (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Croizet VSOP (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Two stars and a half Colour: amber. Nose: caramel! Honey! Maple syrup! The good news is that there's also some tobacco, some leather, herbal teas... There's especially some earl grey, I swear... And cut grass. It's a subtle nose, let's only hope there's less sweetness on the palate... Mouth: no, it's nice, it's balanced and fairly complex, with again this 'Macallan' feeling. Raisins and figs plus touches of tobacco and leather as well as a little earth. This baby's really all right. Finish: short and not too sweet. A saltiness and some liquorice in the aftertaste. Comments: all pretty good, I think it's a well-composed cognac. I'd like to try this at cask strength. SGP:641 - around 79 points.

Let's climb one level and have some VSOP 'special cuvées', this should work better...

ABK6 VSOP 'Grand Cru' (40%, OB, +/-2013)

ABK6 VSOP 'Grand Cru' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Three stars This is a modern house. ABK6 reads Abecassis in French, which is the name of the owners, but of course that doesn't work in other languages. Why it's a 'grand cru', I don't quite know. Colour: amber. Nose: ah yes! It's almost the first time that the first thing that reaches your nostrils isn't a blend of honey and caramel. I rather find melons and apricots, with some praline, a little grass, glazed chestnuts and sultanas. Always quite light, thanks to the dreaded 40% vol., but this one does raise my interest. Mouth: very good, much closer to the grape, to the soil and to the (nice) oak. Feels less 'fiddled' than others, it's fresh, fruity, lively... I like this one. Finish: shortish again, but the fruits and the grass are pleasant. Comments: remains a light spirit but it's the first time we manage to go beyond 80 points. Recommended (if I may). SGP:551 - around 81 points.

Hine VSOP 'H by Hine' (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Hine VSOP 'H by Hine' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Two stars and a half A modern blend of Grande and Petite Champagne that 'may be used in cocktails' according to the owners. Always scary, but who knows? Hine is big in the UK, they've recently done these famous duelling obelisks with Glenfarclas (1953 - that one was good!) Colour: amber. Nose: not much happening and that's an understatement. A wee smokiness, maybe some oranges, probably some leather and possibly some leather. Hello? Mouth: ah, now we're talking! Not that it's particularly rich or complex, but there's more oomph than in most others and I enjoy these raisins and caramelised apples. Nice easy palate. Finish: not too short (hurray) and pleasantly fruity. Apple pie, orange cake, a little earth. Comments: that's strange, there was almost nothing in the nose but the palate was pretty oomphy. SGP:551 - around 79 points.

All right, that's more than enough. I'm afraid we haven't found any real malternative today, but we've got a lot of cognac yet to taste... Wait, unless we choose a very last one, while making sure it's going to be a great one. Maybe this baby?...

Très Vieux Cognac 'Lot No. 65 brut de fût' (57.7%, OB, Famille Vallein-Tercinier, 2010)

Très Vieux Cognac 'Lot No. 65 brut de fût' (57.7%, OB, cognac, Famille Vallein-Tercinier, 2010) Five stars This baby's actually a 1965, so 45 years old. And yes, it was bottled at cask strength. Colour: amber. Nose: oh! It's another world, another galaxy, another paradigm (no kiddin'?) We'll keep this short and sweet but there's some precious woods, around an old humidor and the interior of a 1960 Jag (pff...), some chocolate, these old pu-ehr teas that we love so much, some leaves, humus and porcinis, unlit cigars, fresh mint... What's even more amazing is that a second wave of lighter and fresher aromas is coming, with tropical fruits (mangos for sure), some white chocolate, ripe apricots, these peaches that we often find in cognac... This is cognac! With water: a blend of old Yquem with old Pinot Gris Rangen DZH, really. Astounding. Mouth (neat): I often wrote that old spirits tend to converge and this is another example. A stunning combination of fruits (all of them) with soft spices and chocolates plus a leathery touch, some tobacco, and drops of cough syrup. Only a little rancio but frankly, who cares? The closest similar whisky I could think of would be a late-1960s Karuizawa. With water: please call the anti-cognacporn brigade! Amazing, wormwood, aniseed, passion fruits, verbena, mint, camphor... Truly a masterpiece. Finish: long, incredibly fresh and complex at the same time. Blood oranges, litchis... Comments: one of the greatest spirits I could try in 2013, but 2013 isn't over yet. This isn't malternative, it's superlative and would probably beat fair and square all the Scotches that they (try to) sell for twenty times the price of this utterly glorious spirit. SGP:762 - around 95 points. (and thanks for the tip, Dieter!)

PS: just had a nice chat with a friend about 'transcendental' spirits. I'd say they're Mozartian. Remember Sacha Guitry: "When you listen to Mozart, the silence that follows is still Mozart." Same with that old cognac, long after the end of the end of the finish.

A bag of cognacs, part deux

Let's simply go on with our cognacs, part 1 could be a little boring at times but we also unearthed a magnificent 1965 by Vallein-Tercinier that would send many new very bling and shamelessly pompous Scotches back to the school of aged spirits...

Camus VSOP 'Elégance' (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Camus VSOP 'Elégance' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Two stars and a half This is not an expensive cognac. I enjoyed the three 'Ile de Ré' by Camus but this VSOP should show less character. Colour: amber. Nose: it's a smooth, very raisiny cognac. Also touches of yellow peaches and orange blossom water, then more sultanas again as well as the obligatory caramel. Keyword: easy. Mouth: fine, sweet and fruity, maybe a tad sour at times (sour apples). A little vanilla, orange zests... There's also enough body to make it acceptable as far as, well, body's concerned. Finish: medium length, just a tad acrid and grapy. After all, this is distilled wine! Comments: honest and loyal, not too sugary. SGP:650 - around 78 points.

I think we're done with the VSOPs, unless we have a go at another Armenian intruder...

Pearl of Armenia 'VSOP' (40%, OB, Armenian brandy, +/-2013)

Pearl of Armenia 'VSOP' (40%, OB, Armenian brandy, +/-2013) Colour: deep gold. Nose: probably not as interesting as the Ararat we had the other day, and probably more marked by burnt wood and caramel. What's pleasant is this mentholated side, there's even a little eucalyptus. Also traces of molasses and lastly, an avalanche of overripe apples. Some rotten. Mouth: a bit flat and frankly too liqueury and sugary. It's not that the profile is wrong, quite the contrary - and I like caramelised apples - but something is missing. Flattish. Finish: very short. Comments: this baby's akin to some very sweet rums. Not my style. SGP:830 - around 55 points.

Let's try another Armenian...

Cognac Black Line 10 yo 'Golden XO' (40%, OB, Armenian brandy, +/-2013)

Cognac Black Line 10 yo 'Golden XO' (40%, OB, Armenian brandy, +/-2013) Two stars This one comes with gold flakes inside. Soon at Dalmore's too? Oh and it's still using the word 'cognac' but of course cognac is an appellation contrôlée. Well it should be controled. Colour: amber with dancing gold flakes ;-). Nose: the problem is that this nose is very nice, with some Muscovado sugar, some overripe apples (not rotten this time), oranges, some kind of smoked honey and certainly quite some raisins, figs and dates. Very nice balance. Mouth: sure it is a little too sweet and sugary, in short too liqueury, but that kind of works. Strong mead? Actually tastes like baklavas and other oriental pastries. Finish: not too long and probably too honeyed, but it's clean. A little liquorice and cloves in the aftertaste. Comments: fine, far from the junk I had thought it would be (partly because of the gold flakes). SGP:821 - around 75 points.

Pierre Ferrand 'Réserve Grande Champagne 1er Cru' (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Pierre Ferrand 'Réserve Grande Champagne 1er Cru' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Four stars As it says, this is 100% Grande Champagne. BTW you'll find the word champagne at many places in France as it simply used to mean campagne/countryside in old French. Colour: deep gold. Nose: a lot happening in this one, and it's not ridden with smoothness like other more commercial ones. I especially find various raisins (Corinth, sultanas, muscats) and lovely notes of pear pie with butter and 'natural' caramel. Also a little sea air, which is great. Mouth: very nice arrival on pears and apples, maybe a tad too light again because of the 40% vol (and no added sugar?) but I rather love these oranges, the little metallic touches, the notes of orange pekoe tea... Excellent! Finish: a little short 'as usual with cognacs' but clean and pleasantly fruity. Maybe also a little thyme? Comments: just excellent. This would win over many whisky hearts at 45 or 46% vol. instead of just 40. SGP:651 - around 85 points.

While we're at Ferrand's...

Pierre Ferrand 'Sélection des Anges Grande Champagne 1er Cru' (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Pierre Ferrand 'Sélection des Anges Grande Champagne 1er Cru' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Three stars and a half Colour: dark amber. Nose: richer and more luscious, kind of fatter, with more tropical fruits this time. Blood oranges, ripe mangos... There are also slightly heady flowers, peonies, roses, then more sappy honey (dew) and we're back on blood oranges. Very expressive and probably quite old. Mouth: less differences with the Réserve, I had feared it would be a little cloying after the big nose but it isn't. Linzertorte, raspberry and strawberry jams, orange marmalade, mangos again... The oak's a little more present too, it's slightly gritty. Great balance. Finish: not very long, once again. I think it's the main flaw with these excellent cognacs, they lack oomph. Comments: all excellent but from a whisky drinker's POV, the simpler Réserve was maybe a little more, well, malternative. SGP:641 - around 84 points.

Jean Fillioux 'Cigar Club' (40%, OB, +/-2012)

Jean Fillioux 'Cigar Club' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2012) Three stars and a half This is a Grande Champagne again. This cuvée was composed to match cigar smoking, just like quite a few Scots did in the past. I usually found those too cloyingly thick and woody. Colour: amber. Nose: I was wrong, this no thick and fattish cognac. It's actually elegant, it's sitting somewhere between both Ferrands as far as styles are concerned. Bags of raisins, oranges, a mild caramel, some honey and touches of cinnamon, then touches of moss and pine needles that lift it further up. A little earth too. Mouth: almost the same cognac as Ferrand's Sélection des Anges, really. Maybe just a little more oaky spices - to go with your puro? Aniseed? Finish: once again it's a little short. Honey sauce and prunes, fruitcake, a little ginger... Comments: excellent again, but we want higher strengths! SGP:641 - around 84 points.

They heard us, here's one at 42% vol...

Jean Fillioux' La Pouyade' (42%, OB, +/-2013)

Jean Fillioux' La Pouyade' (42%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Four stars A vieille Grande Champagne so a 1er Cru again. Vieille (old) means fairly young, or they'd write 'very old'. This is a single domaine cognac. Colour: gold. Nose: a lighter, grassier style, without the fruity munificence that could be found in the Cigar Cub or in the Ferrands, but this drier balance is quite perfect so far. Grass, apple peelings, walnuts, almonds, more apples, grapes, plums, earth... Mouth: fruitier, quite zesty, very fresh and pretty citrusy. Tangerines and oranges with a little grass and marzipan. I love the fact that there's no caramelly side this time. Finish: a little short but fresh and citrusy. Comments: very likeable, fresh and void of any stuffy sugary/caramelly notes. A worthy malternative for sure, and it's not expensive (around €40). SGP:641 - around 85 points.

Rémi Landier 'Napoléon' (40%, OB, +/-2011)

Rémi Landier 'Napoléon' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2011) Three stars and a halfThis one is a blend of Fins Bois and Petite Champagne. Landier is a very well reputed family house. Napoléon is similar to XO, meaning that the younger component must be 6 years old, or more of course. Colour: amber. Nose: it's a well-rounded nose, with stewed peaches, quinces and pears and a mild honeyness. Touches of muscovado sugar, maybe a little grenadine and probably a few raspberry sweets. Mouth: pretty smooth, starting with the same raspberries and cooked fruits, while the oak's a little more apparent. Oranges as well - and once again no caramel and no sugary feeling. Hurray! Finish: not that short this time, rather more herbal and spicy. Liquorice wood. Comments: all good, I'd say. Quality 'family' cognac for sure. SGP:651 - around 83 points.

Let's have another Landier and we're done for today...


Rémi Landier 'Vieille Réserve' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2011) Three stars and a half This one's technically an X.O., is 100% Fins Bois and is more than fifteen years old. We'll also have a very old Fins Bois by Landier in the third - and last - cognac session. Colour: amber. Nose: relatively light, with some marzipan and little touches of star anise, then the same kinds of stewed fruits as in the Napoléon, that is to say mainly quinces and apples. Also honeysuckle and again some raspberries and grenadine. Mouth: fresh and light, on more or less the same flavours. Chiefly red berries and oranges. A little icing sugar, which is very pleasant. A light fruity style which is very enjoyable. Finish: quite short, clean, fresh and fruity. A little oak too. Comments: it's older yet fruitier and fresher than the Napoléon. Qualities are similarly high in my opinion. SGP:651 - around 83 points.

A bag of cognacs, part trois

Our last cognac session this year. We'll have had more than thirty of them in this little series, but of course that's not enough to get a good picture of the whole scene. Ah well, we'll keep trying but I think we'll first have a large bag of Amargnacs, before Christmas if all goes well... In the meantime, let's have more cognac...

Croizet XO (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Croizet XO (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Three stars Croizet's VSOP was pretty okay, the XO should be bigger. It's more than 10 years old and a blend of Grandes Champagnes. Colour: amber. Nose: very perfumy at first nosing, with distinct whiffs of roses that make it a little gewurztraminery (!) Other than that, there are oranges and zests as well as a little cinnamon and maybe a little mild curry powder. A rather fresh and easy nose, pleasantly light.  Mouth: nice, fruity, sweetly spicy, not caramelly. Triple-sec, blood oranges, red peaches and touches of cinnamon and vanilla. Maybe Turkish delights? Light body. Finish: shortish again, now with a little caramel. Cointreau. Comments: a good assemblage, easy, light and fruity. SGP:640 - around 82 points.

Merlet 'Assemblage No.1' (45.2%, OB, Sélection Saint Sauvant, 2013)

Merlet 'Assemblage No.1' (45.2%, OB, Sélection Saint Sauvant, cognac, 2013) Four stars Merlet is a domaine that's also famous for their fruit liqueurs and crèmes. According to LMDW, this blend gathers 10yo Petite and Grande Champagne as well as Fins Bois 1992 and 2001 plus some older Petite Champagne (1993). Phew! Colour: gold. Nose: it's more austere than all the others, and maybe the grassiest too. Maybe that's the higher strength that kind of kills the aromas, so it's whispering a bit but what comes through seems to be great, around Seville oranges and ripe nectarines or red peaches. Also touches of roses, which isn't very uncommon in Cognac, it seems, and a very thin slice of gingerbread. Good, I know we've been complaining about the low strengths of most of the others, but let's try to ad a few drops of water. With water: that unlocked more honey and sweet wood. Cedar wood? Also more cinnamon. Mouth (neat): very good, punchy, quite in the same style as the Croizet XO, only with more body and oomph. Crystallised oranges, peaches, cinnamon cake, baklavas... Also drops of cough syrup, maybe, some liquorice... No water is needed this time. Finish: pretty long this time (hurray!) with more honey, plums, raisins and gingerbread. Or speculoos? Earthier aftertaste. Comments: excellent. I wouldn't say some aromas really stand out but the fullness and 'compactness' are pretty impressive. I'm dead sure that bottling at a higher strength would improve many wishy-washy cognacs. SGP:551 - around 86 points.

Hey, shouldn't we fly back to Armenia? Intruders are always welcome...

Pearl of Armenia 'XO' (40%, OB, Armenian brandy, +/-2013)

Pearl of Armenia 'XO' (40%, OB, Armenian brandy, +/-2013) Two stars We had little luck with the 'VSOP' but maybe this XO will be more to our liking? At least, they write 'brandy' and not 'cognac'. Colour: dark amber. Nose: funny! This is balsamic and terpenic like no other, with some old-style cough mixture, some tar, some kind of sauce with a lot of raisins and even some smoke. Burning manure? Maybe a little Swiss cheese as well? Intriguing and even kind of pleasant, I have to say, but the truth usually lies on the palate... Mouth: yes, fun! Very ripe fruits, cold mulled wine, bags and bags of raisins, a molassy/rummy side and again these terpenic touches. Cough medicine mixed with raspberry and orange liqueurs. Or something like that... Finish: not that short, not caramelly, quite fruity. Especially the aftertaste is pretty attractive, fruity and jammy. Comments: a good surprise, this one is really... funny! Well made. SGP:850 - around 75 points.

I kind of liked that funny one, let's have another Armenian. No, no more Armenians after this one...

Ararat 20 yo 'Nairi' (40%, OB, Armenian brandy, +/-2013)

Ararat 20 yo 'Nairi' (40%, OB, Armenian brandy, +/-2013)Two stars and a half The Ararat 10 yo was quite excellent, this should be even better. Colour: dark amber. Nose: this could simply be a good cognac, no doubt about that. Very nice combination of ripe peaches, honey, raisins and prunes (that would be more armagnacqy), with a little tar just like in the Pearl of Armenia XO. Also overripe red fruits, on the verge of rotting but not quite. I really like this nose. Mouth: this time it starts a little grappa-ish, it's a bit more 'marc' than 'fine' (distilled spent grapes rather than wine or lees). That means that there's a welcome grassiness, some walnuts, a little fir liqueur... Always this terpenic aspect. Quality spirit. Finish: rather long, quite grapy. Comments: no 'cognac-alike', certainly a very fine spirit. SGP:752 - around 79 points.

Remember the rather poor Grand Duque d'Alba? Why wouldn't we give Jerez another chance?...

Lepanto O.V. (36%, OB, brandy de Jerez, +/-2013)

Lepanto O.V. (36%, OB, brandy de Jerez, +/-2013) Two stars O.B. stands for Oloroso Viejo. This one is made by Gonzales Byass (where Dalmore source many casks for their finishings). Colour: dark amber. Nose: sherry! I mean, more sherry than spirit, with this musty, walnutty and slightly mustardy side that rather hints at fino or manzanilla than oloroso. Old wine cellar, old barrels... I have to say I enjoy this a lot, but the measly 36% vol. may become a problem on our palates... Mouth: what a shame and a pity. Such a lovely spirit, killed with/by water. Much too dry for a liqueur, much too light for a brandy or just any spirit. And yet, these mushrooms, walnuts, old woods, cigars, camphor, balsamic vinegar, leather... What a crying shame! Finish: short, but wonderful. Comments: I think I'll buy two palettes, redistill the whole, pour it at 65% vol. into an old hogshead and keep it in my cellar for a few years. Water really kills! What a shame... SGP:273 - around 70 points.

All right, a few more genuine cognacs and we're done...

Jean Fillioux XO 'So Elégantissime' (41%, OB, +/-2013)

Jean Fillioux XO 'So Elégantissime' (41%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Four stars Jean Fillioux's Pouyade and Cigar Club have been much to my liking, so we have deep expectations here. It's a Premier Cru, fully Grande Champagne. The decanter is nice too - not that I'm a sucker for decanters, as you may well know. Oh, and the price is fair and square: 100€. Colour: deep gold. Nose: subtle and complex! White flowers, acacia honey, various kinds of peaches (good cognacs have peaches, that's what I've learnt so far) and then many herbs and soft spices, star anise, wormwood, lemon balm and such. A little more straight oak after ten minutes, around cocoa and cinnamon. Mouth: good body (hurray!), with these peaches again, a slice of lemon pie and then quite some cinnamon. White chocolate or is that effect of the all-white label? What's absolutely true is that this is very elegant cognac, but I have to say that the extra-1% (41 vs. 40) don't make much difference, the middle is a little weak. Finish: quite short, but the combination of peaches, oranges, white chocolate and cinnamon works very well. Comments: I'd love to score this superb spirit higher, but once again, the low strength is a handicap (from a whisky lover's POV). SGP:651 - around 86 points.

Vallein-Tercinier 'Hors-d'Age' (42%, OB, +/-2013)

Vallein-Tercinier 'Hors-d'Age' (42%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Five stars Remember the mesmerising 1965 that we had the other day? That was the same house... Anyway, this one is another +/-90 to 100€ cognac, a blend of Petite and Grande Champagne, the younger being 40 years old! Should be good. Colour: dark amber. Nose: we're in old whiskies territories again. THIS is a malternative house. Between a 1966 Bowmore and a 1972 Caperdonich, only less expensive. Perfect tropical fruits, beehivy tones, damp earth, tangerines, camphor, eucalyptus... Everything is perfect in this nose. Mouth: a notch less impressive than on the nose, mainly because of the tannins that are flying here and there (maybe a little too much cinnamon) but other than that, it's perfect. Ripe red apples, butter pears, peaches (of course), a little rosewater, some 'nervous honey' (say white heather) and then some spicy gingerbread. This, at 46% vol.! Finish: good length (hurray), spicier. Oranges, cinnamon and white pepper. An earthy touch in the aftertaste. Comments: I had never heard of Vallein-Tercinier before September and it's a Swiss friend who drew my attention towards them. I think he's also their importer to Switzerland. Well, thanks again, Dieter! SGP:561 - around 90 points.

Let's resort to even heavier artillery now. I mean, even older artillery...


Rémi Landier 'Très Vieux Fins Bois' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Four stars A Fins Bois that's more than 40 years old. We're now in +/-250€ territories. Will the 40% vol. be a problem again? I hope not... Colour: full amber. Nose: subtle, complex, maybe a little shy... But it's very complex indeed, gathering touches (no big notes) of fruits, herbs, flowers and spices. At random, that would be the obligatory cinnamon, the no-less obligatory peaches, some fresh mint, oranges, vanilla, chocolate, tangerines, verbena, bananas (well, a half), black cherries, raspberries... And many others. No one takes over, which is great and typically old cognac in my experience (while sometimes, with old whiskies, one or two aromas tend to dominate the whole, like mangos, or honey). Mouth: rounder and smoother than the Vallein-Tercinier, a notch grapier too, more on cooked fruits. Less 'nervous' for sure. Heather honey, pineapple cake, overripe apricots, a little mint, strawberry jam, blackberries... Tends to become a little firmer as far as flavours are concerned, but the low strength is becoming a problem. Your/mine palate needs more zing and oomph. Frustrating. Finish: short, yet lovely. Piano solo rather than the Sun Ra Arkestra! Comments: a stunning cognac that suffers from its low strength on the palate. I think it should be streng verboten to reduce these old glories. SGP:551 - 87 points.

A.E. DOR 'Vieille Reserve N° 8' (47%, OB, +/-2005)

A.E. DOR 'Vieille Reserve N° 8' (47%, OB, cognac, +/-2005) A hors d'âge at a rather high strength for cognac. It is said to be 45 years old. We tried the probably-pre-phylloxera Réserve No. 9 back in 2010 and 'quite loved it'. I'll add that the available data about these bottlings are quite shady. Colour: amber. Nose: a lot of oak this time. This is quite raw, acrid, ultra-dry and, well, hard. I do not enjoy uebersmooth cognacs (nor any such spirits) but let's not exaggerate! This is like nosing a mix of cocoa powder, Jaegermeister and charcoal. Maybe water will help... No it doesn't. It became even drier. Mouth (neat): quite raw again, too grassy, with notes of new eau-de-vie that did not blend well with the wood. Kirsch? White 'cognac'? Not impressive so far when undiluted. With water: not quite. A piece of oak with a little sugar. Finish: long and acrid. A shame because one can feel some great fruits but they're just blocked by the oak. Comments: a massive disappointment. Something must have gone wrong at some stage. An accident? Of, forget about this one, scored only for the record. SGP:271 - around 50 points.

Hoirie Roger Vallade 1949 'Petite Champagne d'Archiac' (43%, OB, +/-1990?)

Hoirie Roger Vallade 1949 'Petite Champagne d'Archiac' (43%, OB, cognac, +/-1990?) Four stars Some artisan cognac made by a little winemaker in Brie-sous-Archiac, south of the city of Saintes. It's the first time I see this name (and label) and probably the last. It seems that this domaine does not exist as such anymore. BTW, in case you're wondering, in old French, 'hoirie' means 'heir'. Colour: amber. Nose: ah yes, it's a peachy one, with a wee artisan side indeed (raw apples, Calvados), then rather tropical fruits, towards papayas this time. Maybe crushed ripe strawberries too. Very pleasant and unexpectedly fresh. Oh, almost forgot to mention that this was a magnum, so that may have kept it fresher. Mouth: very good. Once again, there's a 'craft' feeling that's never to be found in the big houses' blends. No honeyed or caramelly notes, no vanilla, it's almost all raw fresh fruits. So, very orchardy, with peaches and apples, cherries and then only a little cinnamon that reminds us that this was aged in oak. Good body, it hasn't got that thinness that's sometimes frustrating elsewhere. Finish: quite long, always on fresh fruits. It's only towards the aftertaste that a little chocolate and caramel start to appear, together with more bitter tones. Comments: some excellent - and maybe a little raw - craft cognac from the old days. Would make a perfect 'fine à l'eau'. SGP:561 - around 85 points.

Cognac Vintage 1870 (bottled by Cockburn & Co of Leith & London, +/-1900)

Cognac Vintage 1870 (bottled by Cockburn & Co of Leith & London, cognac, +/-1900) Five stars The producer isn't known, and neither is the exact bottling date, but what seems to be sure is that this is pre-phylloxera according to the good Angus. In a way, it's proto-Scotch. The strength is unknown and I suppose it's early landed cognac, that it to say that it was mainly matured in the UK (yeah, either in Leith or in London). Colour: amber with bronze hues. Nose: this old baby is grapier than most others, and would be mistaken for some great armagnac by today's standards. Remember the grape varieties weren't the same in Cognac before that stupid bug destroyed almost all French vineyards. There's also prunes (armagnacqy indeed) and raisins, and after ten minutes or so, these camphory notes that seem to show up in many a great old aged spirit. And then it would just unfold on pipe tobacco, damp earth, furniture polish and a little wood smoke. All that is very perfect and despite the grapy side and the absence of oranges, this could as well be a very old Macallan. But then again... Mouth: some OBE now, unless the good Cockburn & Co of Leith & London have blended this cognac with a little old navy rum. There's much more tar and cough medicine than in post-war cognacs (that would be WWI), as well as a fatter, oilier and waxier mouth feel. There are fruits, of course, but those remind me more of rum indeed, big fat prunes, dried bananas, Corinth raisins... Now the grapes are coming to front after just one minute. Touches of old PX, Banyuls, sweet Madeira... And then honey. And chocolate. Old rancio (the grail in Cognac). Dare I say umami? Finish: long, but it may well not be the best part, everything is kind of jumbled and there's some sugar coming through. Ah, the good old days... Comments: superb but it lost a wee bunch of points at the finish. Anyway, many thanks, Angus, there were more aromas than taxes in France, which says long. I mean, a lot. Would love to see a label! SGP:662 - around 92 points.

As a matter of conclusion
In cognac as well, age seems to matter. Age is not obligatorily expressed in years, but age matters indeed. What's more, just like some rums, cognacs can be too sweet for a malt drinker, and just like some tequilas, they can be too weak or thin. The worst, no need to say, is cognac that's too young, too weak and too sweet. Also, the smaller houses and propriétaires seem to be doing better than the large brands, which is not obligatorily the case with Scotch in my opinion. Having said that, I think we found some wonderful malternatives, some being plain ueberscotches. These are my favourites that I would happily recommend:
Très Vieux Cognac 'Lot No. 65 brut de fût' (57.7%, OB, cognac, Famille Vallein-Tercinier, 2010) - WF 95
Vallein-Tercinier 'Hors-d'Age' (42%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) - WF 90
Rémi Landier 'Très Vieux Fins Bois' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) - WF 87
Merlet 'Assemblage No.1' (45.2%, OB, Sélection Saint Sauvant, cognac, 2013) - WF 86
Jean Fillioux XO 'So Elégantissime' (41%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) - WF 86
Pierre Ferrand 'Réserve Grande Champagne 1er Cru' (40%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) - WF 85
Jean Fillioux' La Pouyade' (42%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) - WF 85
As for the old bottlings, well, they were tasted 'for the record'. And yes, again, many houses and propriétaires are missing from my wee list, but remember this is only A la prochaine !

Vallein Tercinier
The house of Vallein-Tercinier in Chermignac







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