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

June 1, 2014


The Sunday quest for malternatives,
a flight of great cognacs

We haven’t had any cognac yet in 2014, so it’s more than time to have a few, more or less at random. Shall we find more worthy malternatives? Let’s see…

Brillet ‘Réserve Extra’ (40%, OB, Petite Champagne, +/-2013)

Brillet ‘Réserve Extra’ (40%, OB, Petite Champagne, +/-2013) Three stars This one is around six years of age, and is a 'single cru', meaning it comes from only one vineyard. It's a cognac de propriétaire. Around 40 €. Colour: gold. Nose: it’s nicely aromatic and very raisiny, fresh, with notes of peaches, then a little menthol and camphor. Touches of grass as well, making it clean and balanced, without any fatness or excessive roundness. I also find oranges after one minute or two. Mouth: it’s a fruity one indeed, without any excessive caramel/honey, you name it. Tinned peaches, a drop of pineapple liqueur, juicy sultanas, oranges again… The body’s perfect, relatively light but without any weaknesses. Finish: medium length, with touches of oak and always this rather sexy fruitiness. Bits of tropical fruits. Comments: I think we’re well above most entry-level cognacs by the big houses (VS, VSOP). This session starts well! SGP:541 - 82 points.

Frapin 'Château de Fontpinot XO' (41%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2013)

Frapin 'Château de Fontpinot XO' (41%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2013) Three stars This is single estate and premier grand cru cognac by the famous and very well respected house of Frapin. Around 100 €. Colour: amber. Nose: styles are pretty similar, this one being just a little fatter and, as they say, more emphatic. A little rounder as well. Raisin cake, peach pie, plenty of flowers (dandelions, peonies) and a fine, pretty chiselled oakiness (gingerbread, vanilla, cloves). Small touches of earth as well. High quality nose for sure. Mouth: rich, more toffee-ed than the obviously younger Brillet, with bags of roasted raisins and nuts, a little tannic chestnut honey, then touches of pipe tobacco and raw oak. A little marmalade too. Good mouth feel, without any. Finish: of medium length, a little more tertiary, with a little rancio/umami (your pick) and a slightly drying aftertaste. Tannins. Comments: I tend to like the Brillet’s freshness a little better, but on the other hand, this one’s rather more complex. So, same score if you don’t mind. SGP:641 - 82 points.

Meukow XO (40%, OB, blended cognac, +/-2013)

Meukow XO (40%, OB, blended cognac, +/-2013) Two stars and a half Not too sure about the golden tiger on the bottle. Which country was it designed for? Yes, I know… Around 125 €. Colour: amber. Nose: certainly pleasant at first nosing, but it hasn’t got the Frapin’s ‘immediacy’, and is also rather more vinous and grassy. Lees, leaves… Having said that, it’s also more and more floral, with whiffs of lis and iris, even lilies of the valley. So, it’s a rather floral and grassy one, I would say. Mouth: the oak feels a bit in the arrival, with some chocolate and cinnamon, then rather prunes and raisins. Cake. Develops more on strawberry and plums jams, with the oak’s spices well present. Some mint. The cinnamon is very obvious. The mouth feel is a little thin. Finish: medium length, a bit grapey and tannic. There’s a little leather too. Comments: very fine, but its suffering after the lovely – and cheaper - Brillet and Frapin. SGP:451 - 78 points.

Ragnaud Sabourin 'Fontvielle Alliance No. 35' (43%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2013)

Ragnaud Sabourin 'Fontvielle Alliance No. 35' (43%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2013) Three stars A single estate cognac that blends ugni blanc and folle blanche. Premier cru of course, and XO. Around 100 €. Colour: amber. Nose: pretty much the style of the Frapin again, with an emphatic and very lively fruitiness. More oranges this time, then stewed peaches and mirabelles, a lot of orange blossom water, then a pretty delicate oakiness (rosewood, perhaps) and drops of maple syrup and honey on top of the obligatory sultanas. Sounds sexy? It is. Mouth: starts a little tannic and gritty, as well as slightly tea-ish, but what’s behind that is lovely, with the same kind of fruits. Having said that, I feel it does not quite match the Frapin on the palate. A little burnt sugar and raisins. Finish: slightly short. Oranges and nutmeg. Comments: bizarrely, it’s a little thinner despite the higher strength. Great cognac for sure, but as often, I’d have loved to be able to taste a version at a higher strength, if not cask strength. SGP:551 - 80 points.

And now, heavier hitters!...

Tiffon 'Grande Champagne' (43%, OB, +/-2010?)

Tiffon 'Grande Champagne' (43%, OB, +/-2010?) Four stars and a half A very ‘modest’ bottle but a very old cognac inside, some sources claim that it’s 75 years old, while others rather talk about 30 years. Not too sure, the web being the web… Anyway, let’s try it. Colour: deep amber. Nose: ooh! It’s a luscious, rather fragrant and extremely elegant one, starting with notes of high-end chocolate, honeydew, touches of camphor, then roses, ylang-ylang, then notes of well-taken-care-of old cigars, leather, cedar wood… Then some menthol arises, together with a little chartreuse and genepy… It noses old, but the freshness is really impressive. Mouth: it’s invading, in a good way. Very fruity and fresh, without all these caramely notes that younger and more commercial cognac can display. The rancio is obvious. Other than that, I find ripe greengages, raisins, a faint muscaty side, some cinnamon, some nutmeg, a touch of white pepper, more chocolate, honeydew again, ripe melons and apples… It’s all really excellent. Finish: maybe not very long, and a tad tannic now, but this menthol and the spiced oranges are really perfect. Honeyed aftertaste. It’s got an ‘old Macallan’ side. Comments: we’re bordering perfection, only the rather low strength, which imparts a slight weakness at some points, will prevent me from reaching the 90-mark. SGP:651 - 89 points.

Rémi Landier '40ème Anniversaire - Très Vieux Fins Bois' (45%, OB, Fins Bois, Lot No 73, 40 bottles, 2013)

Rémi Landier '40ème Anniversaire - Très Vieux Fins Bois' (45%, OB, Fins Bois, Lot No 73, 40 bottles, 2013) Five stars A very small batch of 'probably' 40 years old that may have been distilled in 1973 (lot numbers usually suggest vintages in cognac). Colour: deep gold. Nose: it’s straighter, simpler (not in a bad way at all) and more immediate. Focussed, I’d say. Chocolate, marmalade, roses, a little vanilla, a touch of earth and humus, a little butterscotch and shortbread, sultanas… What’s really impressive in this nose, rather than the aromas, is the perfect balance. Mouth: hurray! The 45% vol. really work, this has more oomph than all the others. There are funny touches of calvados, a welcome oiliness, even a slight roughness here and there that give it a pleasant ‘artisan’ feeling (fruit peelings), maybe touches of smoke, then stewed peaches, chestnut honey, a little candy sugar, a touch of liquorice and one or two grains of salt. You may ad a slice of candied pineapple. Finish: long, fruitier and not oakier, which is the opposite of what usually happens. What’s the trick? Candy sugar, orange zests, gingered chocolate, mints. Great freshness. Comments: we’re really talking now. SGP:651 - 90 points.

Vallein Tercinier 'Conjugaison 49' (46%, OB, Grande Champagne, 2013)

Vallein Tercinier 'Conjugaison 49' (46%, OB, Grande Champagne, 2013) Five stars I still remember Vallein Tercinier's Lot No. 65 that really blew my mind last year (WF 95). This version of Conjugaison 49 – there were several - was bottled last year at cask strength, and is a blend of two vintages, 1949 and 1922 (the latter in smaller quantities). Colour: dark gold. Nose: another one that starts a bit like a very old calvados. You can feel it’s very old, because there’s more earth, more mushrooms, more humus than in all the others. Musty old wood, old wine barrels, a touch of metal (old tin box), asparagus soup… Then rather cigars, chutneys, peaches and apricots, a touch of clay, laterite after a heavy shower, hints of rhubarb pie… The complexity is totally amazing, even if this oldie’s less ‘immediate’ than the glorious Lot 65. Mouth: starts a little woody and drying, but that doesn’t last as a huge basket of tropical fruits is appearing. Guavas, papayas, grapes, oranges, even bananas… There’s also quite some cinnamon and cedar wood, cider apples (this calvados side again), allspices, tobacco… Finish: a tad drying, I have to say. Apple peelings, cinnamon… Comments: maybe it’s a tad too tannic at times, but the fruits manage to lift that, which is amazingly spectacular. Maybe not totally on par with the 1965, but the complexity is fantastic. Same score as the great Rémi Landier. SGP:661 - 90 points.

And a very last one…

Vallein Tercinier 'Grand Rue 34' (42%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2012)

Vallein Tercinier 'Grand Rue 34' (42%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2012) Five stars This little baby should have been distilled in 1934 (great vintage for wine!) and was almost 80 years old at time of bottling. It’s older than the oldest whiskies I’ve ever tried (G&M’s 70 yo Mortlach and Glenlivet). Cask strength again, of course. As for its price, it’s only around 650 €, which is insane when seen from Scotland. Colour: amber. Nose: you see, these good people bottle their spirits when they think they’re ready. This one was ready for sure, but believe me, there isn’t the slightest feeling of ‘too old’. It’s actually less oaky than the 49, it’s fresher, it’s fruitier, it’s more delicately herbal, and it’s simply a miracle in a bottle. Fab floral notes, superb tropical fruits, magnificent soft spices, everything’s there. I won’t list all aromas, but there’s one funny note that arises after a few minutes, a mix of cannabis and propolis. Not unlike walking in a park in San Francisco or in Amsterdam’s most touristy streets ;-). Don’t worry, that’s only small touches… Mouth: once again, it’s the oak that comes out first, and once again, the fruits are soon to balance that tannicity. Big notes of oranges and pink grapefruits, guavas, then menthol, pinesap and aniseed, a faint feeling of absinth, earl grey tea… Actually, it tastes more and more like first quality earl grey. Terrific. Finish: surprisingly long at just 42% vol., but then again, 42% at cask strength and 42% after reduction aren’t quite the same thing. Oranges and cinnamon, a little extra-dry manzanilla or Madeira, tiny touches of mustard in the aftertaste... Comments: one existential question, doesn’t cognac, and brandy in general, age better than whisky? I haven’t got the answer… SGP:651 - 93 points.

Phew, that was some epic session. Amost all cognacs we had today were worthy malternatives, but let’s be honest, I did not pick them totally at random ;-).

(With many thanks to Johnny and Michal)







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