Cognac Week – Day 7: Ragnaud-Sabourin Fontvieille N° 35 (43%, Grande Champagne, 1er Cru du Cognac, Circa 2011)

Cognac Week LogoAlready the end of Master Quill’s Cognac Week. Not a carefully planned nor carefully picked bunch of Cognacs, but certainly a start of some sorts. I hope more Cognacs will grace these pages soon. So how was your first week of 2016?

We’ll end this week of Cognacs with another one from Ragnaud-Sabourin. Yesterday’s 20yo (20yo being the youngest component, and since age isn’t allowed…) was pretty good, so I’m having high hopes for this 35yo (again 35yo being…). There is also a Fontvieille N° 35 bottled by Marcel Ragnaud, but that is the same Cognac, with just a different brand name on it. I’ll explain. Once upon a time in the Ragnaud family there were two brothers, one called Marcel and one called Raymond. Both are not with us anymore. These two couldn’t work together and the family business was divided between the two. The daughter of Marcel, called Annie married a guy named Paul Sabourin who modernized the place. Both thought long and hard about a new brand name and they came up with Ragnaud-Sabourin. Marcel Ragnaud was their other “brand”, which they discontinued. Bye-bye daddy! Raymond is now another “house” altogether and a lot smaller than Ragnaud-Sabourin, focussing on quality. I will have to look into that someday.

De Fontvieille N° 35 is entirely Grande Champagne and consists of 60% of the Ugni Blanc grape variety and 40% of Folle Blanche and Colombard. By the way, somewhere between 30% and 40% of the harvest of these grapes are supplied to Hennessy and Remy Martin.

Ragnaud-Sabourin Fontvieille 35Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Niiiiice. Big, full of depth. At first tiny hints of paint and tar. Sounds horrible doesn’t it, but it’s great. Sweet fruits (Calvados and candied apples), dusty licorice and even some hints of cola and very faint honey. Actually both don’t stay around for too long. Licorice and old woody fruit. Hints of dried sweet basil (close to licorice), raspberries and even some floral notes, including dry flower-pot soil. This oozes old age. Old freshly waxed furniture. Clearly some wood, and hints of dry raisins. Very aromatic. It becomes somewhat more fruity and sweet when I hold my glass in my hand and warm it up a bit. However, these notes are quickly surpassed again by nice woody, dry and dusty notes, as it should be with a 35yo Cognac. This is more about excellent balance than complexity and it’s more about balance than huge development. Wonderful well-integrated nose.

Taste: Well balanced. Old sugary note combined with woody dryness. Again some short-lived tar and cinnamon. Some wood, dry leaves and burnt sugar. After that the fruity and candied fruit part comes to the front. I didn’t mention it at first on the nose but I should have, and I did eventually, because a fine apply note appears in the taste as well. Hints of old Calvados in the finish. Sweeter than I imagined, and not as complex as I thought a 35yo Cognac would be. Again well-balanced between the sweetness and the dryness of the wood. Notes of blackcurrants in the finish. The N° 20 I reviewed yesterday is also 43% ABV, but somehow this N° 35 seems lower in ABV. Smoother.

As with a lot of Cognacs the wealth seems to be in the nose. Stuff like this smells really, really nice. The taste, however, I honestly expected somewhat more. It seems to me there is more happening in the complexity department, in Single Malt Whisky than in Cognac. It’s hard to beat the smell of Cognac, but it seems that even after 35 years the complexity isn’t still there. Even after 35 years. Maybe Cognac should age even more for added complexity, or maybe the Cognac spirit has reached its top, or maybe is the ABV to blame? I don’t see a lot of cask strength Cognacs out there. Doesn’t that work or is that an idea that hasn’t caught on yet? Remember that Whisky used to be all about Blended Whisky, often bottled at 40% ABV, and look what happened to that drink over time. This makes me wonder where Cognac will be in ten year’s time. Will it evolve?

Still, this was a nice and enjoyable trip, and I have to try a lot more Cognacs to paint a better picture. Consider the musings above, as my first official thoughts about Cognac. Ask me again after a few years how I feel about them. This Ragnaud-Sabourin was the best Cognac I’ve encountered up untill now. I like it very much, but I wonder about the Cognacs that surpass this one…

Points: 88

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Cognac Week – Day 5: Martell XO (40%, Circa 2006)

Cognac Week LogoSo the Château Montifaud XO turned out to be 30yo and was really no dud even though it was “only” a Petite Champagne. Let’s break out some, at least great looking, XO from a big brand: Martell, one of the oldest houses that still exists. Martell was Founded in 1715 by Jean Martell. Jean was born in 1694 and hailed from the Island of Jersey, the largest channel island off the coast of Normandy. In the thirteenth century Jersey was lost to the Kings of England. Jean Martell died in 1753. The business was continued by his wife and later by his sons. The first Martell VSOP was created in 1831 and in 1912 Cordon Bleu saw the light of day. In contrast, this XO was only recently created in 2005!

The bottle looks like it was inspired by an entire museum of art. But the bottle shouldn’t be the reason we buy a Cognac now do we? No, we care about what’s inside. Inside is XO Cognac created from eaux de vie aged between 10 and 35 years old. The eaux de vie come from the Borderies, Grande Champagne but also Petite Champagne and Fins Bois. The Borderies is the most prestigious region, followed by Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and finally Bois Ordinaires and Bois Communs. The “lesser” the region, the bigger its size.

Martell XOColor: Dark orange brown.

Nose: Nice and beefy. Very fruity, but not as soft and smooth as I expected (again). Vanilla and cherries. Thick aroma. Sandalwood, toasted bread and laurel licorice. When smelled vigorously a small hint of dry elephant dung (never been to a zoo?) combined with licorice. Perfumy (woody notes from an eau de toilette) and very elegant. Dont drink this without at least a smoking jacket.

Taste: Thick and syrupy. Sugar water sweet, but much lighter than expected. Not very complex. A quick second sip, already shows some more. Paint and slightly acidic fruit. Syrupy feel with cherries and plain Sugar and burnt caramel. But all is happening in the beginning, so when we get to the finish, not al lot is happening anymore.

It actually tastes like a good cognac, alas one that has lost its stride a bit. Made on autopilot. Sure it has old elements, and sure it has a dark color. Sure it is nicely packaged. Not very practical though on my lectern. Just a shame this has a pretty weak finish, if you ask me. Its instant gratification, but nothing more durable. Good, very nice nose again, but actually I’m a bit disappointed. I wonder how the price of this compares to the Château Montifaud XO.

Points: 83

Cognac Week – Day 4: Château Montifaud XO (40%, OB, 1981/2011)

Cognac Week LogoJust like I promised yesterday, Today we’ll return to Château Montifaud, and this time we will have a look at their XO expression. (Extra Old). By law an XO should be at least 6yo, but again we see that Montifaud age their Cognacs longer than necessary. This XO is 30yo! In 2016 however law will be changed, and an XO should be 10yo, but I don’t think Montifaud will age their 30yo XO Cognac even longer, now the law will change. Just like the VS, this is made with grapes from the Petite Champagne region. It maybe a “lesser” region than the Grande Champagne Region, but Montifaud will know what to do with these “inferior” grapes, if the VS is anything to go by.

Chateau Montifaud XOColor: Orange copper gold (ever so slightly lighter than the VS.)

Nose: Winey and with some added acidity, which smells as “age”. Deeper and more brooding. Old bottle effect and powdery. It’s different from the VS which already had a beautiful nose. This XO is really a fantastic Spirit to smell. It’s so nice, that I completely forgot to take notes when I was nosing this!

Taste: Winey and sweet. It’s even more winey than the VS and lacks the licorice, its younger brother has. Honey and green apple skins. Fragile old age. This one has more depth, (but not as much as I’ve come to expect from a 30yo Cognac). It does have much more staying power compared to the VS The finish has a well hidden burnt wood note that’s hardly there. When that dissipates it shows a slightly translucent acidic note that also quickly dissipates. The sweetness is less of a honey quality and more of plain sugar, and it’s always present. If the sweetness would be more refined, it would have been an even better Cognac.

Coming from a Whisk(e)y background, I find these Cognacs to be very…lovely and light. Even these old blended stuff of 25yo like the Jean Fillioux, and this 30yo Montifaud come across as a bit too simple in the taste, and I do believe the lowest possible ABV. for a Cognac is hurting the wealth of aroma’s these kinds of Cognac should have. So age isn’t everything when you start adding a lot of water. In fact I don’t want to write about this again. With this one I want to sit back and enjoy.

Points: 86

Cognac Week – Day 3: Château Montifaud VS (40%, OB, 2001/2006)

Cognac Week LogoDay Three already of Master Quill’s Cognac Week. Today, and tomorrow, we’ll have a look at Château Montifaud. Château Montifaud was founded in 1837 by Augustin Vallet, and by now the sixth generation of Vallet is with the company: Laurent Vallet. In between came Pierre, Maurice, Louis and Michel. Where Jean Fillioux has sort of a super premium reputation, Château Montifaud has lots of fans with the public. You get quite some quality and the Cognacs are very reasonably priced and most of the time get longer ageing than similarly named Cognacs from the big brands. Take this VS (Very Special) for instance. The youngest component of a VS is required by law to be at least two years old. The VS of Château Montifaud is five years old, and is made with grapes from the Petite Champagne region. You’ll see this “overageing” throughout the range.

Chateau Montifaud VSColor: Orange copper gold

Nose: Slightly winey, light, dusty and sweetish. Young, with already a nice depth to it. Licorice. Abundant sugared fruits. A nice one to smell vigorously. Wonderful nose, but a little bit restrained. It doesn’t leap out of the glass even after some time exposed to air. Definitely more complex than the A. de Fussigny Superieur.

Taste: Quite light. hints of licorice. Sugary sweet and fruity. Syrupy and the sweets are like half crystallized light honey. Maybe too young, but it tastes too thin. I know 40% ABV is typical for Cognac, but it just is too light. Very mellow, nothing sharp at all. Short finish, but whats there, is very nice.

Young, good stuff. Excellent daily drinker Cognac. Very friendly, not very complex, light and mellow. Great balance. If it’s there it’s in the right place. Well made and Montifaud is definitely worth exploring further. I’ve also tried a more recent version (2014) of this very Cognac, and that one seems stronger, is more aromatic, but also tends to be somewhat simpler, less complex and even thicker in its sweetness. The quality is unmistakably there though, and it still would get the same score as this earlier bottling.

Points: 83

Cognac Week – Day 2: Jean Fillioux Très Vieux (40%, Grande Champagne, 1er Cru du Cognac)

Cognac Week LogoNext please! In our Cognac Week, we move on to a Cognac made by Jean Fillioux. Today the fifth generation of Fillioux is at the helms of the company named for the second generation of Fillioux. The company was actually started by Honoré Fillioux in 1880, before his son Jean took over. Honoré learned the trade as a blender at Hennessy. Fillioux’ “La Pouyade” estate is located in the golden triangle, the place where the best Cognacs come from. The estate is situated right in between the towns of Verrieres, Angeac Champagne and Juillac le Coq. Grapes for the Cognac’s of Jean Fillioux grow on 50 acres on land with a terroir of limestone and chalk clay.

Jean Fillioux Très Vieux is a Grande Champagne Cognac, around 25 years old. This one has quite a few years under its belt, so lets see if this Fillioux lives up to its grande reputation.

Jean Fillioux Très Vieux (40%, Grande Champagne, 1er Cru du Cognac)Color: Copper Orange

Nose: Sweet and fruity. Pretty and elegant. Nice soft wood and elegant fruitiness and hints of sweet white wine, banana, pear and vanilla. After a while plain licorice and over ripe mango juice and a tiny hint of pineapple. Given some time to breathe, the licorice transforms itself in the softer and sweeter laurel licorice. New cured leather and nutmeg, with a tiny hint of lavas. Dry, dusty and quiet. Like an afternoon in tropical heat on the border of a desert listening to Georges Zamphir. Excellent nose, wonderful stuff. I just hope it tastes just as good.

Taste: Much drier than expected. Well balanced, perfumed and slightly soapy. Abundant tropical fruits. It almost tastes like a Tomatin. Soft tannic bitterness, that gives the Cognac a backbone. Quite warming and less soft than the nose promised. Although different, lighter and simpler than the nose, this is not a disappointment. Late in the finish a more woody bitterness appears, showing this has seen quite some (new) wood during its extended ageing.

Fantastic nose, that develops and develops when moving about in the glass. Very nice. Much simpler in taste however. Good stuff, but not necessarily something I must have on my lectern. Quite expensive too, considering the simple taste. You pay for the age. Sure, it tastes great, just lacks a bit in the complexity department. You will find more complexity in other Cognacs of Jean Fillioux.

Points: 81

Cognac Week – Day 1: A. de Fussigny Superieur (40%, Fine Champagne)

Cognac Week LogoHappy new year! Most of you will not read this post, right from the first second of 2016, but probably a bit later. I hope you all got through the fatty stuff you stuffed in your mouth over the past few days, and are ready for a wonderful and healthy 2016. For Master Quill this new year will start with the Cognac Week! A new year, the fourth year for Master Quill, so its time for a new distillate on these pages. A worthy distillate and maybe long overdue. Up untill now we have already covered some wonderful distillates. Obviously Whisky in many forms as well as a growing number of Rums and there has been some Grappa. Wines and Beers have not been so prominent on these pages the last year as in the beginning, but I’m sure they will get their share of attention again someday, although I feel Master Quill is for the time being more about distillates, so that will remain the main focal point in the future. Let’s start with Cognac. The first one is made by A. de Fussigny, which just might taste as modern as the bottle looks.

A. de Fussigny SuperieurColor: Orange gold.

Nose: Fruity and dusty. Sappy oak sawdust. Italian licorice. Warm and sweet licorice juice, warm in your mouth. Tiny hint of Apple Brandy and powdered mint candy. Small hints of (new) wood and a tiny hint of unripe banana giving it a more Caribbean feel. Cocktail cherries. This particular Cognac does have some notes of vanilla and has a creaminess that leads me to believe also American oak is used for maturation. Smells young, light, fresh and hip, although some more organic notes appear when the Cognac is warmed in my hand.

Taste: Fruity and quite sweet for a Cognac. Sugar water and sweet cherries. Apples are in here too. Calvados and some caramel. Not a lot of wood (only noticeable under my tongue), and chewing on it, sweet and salty licorice emerges. Quite a simple Cognac though. It has a few markers but overall lacks complexity and has hardly any finish or aftertaste. It shows not a lot of evolution.

For me, this is marketed for young people who just start with Cognac, although I wonder if Cognac appeals to young people these days. Nevertheless we thought the public viewed Whisky as dad’s drink and see how the younger generation have embraced (Single Malt) Whisky with full force. Today it’s one of the factors it’s almost impossible or unaffordable to buy a well aged Whisky anymore.

Points: 79