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

Bunnahabhain 35yo 1976/2012 (48.8%, The Whisky Mercenary, 80 bottles)

500I almost missed it, but this is already the 500th post on masterquill.com. Three and a half years have passed since the moment I wanted to see with my own eyes how a blog was made, so I never intended to continue after the first few reviews. The next few months no new posts were written, but after a while I picked it up again, never to let it go again. It’s too much fun to do, and it still is. It is a never-ending quest for the nicest of drinks that are available on the planet. So much more to discover.

I don’t have to post every day, but I try to have something up every other day. Once in a while I let it be, due to sickness (a.k.a. the nose doesn’t work properly), WiFi-less vacation or other reasons, and I don’t feel bad about it, so it doesn’t feel like something I must do. I have no plans of getting bored with it, or plans to retire after a while. There are so much more drinks around, and so much more to explore and learn, that I fear I will never get bored with it at all. Still, you never know, there have been others I loved to read that have stopped (and some have continued after a while). Here’s to the next 500. Let’s take it one step at a time.

Bunnahabhain 35yo 1976/2012 (48.8%, The Whisky Mercenary, 80 bottles)Time for the 500th post then. I had to pick something special, so why not a nice and old Bunnahabhain. Islay is hot, and so are the picks of Jürgen Vromans. Our beloved Belgian independent bottler. Nothing wrong with his nose, so I have high hopes for this 35yo Bunna. Cheers!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Soft vanilla and wood, Definitely slowly matured on a slightly active cask. Some sweetness and a tiny hint of what seems to be a sort of waxy peat. light old elegant wood. Hints of chalk and a nice restrained fruitiness (yellow fruits). Old dried out paint dust and a great deep vegetal note. Excellent wood, creamy wood almost. Nothings really sticks out. It all is light and elegant and held back. Tread tenderly with this one. Old skool with excellent balance. Lovely. Should have come with a label in Paisley motif.

Taste: Quite spicy with a burst of sweetness coming from a dried licorice twig. Otherwise the Whisky has a great dry/sweet balance to it. Dry on the nose and dry on the mouth too, with some nice sweet and fatty touches to it. Creamy wax. Vanilla and half-dried pudding. Again a delicious fruity taste, again yellow fruit, mixed with a hint of sweetish black tea. Well integrated woody notes with just a small amount of woody bitterness.

This is a lovely old Whisky, well worth its initial Retail price. Jürgen picked a wonderful old and delicate or even fragile Bunnahabhain. Wonderful stuff. No heavy hitter and lots of nice details. Good balance with decent complexity. I should have gotten me one of these when I had the chance…

Points: 90

Glenfarclas 35yo 1971/2006 (51.4%, The Whisky Fair, Oloroso Sherry Butt, 534 bottles)

Well why not, why not try another Glenfarclas from a bottle without the distillery’s name on the label. This time a Glenfarclas again, but now from 1971, especially bottled for The Whisky Fair in Limburg Germany. For many the mother of all Whisky festivals on the planet. This Glenfarclas is definitely darker in colour than the previous one I reviewed. I’m guessing the 1965 should be from a Fino Sherry Butt, and we know this 1971 is from a new and fresh Oloroso Sherry Butt.

KnipselColor: Copper Brown.

Nose: Wow, perfect dry Sherry nose, with mint and a lot of elegant wood. Lacquered mahogany furniture. You always get this from old dark Sherry casks. Dried meat, bacon and chocolate, lovely. Extremely spicy, licorice and old shelved books. For the die-hards of old dry Sherry, a stunning nose. Exactly what I like. Menthol in the finish, including its cooling effect in the nose.

Taste: Again heavy Sherry. Fruity and the promise there once was more sweetness to this. Like cold tea, drying with a lot of wood influence. Still its so “firm” the woodiness doesn’t deter me. Whiskies like this should have this elegant wood. It’s a distinguished old gentleman. Coal and steam, not a lot of tar, maybe the smallest of hints of tar. The finish is dry, very dry and the wood shows it’s acidity here, but hey, it’s not bitter. Now it does show its lack of sweetness, or roundness if you like. This usually hides this woody acidity. So yes its fabulous but has it’s flaws. If this would have been perfect this would have been an 1971 Longmorn (Scott’s Selection).

Although Fino’s are quite different from Oloroso Sherries (and PX Sherries), both works very well as a cask to age Whisky in. Both have different characters and both will have a large following. In this case I wish I could have tasted this alongside a 1971 Scott’s Selection Longmorn (the dark ones), that should have been a blast. Not having that, I still wish I had a bottle of this Glenfarclas too.

Points: 92

Caperdonich 35yo 1972/2008 (50.3%, Duncan Taylor for The Nectar Belgium, Cask #7424, 136 bottles)

Duncan Taylor, once Glaswegian brokers in whisky casks. Now of Huntly in the North East of Scotland. These guys have some massive amounts of great casks lying around. I know a lot of bottlings they did that are legendary. For instance: Tomatin 1976, Bowmore 1966 and Bowmore 1968, to name but a few, but there are a lot more. But it’s not only the vast amount of casks, it’s also the quality, and consistency of their whiskies, and grains. Duncan Taylor are definitively among my favourite independent bottlers.

Color: Orange Gold

Nose: Wow, double wow. This is fabulous! Old Bottle and überfruity. Apricots, peaches and sugar-coated oranges. Very organic and even a bit nasty, but all in a very good way. I guess we already have one of those legends on our hand. It has some earwax and wood, but not as much as you would have thought for something that’s 35 years old.

Taste: Sorry, but its wow again! It has a spicy punch after all those years. It’s palate matches the nose. The same fruits for me, and almost no wood and it hasn’t been an inactive cask either, just look at the color. It also reminds me of a very well aged perfect Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer. This would have been almost perfect, (because does perfection exist on our planet?), when the finish would remain somewhat sweeter and retain the fruityness and if it could have kept its balance some more. In the finish, the wood plays a greater, drier and a bit sour and thus unbalancing role. But it maybe nitpicking, because this Caperdonich receives a well earned…

Points: 93