Frapin Château Fontpinot XO (41%, Grande Champagne, Single Vineyard)

You know what they say, with a good Cigar you need a good Cognac. Cigar? Check! Cognac? Check! We’ll have another Frapin, and with a name like Château Fontpinot XO Single Vineyard Cognac, who am I to pick something different. Earlier I reviewed another Frapin, the VSOP, and was all but impressed with it. The nose was great, but the taste, and especially the finish were big let-downs. Lets give Frapin another chance and move on up to this XO. You know you’ve hit the jackpot when you find out this isn’t bottled at 40% ABV, but at a mind-blowing 41% ABV. Surely this will do the trick? As you know, XO must be at least 6 years old, but this XO is blended with liquids, 18 to 20 years old, part of this, a finish for 6 months in new oak casks.

Frapin Chateau Fontpinot XOColor: Copper gold.

Nose: Nice and strong aroma. Fruity, but it also has quite some depth to it. This isn’t closed at all, it leaps out of the glass to entice you. Spicy. Wet and funky cinnamon. Leather and breaths of fresh air. Nice woody notes and a plethora of fruity notes. Mostly apple and some cherries. It’s almost like standing at the green grocers. Quite some wood, with only a mere hint of licorice (and some tar). Floral and leafy notes appear as well as some vanilla. Give it even more time to breath and the smell of a nice and luxury fresh cologne appears. Well this one has it all. Give it lots of time, because the nose shows a lot of development. Put it in your glass, aireate it for a while and then cover it up with a lid. Leave it for a while and then sniff it again, Stellar!

Taste: Starts sugary sweet, and a bit thin. Next the fruity notes release themselves on my tongue. Some tannins and woody notes stay behind when the liquid is making its way down, warming me. Chewy unripe walnut bitterness. The darker brooding notes from the nose are even bigger in the taste. Funky cinnamon again, combined with brown sugar. I’m not sure the taste is as complex as the nose, but I’m not complaining. The walnut bitterness (not a lot of it, so you can sit back again) stays behind, as well as some mint from old wood. Apply notes are here too. It’s definitely a Cognac, but it has some traits of a good Calvados. This is definitely a better blend with more age behind its belt compared to the VSOP, which also has a hideous looking bottle, but let not get distracted now. Ugly bottle, that VSOP has. There I said it again.

So we have a good nose, and we do have a nice entry and a good body. The weak point is again the finish. It gets more rustic and organic, but that is not the problem. The problem is the balance of the finish. It starts to unravel a bit. Not every aroma stays well-integrated. The finish is also a bit simple, but hey, we’ve come a long way compared to the VSOP. This one I do like, and I didn’t even get to try it with a Cigar yet. Not perfect but very enjoyable nevertheless.

Points: 85

Frapin V.S.O.P. (40%, Grande Champagne, 1er Cru de Cognac)

The beginning of the year saw the launch of Cognac as a distillate to be reviewed on the pages of Master Quill. Serge calls it a Malternative and I think I understand why. Sure it’s another distillate, that’s not made from distilling Beer, like Whisky, but made from distilling Wine. A different distillate altogether. Is it an alternative to (Single Malt) Whisky? It’s not an alternative in taste, it’s too different, and I don’t come across a lot of cask strength Cognac’s to name but a difference. I do feel it can be an alternative to Whisky considering price. Most Single Malts are becoming more and more expensive (or younger a.k.a. the NAS phenomenon), and the consumer is looking for different distillates that are just more affordable. I always was interested in Bourbon’s and Rum’s but never considered them as alternatives, just different. But even those distillates are becoming more and more expensive.

In the case of Whisky, just look at the rise in price of your beloved eighteen year olds. Highland Park, Springbank, Longrow etc. You could buy Highland Park 18 for a lot less than it is sold for today, and I’m not talking about a decade ago, just look what happened in the past two years. You and I, who remember the old pricing, might not be willing paying double for it in the space of one year, but that’s no problem for the distillery. A new customer is willing to pay that amount, first fo all, because he or she can afford it or did not get used to the old price. This brings us right back to an alternative for Malts. This Frapin costs as much as a good blend, but as I said above, it tastes like something completely different. Personally I see it as a different distillate, with its own particular taste, love it or not, but it won’t make me trade in my bottles of Whisky, so in that sense it’s not an alternative at all…

I believe if you are looking for an alternative for your Whisky, you should look at other producers of Whisky, wo still can produce a nice and affordable Whisky. Sure if you love Whisky, you won’t find a replacement unless it’s a Whisky as well, but more on that later…

Frapin V.S.O.P. (40%, Grande Champagne, 1er Cru de Cognac)Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Quite woody. Orange skins. Fresh lacquer. Old bakelite. Cocktail Cherries. Definitely some oaky vanilla. Dry earth and woodchips, just like smelling Orchids. Sweetish. Sweet vanilla, but this time only hints of (sweet) licorice, something I get in a lot of Cognacs. Dry and dusty, like listening to Gheorghe Zamfir. Quite aromatic, but not very fruity or floral. Smells nice overall.

Taste: Wood, caramel toffee and lots of almonds, Quite sweet actually. Vanilla ice-cream. Hints of whipped cream. Some more fruit, but its hard to point out which. It’s like sweet yellow fruit yoghurt. Sweet, yoghurt, without any of the acidity or dryness. Quite light. The finish is the weakness here. Not a lot is happening over there. Only the candy cherry taste somehow lingers on a bit.

Baffling difference between the nose and the actual taste. It’s almost like the nose shows the potential, but the taste has been in part ruined. Added sugar maybe? Anyway, the whole is too light, and leaves next to nothing behind.

Points: 77

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

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

Lascaw 12yo (40%, Distillerie du Périgord, Fûts de spécialité à la truffe)

Next up a French Whisky, that seems utterly French, since it was finished in casks that once held truffles, yes a fungus! The Whisky itself (before it is finished) turns out to be a 12yo Scottish Single Malt brought in by the Perigord distillery to finish for several weeks in the aforementioned special casks. Alas the source of the Whisky is confidential. Just to clear one thing up, the casks previously didn’t hold truffles, but were used for ageing a spirit (Vodka) with truffles infused in them. Distillerie du Perigord has a website, at the time of writing, only in French, which show the distillery is known mainly for its fruit spirits and liqueurs and some French specialties like Pastis and Poire William, and now this French-Scottish Whisky.

Lascaw 12yoColor: Orange gold.

Nose: Creamy and fresh. Light and fruity. Lots of yellow fruits with hints of menthol. Fruity sweetness with hints of oak. I braced myself for so thick and earthy fungus smell, but nope it’s not like that at all. Its fresh and fruity, Light and quite elegant, with a tiny hint of burning candle and pine. That part reminds me of christmas. Simply a nice smelling Whisky. Give this some time to breathe (believe me, this does need a lot of time to breathe) and yes, a whiff of mushroom does pass by. Remember the smell when cleaning champignons? It may not only be the smell of the mushroom itself, but also from the earth its growing in. Sure it has that, but don’t expect to get a lot of it. I already used more words about the mushroomy bit, than is actually noticeable, but it is noticeable. If nosed blind, the mushroom would be considered a part of the wood aroma I guess. Remarkable change when it breathes, more and more towards the christmassy bit I described above. Even more earthy, dry and more and more candle wax, boiling water and dry pine. Mocha coffee. The pine is integrated, it’s not overpowering the smell at all. Very interesting nose.

Taste: Light, creamy, watered down oak and cardboard, no yellow fruits but there are some red fruits in the finish. Quite malty and in a way it has aroma’s of porridge and old beer. This probably has been reduced too much to show off its aroma’s in the taste. Slight hint of oaky bitterness in the finish, and for me there is no truffle in the taste. It’s all in the nose. Tastes like a blend.

The nose is more than all right. Give it time and it will show you its special. A good nose you get from wood aged spirits. Not really a mushroom Whisky though. Taste wise it’s too thin with quite a short finish. Not something I would run out to buy, but an education and experience nevertheless.

Points: 70

Merci à Richard pour la bouteille.