Calvados Week – Day 7: de Querville Calvados Hors d’Age (40%, AOC Pays d’Auge, Circa 2008)

Logo Calvados WeekWell, what can I say, we’re in a flow now with the Vieux and the Vieille Réserve, so why not continue with the next de Querville in line, the Hors d’Age. Where the Vieux was 3yo, and the Vieille Réserve has a minimum of 4 years, this Hors d’Age was aged for a minimum of 6 years. So we get not only one year more, but a full two years more! I’ll bet you, lots of older distillates got thrown in for good measure as well. Again I expect a step up from both younger siblings, so by now I expect a lot!

de Querville Calvados Hors d’AgeColor: Gold.

Nose: Thick and syrupy, and even less fruity and upfront as the Vieux version of this. This definitely has some more age to it, and picked up some more Industrial notes along the way. Small hints of tar and toffee. Resembles a Sherried (Oloroso) Whisky. Again a dry Calvados. The Vieux smelled the part, but this is simply wonderful. Dry, spicy and dusty and full of elegant and polished wood. Old wood. Raisins and sugared and dry dark-skinned fruits. Excellent. Nice hidden note of black fruits. Not only a step up, but definitely a nose that delivers! Impressive.

Taste: Half sweet, waxy and up a notch in depth and darkness, compared to the Vieux and Vieille brothers/sisters. They all have the same style, which is dry and lets the wood shine through. The same amount of sweetness, but otherwise this is from a different planet altogether. First of all, I’m happy as can be, that after the stunning nose, tasting this does not disappoint. Nosing this particular example, you wouldn’t say this has anything to do with apples. tasting it, it seems to me as if the apples are there, but are more pear driven. This is absolutely stunning stuff. Amazing.

Maybe an ugly bottle and a label that looks like it was made in the middle ages, but boy-o-boy, what a wonderful drink is inside. I have to investigate de Querville some more, but this one and the previous two as well are very much recommended. The Vieux has youth and vibrancy, but not yet well matured. The Vieille Réserve is raising the bar a bit, but this Hors d’Age is a distinguished gentleman. Knowledgeable and smart. I can’s stop nosing this stuff it is utterly wonderful, and it puts many Whiskies to shame, even though it is a completely different distillate. Unbelievable, especially when you find out how inexpensive this is compared to Single Malt Whisky and other premium distillates of high quality.

And with this de Querville, our Calvados trip has come to an end, and what a wonderful trip it was. I don’t know about you but I (again) enjoyed myself thoroughly and have encountered some wonderful stuff. This won’t be the last of Calvados on these pages, because there is still a world of Calvados to discover, this was merely the tip of the iceberg. Amazing how little information there is to find. It’s a hidden secret only the French seem to know about. I really like the stuff made by de Querville or Distillery du Houley, and these bottles are also made with a nice price stickered on them compared to many others. After these three de Quervilles, I didn’t have to go out for a loan to get the daddy of all the de Quervilles: “The Prestige”. A 18yo Calvados. High hopes I have for that one, high hopes. We’ll meet again…

Points: 88

Calvados Week – Day 6: de Querville Calvados Vieille Reserve (40%, AOC Pays d’Auge, Circa 2012)

Logo Calvados WeekI already liked yesterday’s Vieux very much, so I’m quite happy I can try it’s slightly older brother (or sister) as well. The Vieux is 3yo old, and this Vieille Réserve has a minimum age of 4yo. Not a big step, so with only a little more age to it, I expect it to be only a little bit better. Meaning, more mature, with even better balance and definitely more depth to it. Let’s compare…

de Querville Vieille ReserveColor: Almost gold.

Nose: Buttery with vanilla. Nice restrained apple aroma’s like the Toutain I reviewed earlier. Warm apples and cookie dough. Warm and cozy (unlike the Toutain I reviewed earlier). Underneath a quality you get from Grappa. A bit of hay (well, more than a bit actually, but its hidden in the plethora of other aroma’s) and dry grass. Not a freshly mown lawn though. Hints of warm gravy mixed with vanilla. Honey, almonds and sandalwood. A tiny spot of horse piss on hazelnuts and stained wood. What a combination. Like many Calvados’, this also needs a lot of air to develop, and when it does, it’s quite rewarding, giving more and more honey, and notes from White Wine. These distillates from de Querville do suit me. Extremely smooth when it gets some air. On the nose definitely a step up from the Vieux.

Taste: Half sweet and quite light at first, but it already starts to work in my mouth. Sugar water (in style), caramel and soft toffee, but more the creamy bits of it, than the sweetness. Apple compote and a tiny hint of pear. Hints of spicy wood, but not much of it. Paper dust and finally some apple skins.

Yes, this has some more added depth to it, so this has probably some older distillates mixed in than the mere 4yo mentioned. It may be only a year (officially), but for me this has definitely more of everything, Which one to pick depends on price I guess, but considering both are more than reasonably priced I would pick up this one. But both are good. By now, I think, I’ve gotten quite a taste for Calvados. Who would have known. Apple Brandy. Moi? Yes please!

Points: 84

Calvados Week – Day 5: de Querville Calvados Vieux (40%, AOC Pays d’Auge, Circa 2008)

Logo Calvados WeekSo there we go. A little less pear this time. A little less? This only has 10% pear! So, here we have a Calvados made with 90% apples and just 10% pears. But I have a feeling, this might be just enough.

De Querville is a bit shrouded in fog actually. It isn’t a distillery nor a domaine, but it turns out to be a brand. A similar brand exists called Henry de Querville, with a similar line of Calvados, just bottled in different looking bottles. There is a third brand called la Ribaude, and again this looks quite similar to the two already mentioned above. La Ribaude gives us a link to laribaude.com. Clicking on this link reveals us the name of the distillery: Distillerie du Houley. (Yes its on the label too). Quite confusing to boot, and I don’t see the necessity to have a few similar brand names existing next to each other. There surely must be an idea behind this.

The website is only in French, so I guess France is the targeted market for this Calvados. Not so progressive as Lemorton which targets big chunks of Europe, and maybe today, the whole world. Nope, de Querville and the other similar brands, look very outdated by todays marketing standards, but that might be marketing in itself…

Color: Gold.

Nose: Raisins and apples turned brown, laced with alcohol. Initially thick, but quickly turning more mild and light. Fresh and honeyed. Vanilla and old dry vanilla powder. Raisins in the background. After some breathing, the pear pops up. The pear integrates well with the apple. Smells very dry, dusty and powdery. Sweet muscat wine and ever so slightly waxy. Hints of wood and a tiny hint of toasted cask. Smells very nice. Good balance between the sweet and the sour, so it’s not overly fruity and acidic, nor is it very “elegant” smelling. The pear loses its ground when the Calvados gets time to breathe. A shame maybe, but still we have some good stuff on our hands. Maybe 10% isn’t enough?

Taste: Half sweet, fresh, and obviously apply, but the small amount of pear is easily discernible. Light, because of its youth. Very nice to sip this. (Ear) wax and some tannins, but not bitter. Thick apple juice, without prominent acidity. The tannins come through, to give the distillate a backbone. But like many of these kinds of distillates, it can have a very complex nose, but the “juice” tastes less complex. Good balance though and also a decent finish. Nice.

For me, (coming from Whisky), this is one of the better Calavados I have tasted, or is it a style I somehow prefer? Nevertheless, this is much drier and less about fruit and its accompanying acidity, than a lot of other Calvados around. It’s also not the most perfumy nor elegant Calvados around. This is dry and dares to show its wood. I like it a lot already, but I’m also curious how this would have tasted, made in the same way, with some more pear in the mix. Recommended!

Points: 83

Calvados Week – Day 4: Lemorton Vieux Calvados Réserve (40%, AOC Domfrontais, 2012)

Logo Calvados WeekYet another Calvados in this Calvados Week, but this time it is something different. Lemorton comes from the Domfront region. For this AOC, at least 30% pears must be used in the distillate, but often this number is much higher. Single Distillation is done in a column still.

The Lemorton domain is located in Mantilly near the town Domfront, name giver of the AOC. Mantilly has a terroir of clay and limestone, perfect for pear trees. Lemorton Calvados is not made from pears only though. It’s made from 70 % pears and 30 % apples. The Cider is first aged for 11 months in oak barrels and undergoes a single distillation in a small alambic armagnacais. Distillation takes place, once a year, and the distillate is then put into old neutral casks to let the fruity distillate speak for itself.

Lemorton Vieux Calvados RéserveColor: Red brown.

Nose: Thick apple butter and heavy pear syrup. Nice concentrated fruits with lots of depth. Dusty and very aromatic. It’s almost pear and apple Marmite. Borders on good Pinot Gris and even Gewürztraminer. Fruity acidity. Lovely stuff. Compared to a “normal” Calvados made only from apples, this Calvados which is more pear than apple, shows, how nice and complex the aroma’s of pear can be in a distillate. Honey and a tiny hint of toasted bread with hot butter on top. Small lick of lemon curd. Wonderful nose. After this, it still goes on. There is also a meaty component. Smoked very dry meat, but also some elements of cold gravy. The honey part grows if you let it breathe for a while.

Taste: Sweet and right from the start, you know this isn’t as complex as the nose. The nose itself was rather perfect to be honest. The taste isn’t as thick and aromatic and especially not as syrupy as expected. It’s thinner, more acidic and somewhat watery, but still with some woody bitterness and quite dry. Lacks some sweetness. As said above, this does have some White Wine acidity to it. Not bad, but the nose was better. Dissipates towards the finish, getting more acidic, stays dry and gains some bitterness. The finish is the least interesting part of this Calvados.

Compared to the products of Château du Breuil, Lemorton is quite expensive, especially considering the Lemorton Réserve is their entry-level Calvados. Smells like a very expensive distillate though, which oozes quality. The taste, not so much, alas. Although I loved pears before I liked apples, this Réserve is not my favourite Calvados I’ve tasted so far. Pears in Calvados have proven their worth to me, but maybe 70% is just a bit too much. Let’s look for an apple and pear Calvados, but this time a bit less rich in the pear department…

Points: 77

Calvados Week – Day 3: Toutain Vieux Calvados (40%, AOC Calvados)

Logo Calvados WeekDay three already, and this time we’ll have a look at an 8yo (minimum) Calvados from Toutain. Toutain use apples exclusively, so no pears were hurt for this bottling.

The history of the Toutain family as Calvados producers, starts in 1921 when Joseph becomes a traveling distiller. A common job in the region back then. Ten years later his son Emile does the same. Emile also starts to build stock of his Calvados. In 1961 the third generation, Lilian, starts out as a traveling distiller as well, and together with his wife Odile (Delabarre, also a Calvados producing family), make their own Calvados near Beuzeville. By 1964 the pair sell their products locally. In 1971 Lilian and Odile buy Domaine de la Couterie (depicted on the label), together with 4 acres of orchards. Within twenty years the orchards of the domaine will have grown to a healthy 25 acres, including 10 acres from Delabarre. By now the products are sold all over France. In 1989, Odile starts to manage the company and the Fourth generation, daughter Corinne, first takes over as distiller from her dad in 1999, and as manager from her mom a year later. Managing becomes a bigger job than being a distiller. By now, the products of the company are sold all over Europe. Since 2007 Corinne’s son Maxime is managing the company, but he doesn’t distill. The orchards now measure 62 acres, half of which lie in the AOC Calvados and the other half in the AOC Pays d’Auge.

Calvados Toutain VieuxColor: Light gold with a slight pinkish hue.

Nose: Less obvious apply like the previous two examples from Château du Breuil. In this Toutain the apple aroma’s are more pulled into the realm of White Wine, but on top also an unmistakable hint of clear glue. I like the depth and complexity of this vieux. Nice hint of fresh air, and this one smells differently when nosed vigorously. The slower you smell, the more glue you get. I know it sounds strange, but try it for yourself. Hints of wood and sweet white wine. Quite estery and dusty. Hints of licorice, honey and wet earth. Whiffs of horse stable in all its variations and dry grass. Endlessly complex stuff. Altogether quite rustic and I don’t know why, probably the bouquet of aroma’s, but this Calvados puts me smack in the middle of autumn in the country side. Quite a feat.

Taste: Again winey and half sweet. Toffee and high in esters. The glue bit is here too, but shows itself more as acetone, not much, but noticeable. Nice wood. Not elegant polished wood, no. Rough planks of wood. Again not obviously fruity nor apply, so as mentioned before, not summery fresh and fruity. It all fits together. The aroma’s are all over the place in my mouth, which seems a bit unbalanced, but give it some time and it all comes together nicely.

I have to say, I’m quite baffled by the variation in aroma’s you can get from different kinds of Calvados, from different parts of the departement. This Toutain is quite a rustic Calvados. For me the aroma’s in the taste are not completely integrated, but there are lots and lots of positives in this already. A stunning nose for one. I can’t wait to try older expressions of this, like the Hors d’Age, and the (Très) Vieille Reserve. Those last two are quite costly though.

Points: 82

Calvados Week – Day 2: Château du Breuil VSOP Calvados (40%, AOC Pays d’Auge)

Logo Calvados WeekThis is the second day of the Master Quill Calvados Week. Again we’ll have a look at a product from Château du Breuil, but this time a slightly older example: the VSOP, a four-year minimum Calvados. Calvados is made from apples and/or pears. Every AOC has its specific rules of used varieties.

Château du Breuil was built in the 16th and 17th centuries and was the home of many nobilities. The Château was completely restored by its current owners who have been distilling spirits there for three generations. Château du Breuil has a large portfolio of different Calvados’. A standard range of which the Fine and VSOP are the two entry-level examples, but also a 20yo and even single cask versions exist. Last but not least a double matured 12yo version with a second maturation of six years in casks that previously held Speyside Whisky.

Chateau du Breuil VSOPColor: Light gold, almost gold.

Nose: Obvious apple. Apple compote, apple skins and also the fleshy part of apples (that has turned brown), are in here. Even the heart of an apple is in here. Whiffs of Gewürztraminer fly by. Also other notes can be picked up. A hint of dry and elegant oak, but also the spiciness of oak. A hint of red wax seal. Pancakes with syrup. When given some time, the in-your-face fruitiness takes the back seat and lets the more woody and austere parts shine. Dusty. Yes, it’s getting better now, more balanced and perfumy. A grown up version, well maybe not completely grown up, but a more adolescent version compared to yesterday’s Fine from the same Château.

Taste: Candied apple and toffee. Less sweet than expected. A real distillate all right. Overall quite light and appetizing. Young. Warming. Warm toffee and candied fruits with a backbone of soft apple skin, without most of its bitterness. Warm sugar-water. White grapes. The faint bitterness that is always present in this VSOP, gets more pronounced towards the finish, up to a point it overpowers the fruitiness. Maybe it doesn’t overpower, but is most definitely has more staying power of all the aroma’s.

If you like your Calvados fruity and very much oozing of apple, get Chateau du Breuil. But don’t think you are getting a simple carton of apple-juice you give your kids to school each day. Already this VSOP is giving a lot more, compared to yesterday’s Fine, but it also is more bitter. Calvados turns out to be a decent distillate, which has a lot to offer. I really look forward to the rest of this week.

Points: 71

Calvados Week – Day 1: Château du Breuil Fine Calvados (40%, AOC Pays d’Auge)

Logo Calvados WeekSummer’s ready and it’s time for yet another Master Quill Week! This time we’ll look into something I have ignored for a long time: Calvados. Distillates from grains, yes, distillates from grapes, why not, but distillates from apples and pears, well, let’s say I didn’t have time to come to that yet. Apples and pears, really? This is my first review of Calvados on these pages, and as I said, I haven’t tried a lot of Calvados yet, so I don’t have much experience determining what is good and what is not-so-good in the world of Calvados. This week will be as much a learning experience for me as it may be for you. If you are only into (Single Malt) Whisk(e)y or Rum and dont want to dilate your mind, you’ll probably want to skip this coming week, please feel free, but since you’ve already read this much of my introduction, why not stay around some more and see if even you can’t be surprised, with something completely different, and see for once and for all if Calvados is something worth your attention, or something you should forget about for all of eternity or maybe longer.

We’ll start off this week with a look at where Calvados is made. Calvados is an Apple Brandy from Normandy, France. If you have lost your bearings, the largest cities of Normandy are: Rouen, Caen, Le Havre and Cherbourg. Calvados is a department in Basse-Normandie (or Lower-Normandy).

There are three AOC’s of Calvados:

  1. AOC Calvados, in 1942 these regions were divided into regulated regions across Normandy and even from some neighboring departments. However, these regions were grouped together in 1984. Mostly only apples are used and single distillation in a column still is done, but that is not a requirement.
  2. AOC Pays d’Auge, established in 1942. Predominantly and often exclusively from apples. This Calvados is required to be distilled twice in an alembic pot still.
  3. AOC Domfrontais, established in 1997. At least 30% pears must be used in the distillate, but often this number is much higher. Single Distillation is done in a column still.

Chateau du Breuil Fine CalvadosColor: Full gold.

Nose: Apples and yeast. Very nice fruity acidity. Fresh and fruity. Nice ripe yellow, red apples. Very obviously a distillate from apples. All the fruity apple aroma are upfront, and the distillate needs a lot of air to show us more. Alcohol does the trick here. It acts like a mode of transport. Sour beer, like Rodenbach, although that one isn’t made with apples. Hints of (old) wood, and some new oak as well.

Taste: Very light. Seems much lower in alcohol, than it actually is. Apples and vanilla. Altogether soft. Apples, waxy apple skins, warm apple compote and sugar. Toffee. Not very complex. I almost want to add some cinnamon to this. There is some acidity in the finish, but not the fruity acidity that was so upfront, but more the sourness you sometimes get from (new) oak.

I have to say I didn’t expect much from Calvados. How can you make a decent distillate from apples? By thinking that, I never bothered to try even one. Untill now.

So this was my first review of a Calvados on these pages and there is no better way than to start with this entry-level Calvados Fine, by Château de Breuil from the AOC Pays d’Auge. At 2 years old, it is a very young and un-complex distillate. In part nicely fruity and almost summery, but it also seriously lacks the depth I love in more aged distillates. The score is how I feel about it, but keep in mind I haven’t tried a lot of Calvados just yet.

Points: 65

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