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 6: Ragnaud-Sabourin Alliance N° 20 Reserve Speciale (43%, Grande Champagne, 1er Cru du Cognac, Circa 2006)

Cognac Week LogoAlready the sixth day of Master Quill’s Cognac Week, and we’ll finish off this week with Ragnaud-Sabourin. In no way is this week representative of the huge Cognac World, but I already found out I like quite some Cognacs from Ragnaud-Sabourin, that’s why I’ll finish off with two of their expressions. Today we’ll start with the Alliance N° 20 Reserve Speciale. First we see that this Cognac doesn’t have the 40% ABV. of most others I reviewed up ’till now. Most had a watery taste, so like me Ragnaud-Sabourin felt it could benefit from some more alcohol to transport the aroma. My kind of thinking! This is a Cognac made from grapes grown in the Grande Champagne region, and it is an older bottle. Todays version looks a lot less stuffy.

Cognac is a distillate of White Wine. To be called a Cognac (a Cru), it must be distilled twice and 90% of the grapes used must be Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard. The last 10% may be Folignan, Jurançon Blanc, Meslier St-François, Montils, Sélect and Sémillon. When the Cognac won’t be a Cru, the rules are a bit less strict. Percentages differ as well as the use of different grape varieties. Ageing must be done in Limousin oak for at least two years.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Very aromatic. A wealth of depth and no so unbelievably smooth. This has a lot more going for it than only that smoothness most Cognacs have. Sure it’s smooth, but it also has a hint of petrol, like a good Riesling. Hints of mushrooms, lavas and dust. Licorice, fruity with thick toffee ice-cream. A breath of fresh air and some nice spicy oak in the background. Definitely French oak since this is lacking the vanilla of american oak. Slightly tarry and a tiny hint of soap and burnt caramel. Wonderful stuff. A really good nose.

Taste: Licorice and just after that some thick caramelized cherries. Warming. Already a nice woody attack. Slightly bitter hint of wood passing by mixed with a hint of sweetness. Toffee again, but also the burnt caramel. Hints of licorice and paint. Vegetal. Although not as complex as the nose, still a lot happening here, with some nice surprises. The bitterness stays on well into the finish. If only it would have been slightly more complex (like the nose). If the bitterness would have worn of towards the finish, this would have been near perfect.

This is 43% ABV and it shows. In style it is much rougher than your usual Cognac, but the slightly higher strength is doing its part as well. Fabulous Cognac, especially for me being an avid Single Malt fan. If you’re a distinguished Cognac gentleman, this may be a little bit to rough ’round the edges (and slightly too high in alcohol), but I love this one, so…

Points: 86

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 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