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 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