Head to head: Cognac Park VS vs VSOP

Maker: Tessendier et fils, Cognac, Charentes, France20190228_221515.jpg

Age Categories: VS (at least 2 y/o), VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Price

VS: $35 (Binny’s)

VSOP: $45 (Binny’s)

Appearance

VS: Pale gold

VSOP: Bright amber.

Nose

VS: Raisin, resin, alcohol.

VSOP: Dr. Pepper, leather, alcohol.

Palate

VS: Mild. Alcohol bite, watered down apple juice.

VSOP: Sweater, more rounded. Brown sugar, oak, plum.

Finish

VS: Light and sweet. Honey, then burn.

VSOP: Dry. New oak, alcohol.

20190228_221538.jpgParting words: This is part one of a three part series of reviews of the six Cognac Park expressions that came in this nifty little six pack I bought a while back. I decided to start with these two since they’re standard expressions.

When I review VS brandies, I like to make a few mixed drinks, since that’s what young brandy is mostly used for. It’s hard to do that with only 5 cl to work with. The VS seems like it would get lost in cocktails with a lot of strong elements, but might do well in ones without. Neat it’s pleasant but not memorable. $35 isn’t terrible but there are better values that are easier to find. Park VS is not recommended.

The VSOP is much more enjoyable neat. It’s heavy on the brown/sugar caramel notes and I wish it was a little more complex but it’s a balanced, enjoyable after-dinner Cognac. Park VSOP is recommended.

Bel Lago Select Harvest Riesling

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Leelanau County, Michigan, USA20190220_211053.jpg

Grape: Riesling

Place of origin: Leelanau County, Michigan, USA

Style: Sweet/semi-sweet Riesling

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $19 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Pale gold

Nose: Canned pear, gravel.

Palate: Full-bodied. Sweet but not cloying. Pineapple-mango-orange juice, mineral water.

Finish: Drying, peach.

Parting words: Bel Lago needs no introduction for long time readers of this blog. It’s one of my favorite Michigan wineries.

Like most of Michigan’s best, Bel Lago has a fine line of Riesling wines at varying levels of sweetness. Select Harvest is a style of late harvest wine roughly equivalent to German Auslese in terms of ripeness. As such, they are more age-worthy than dry Rieslings, which is why I waited so long to open this bottle. This wine is not especially complex (perhaps due to the brutal 2014 vintage) but it hits all the right notes for ripe Riesling: sweetness, citrus, and minerals. I have a few more bottles of this wine in my cellar and I look forward to seeing how this wine develops over the next 3 or 4 years. 2014 Bel Lago Select Harvest Riesling is recommended.

 

Dupont Reserve

Maker: Domaine Dupont, Victot-Pontfol, Normandy, France20190218_100331.jpg

Style: Calvados-barrel-aged cider.

Apples: 67% bittersweet, 33% acidic

Place of origin: (Pays d’Auge) Normandy, France.

Vintage: 2016 (bottled 2017)

Notes: Unpasteurized, wild yeast fermented. Aged in Calvados barrels for six months.

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $25/750 ml (Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana)

Parting words: Domaine Dupont is one of the big cheeses of Calvados and like many other Calvados houses, they make cider and pommeau as well. The domaine has been owned by the Dupont family since 1917. Current patriarch Éitienne Dupont modernized the estate when he took over from his father Jules in the 1980s. He handed the business over to his son Jérôme and daughter Ann-Pamy in 2002. Sadly, Jérôme was killed in an accident in August of 2018. Éitienne has come out of retirement to help Ann-Pamy and the management team to lead the company.

Dupont’s line of ciders consists of the entry-level Cidre Bouche (reviewed in 2014), an organic cider, Triple (triple fermented from 100% bittersweets), Cuvée Colette (champagne method), and this one, the Calvados-barrel aged Reserve. I didn’t care for the Cidre Bouche when I tried it (too dry and funky) but I really enjoy this cider. The barrel aging adds a wonderful creamy sweetness that balances out the chalky funk. The result is a well-rounded, complex but easy-drinking cider that anyone can enjoy.

That doesn’t come cheap, but Dupont Reserve is easily worth the price. Dupont Reserve is highly recommended.

 

Head to Head: Charbay No. 89 vs No. 83

Distiller: Charbay, Ukiah, Mendocino Co, California, USA (Karakasevic family)20190207_205341.jpg

Note: Samples provided by Charbay Distillery.

Grapes

83: Folle Branche (100%)

89: Pinot Noir (74%), Sauvignon Blanc (26%)

Place of origin

83: Mendocino Co, California, USA

89: California, USA

Age

83: 27 y/o (distilled 1983, released 2010)

89: 24 y/o (distilled 1989, released 2013)

ABV

83: 40%

89: 46%

MSRP

83: $475

89: $240

Appearance

83: Medium copper.

89: Light copper

Nose

83: Leather, Parmesan cheese, cola, lavender, ghost pepper.

89: Leather, woodruff, dried flowers, vanilla custard.

Palate

83: Dry and light bodied. Butterscotch, tarragon, oregano, old oak.

89: Mild. Dried flowers, lemon meringue, oak, crushed coriander seed.

Finish

83: Cola, burn, raisins.

89: Leather, Meyer lemon, burn.

Parting words: The Charbay Distillery is one of the oldest micro-distilleries in the US. It’s best known product is its distinctive line of whiskeys distilled from drinkable ( as opposed to distiller’s) beer sourced from local brewers with hops also usually added after distillation. As one might expect, they’re pretty weird. They are also very expensive, even by micro-distiller standards. The flagship expressions are the 6 y/o Charbay Releases I-V (brewed from a pilsner with hops also added after distillation). Release III sells for $375 per 750 ml bottle at K&L Wine Merchants in Southern California, with IV listed at $500 and V for $650 (the latter two are listed as out of stock). There is also the R5 made from Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA (1 y/o, $75) and Whiskey S made from Bear Republic’s Big Bear Stout (2 y/o, $90). They also produce a line of infused vodkas.

I’ve had a couple of the Releases and I didn’t care for them. Long time readers will know that I’m not a fan of funky hops or young, expensive whiskey, so that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. On November 9, 2018 I saw some folks on Twitter talking about Charbay whiskey and I rattled off a snarky tweet in response: “Charbay is gross, there I said it.” It got a little interaction but I didn’t really think about it much afterwards.

Then on January 13, 2019 I got a response from the distillery asking if I was interested in trying any of their other products since I obviously didn’t like the whiskey. After some back and forth on the tl and in the dms, Jenni of Charbay kindly sent me samples of their two brandies, the Nos. 83 and 89.

No. 83, coincidentally distilled in 1983, was the first thing to ever come out of Charbay’s still. It was distilled twice and aged in Limousin oak for 27 years. It seems to fall into the quirky house style, but I’ll admit that I haven’t had enough 27 y/o brandies to truly make a fair comparison. It’s the most Cognac-like of the two, which should come as no surprise since it’s made from Folle Blanche grapes, one of the historic grape varieties of Cognac. Wood is prominent, but there’s enough herbs and spices to keep No. 83 from being one-dimensional.

No. 89 is a different animal altogether. It was distilled in 1989 from two popular wine grapes, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir brandies are rare but not completely unknown, with fellow Ukiah distiller Germain-Robin producing a celebrated one. Sauvignon Blanc is more rare, but is still not completely unheard of as a source material for brandy. There’s slightly more fruit in 83 than in 89, but there’s still not a lot. What is there is a citric acidity that cuts through the oak to make for an enjoyable special occasion sipper.

I’m not going to do the thing I typically do in the final paragraph of a review and evaluate these on price. These are both special, one of a kind brandies and their prices reflect that. Both are outside of my price-range for any spirits, although I could see myself paying $240 for something exceptional if my wife got a big bonus or promotion or when we become empty-nesters. Nos. 83 and 89 are important pieces of micro-distilling history. If you get a chance to taste them, jump on it! You’ll never taste anything like them again.

One pairing suggestion: If you do pay full price for these bottles or over $50 for a pour in a bar, maybe make a matching donation to your favorite charity or local DSA chapter.

Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut

Maker: Jim Beam, Claremont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20190208_215424.jpg

Age: 5 y/o (label says 5-6 but the age of the youngest barrel in the mix is the legal age of the whiskey)

Style: Standard rye-recipe bourbon.

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Cayenne pepper, caramel, peanut butter, tarragon.

Palate: Medium-bodied and hot. Behind the heat there’s toffee and caramel and grape soda.

Finish: hot pepper-infused peanut brittle.

Parting words: Jim Beam has been putting out so many new expressions in recent years, I’ve literally been unable to keep up. If I had, I would have probably purchased and reviewed this bourbon sooner! It’s 100 proof like its stablemates Jim Beam Bonded  and Knob Creek. Unlike those, it’s not chill-filtered and is 5 y/o (the label annoyingly calls it 5-6 y/o). This makes it identical on paper to the Urban Stillhouse Select. In the glass, the USS is more rounded and shows more baking spice than peanut brittle. Compared to Beam Bonded, it is older and less funky but the price is identical, at least in this state. If you like the funk, stick with the Bonded. If you want something a little more refined but still firmly Jim Beam, pick up some JB Distiller’s Cut. It is recommended.