Head to head: Extra vs Borderies

Maker: Tessendier et fils, Cognac, Charentes, France20190430_093125.jpg

E= Extra

B= Borderies

Place of origin

E: Grande Champagne, Cognac, France

B: Borderies, Cognac, France

Age category

E:XO

B: NAS

ABV: 40%

Price

E: $100 (K & L)

B: $50 (Binny’s)

Appearance

E: Dark copper.

B: Medium copper.

Nose

E: Oak, leather, apricot, dates.

B: Oak, orange oil, cherry cola.

Palate

E: Sweet, rounded, French oak,  vanilla, black currant jam, alcohol, praline.

B: Lighter, brighter. Orange thyme, cedar, alcohol, roasted almonds.

Finish

E: Nutty. Oak, alcohol, brown sugar

B: Potpourri, alcohol.

20190228_221538.jpgParting words: This is the final installment of my three-part series on the Park Cognacs that came in the little boxed set of six 50 ml bottles I bought at Vine & Table in Carmel (CAR-muhl), Indiana a few months ago. These two are the best of the six.

The Extra is a good example of what a Grande Champagne XO should taste like. It’s complex, but none of the flavors or aromas are outside of the usual file-cabinet of Cognac descriptors. The Borderies was pretty different compared to French brandies I’ve tasted before, more perfume and citrus. That’s not to say that B was better than E, it was just different.

I enjoyed the Borderies as a change of pace, but I would probably not want to drink it all the time. The best comparison I can think of is between bourbon and rye. I enjoy rye as a dry change of pace, but the sweetness of bourbon is what keeps me coming back. Both Park Extra and Borderies are recommended.

Head to head: Cognac Park XO vs XO Cigar Blend

Maker: Tessendier et fils, Cognac, Charentes, France20190314_220844.jpg

XO= XO

XO Cigar Blend= XOC

Place of origin

XO: Cognac, France

XOC: Champagne, Cognac, France (“Fine Champagne”)

Age Category: XO (at least 6 y/o, for now)

ABV: 40%

Price (Binny’s)

XO: $90

OXC: $120

Appearance

XO: Burnt orange.

XOC: Lighter, medium copper.

Nose

XO: Dried fig, old oak, black currant jelly.

XOC: Toasted oak, Meyer lemon peel, leather.

Palate

XO: Grape, oak, anise, caramel.

XOC: Vanilla custard, pink peppercorns, salted caramel.

Finish

XO: Big old oak, cruished grapes.

XOC: Lemonheads, light oak, marmalade.

Parting words: This is part two of my three part series on Park Cognacs. Tonight we’re comparing two OX Cognacs, one that’s a standard XO blend and another Fine Champagne blend that was made with cigars in mind.

I don’t enjoy cigars. They smell like burning ass to me. Yes even the good ones. I tried to taste with the smell of fine cigars in mind but it didn’t really help. Compared to the regular XO, the cigar blend tastes thin and overly citric. The XO is pleasantly rich and more rounded. The Cigar Blend is $30 more too. The XO is recommended but the Cigar Blend is not.

 

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.

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.

Cognac Campagnère VS

Maker: Tessendier & Fils, Cognac, Charente, France20190117_174418.jpg

Age category: VS (at least 2 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $37

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Raisins, toasted oak, cola, alcohol.

Palate: Mild and sweet. Sugared dates, grape soda, alcohol.

Finish: sweetened raisins, lavender, burn.

Mixed: Sucessful in every cocktail I tried it in: B & B, French 75, Phoebe Snow and a sidecar.

Parting words: Tessendier is a medium-sized Cognac house that also produces Park and Grand Breuil. It’s family-owned and they do own some of their own vineyards, but from what I can tell, they a lot buy from elsewhere too. Park is best known in the US, but Compagnère has a presenence as well, although it’s not offered in the same bewildering number of variations as its stablemate. Campagnère comes in VS, VSOP, XO and the NAS Prestige.

Most VS cognacs I’ve had have been innoffensive, a few have been rough. This one is fruity and pleasant. It’s not complex, but it’s a refreshing after dinner pour and is wonderful in cocktails. Price is good too. Campagnère VS is recommeded.

Copper & Kings American Craft Brandy

Maker: Copper & Kings, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20181128_194202-1.jpg

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Michigan state minimum: $38.52 (?!)

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: New leather, alcohol.

Palate: Medium-bodied and semi-dry. Mild, high-corn bourbon, toasted oak, sugar plums, toffee.

Finish: Raisins, touch of oak, burn.

Mixed: Tried in an old fashioned, B & B, something else I forgot, eggnog. Good in everything except eggnogg.

Parting words: The first Copper & Kings brandy I reviewed was Floodwall Apple Brandy. I didn’t care for it because I found the sherry finish to be overwhelming. I like this a lot better. This brandy is simple, unadorned aged grape spirit. It lacks the richness and complexity of a well-aged Cognac or Armagnac, but it’s a perfect brandy for people who are stepping up from (or skipping over) brandies like Christian Brothers or E & J.

C & K American Craft does well in most cocktails and is cheap by micro-distillery standards. There’s nothing not to love. Copper & Kings American Craft Brandy is recommended.

Artez Historical Varietal Set

Maker: Artez, Arthez-d’Armagnac, Landes, France

Grapes: Ugni Blanc, Folle Branche, Baco (Blanc)

Place of origin: Bas Armagnac

Age category: Napoleon (10 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Price: $50/3 200 ml bottles

UB= Ugni Blanc, FB= Folle Blanche, BB= Baco

Appearance

UB: Bright copper.

FB: Bright copper.

BB: Slightly darker.

Nose

UB: Oak, caramel, Amaretto, leather.

FB: Cherry, plum, oak,

BB: Blackberry, anise.

Palate

UB: Semi-dry. Balanced, alcohol, cream, vanilla, leather.

FB: Mild. Grape, tarragon, leather.

BB: Richer, Grape/apple juice, burn.

Finish

UB: Eucalyptus, bitter oak.

FB: Oak, raisin.

BB: Very mild, dark fruit, touch of oak.

Parting words: Artez is a small producer of Armagnac (and a few other things) with vineyards in the west of Lower Armagnac. They grow three varieties of grapes on their estate: Ugni Blanc (best known for Cognac), Folle Blanche (the original Armagnac variety) and Baco Blanc (the most common variety in Armagnac currently). So a three bottle set like this is an obvious thing to put out.

Going in, I was skeptical as to whether I would be able to tell the difference (if any) between these three bottles from the same maker at the same age. I actually was! To summarize each in one word: UB is creamy, FB is fruity and BB is spicy (anise specifically). All three and the set as a whole is recommended.

 

KELT VSOP

Maker: Kelt, Nogaro, Gers, France20181024_213226.jpg

Grape: Ugni Blanc

Region: Grande Champagne Cognac (not specified on the label of the 50 ml bottle I sampled from)

Age: At least 4 1/2 y/o (VSOP)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $71.47

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Oak, Saltwater taffy, golden raisins, Crème brûlée topped with mixed berries.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Caramel apple, burn.

Finish: Complex and long-lasting. Menthol cough drops fellowed by oak, followed by raisins.

Parting words: KELT is what we would call an NDP (Non-distiller producer) product in the bourbon world, but what they call a négociant in Cognac. Monsieur Kelt buys spirit and ages it, in this case on a boat. Like Jefferson’s Ocean bourbon, it’s a silly gimmick, but the end result is pretty good.

This is a solid product all around but the finish is what was most striking. I don’t think I’ve ever had a spirit with a finish close to that. I like it, but I could see myself getting sick of it after a while. $71.47 is an odd price and it’s just about as much as I’d be willing to pay for a whole bottle. Luckily, smaller sizes are available in Michigan and elsewhere, so you can make an informed decision. KELT VSOP is recommended.

Head to head: Maraska Šljivovica vs Spirit of Plum.

SL= Maraska Šljivovica, SP= Spirit of Plum20180910_120626.jpg

Makers

SL: Maraska, Zadar, Dalmatia, Croatia.

SP: Black Star Farms, Suttons Bay/Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Style

SL: Slivovitz (traditional Damson plum brandy)

SP: Damson plum eau de vie “made in the traditional style”

ABV: 40%

Price

SL: $26 Michigan state minimum

SP: $27.50 (website)

Appearance: Clear

Nose

SL: Varnish, plum pits, oak.

SP: Underripe plum, varnished wood.

Palate

SL: Full-bodied and sweet. A little fruit then all burn.

SP: Light-bodied. Fruit then a little burn.

Finish

SL: Mild and sweet.

SP: Fruitier but less sweet. Long.

Parting words: The Maraska distillery is located in Zadar on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. It’s the oldest continually occupied city in Croatia, first mentioned on a Greek instription in 384 BCE, but is likely much older than that. It was refounded as a Roman colony in 48 BCE. I had trouble following the timeline on the Maraska website, but it seems that Maraska was founded in the 18th century by an Italian businessman (it was under Austrian rule at the time). Maraska produces a wide range of liqueurs including its flagship maraschino. Its Slivovitz is widely distributed in the US, or at least is in the US. It is certified Kosher.

Black Star Farms is no stranger to readers of this blog. Their spirits line includes an eau de vie of just about every fruit anybody distills. Their website invokes Slivovitz in the blurb on Spirit of Plum, but its unclear if they use ground up pits in the production of the spirit like slivovitz manufacturers do.

I didn’t do a lot of digging into the world of Slivovitz before I chose Maraska for this exercise. I just found one that was relatively cheap. Maraska is what it is. It doesn’t have much going on except sweetness and burn. What plum character exists is subtle.

Spirit of Plum is elegant and has much more fruit character. It works best as a pleasant, slightly rustic, summertime digestif. Although it’s nearly twice the price per ml, I’d rather have 375 ml of Spirit of Plum than 750 ml of Maraska Šljivovica. Spirit of Plum is recommended. Maraska Šljivovica is not.

 

Domaine d’Ognoas XO

Maker: Domaine d’Ognoas, Arthez d’Armagnac, Landes, France.

20180712_192648.jpg
The Bottle

Grapes: Baco, Ugni Blanc, Folle Branche.

Place of origin: Bas-Armagnac

Age: XO (at least 10 y/o)

Purchased for $60 (Astor Wines)

Appearance: Oxidized blood.

Nose: Alcohol, old oak, raisins, cherry wine.

Palate: Burn, macerated raisins, oak, cherry vanilla ice cream.

Finish: Dates, walnuts, old leather.

portes-ouvertes-au-domaine-dognoas_2015_01
The Domaine in 2014

Parting words: The history of the Ognoas estate dates back to the viscounts of Marsan in the Central (aka High) Middle Ages but the estate as it exists now traces its history to the 18th & 19th century Lormand family. Etienne Lormand, born around 1701 to a bourgeois family in Bayonne, purchased the estate in 1770 and added a neighboring one in 1775. The last of the Lormands, Jacques-Taurin (b. 1762), died without heirs in 1842 and left the estate to the church. Armagnac was first made at the estate by the Lormands.

In 1905 the property (along with many others) was nationalized and it has remained in the hands of the French government since then. The over 1600 acre estate includes hiking trails, vineyards, forests (which supply the wood for the barrels), other agriculture, a fortified 13th century house, an 18th century mill, renovated tenant cottages available for rent, and more.

1410-01_ognas_distillerie_02_HD
The still

The wood-fired continuous still at Ognoas is said by the domaine to be the oldest working still in Gascony. It dates from 1804 with additions and improvements made to it throughout the 19th century.

The d’Ognoas line includes the usual suspects: VS, VSOP, XO, hors d’age, XO premium, and Millésime. Quality XO Armagnac can be hard to find around here, and harder to find at a reasonable price. When Liz had to be in NYC for work a few months ago, I asked her to pick up a bottle of this for me. At $60 (plus NYC taxes) d’Ognoas XO is an excellent value. It’s the sort of thing that’s right up my alley: affordable and easy-drinking but not boring. Domaine d’Orgnoas XO is highly recommended.

Photos: 1- mine. 2 & 3- from Domaine d’Ognoas media library.