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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Floodwall Apple Brandy

Maker: Copper & Kings, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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Age: 4 y/o

Cooperage: Bourbon & sherry casks

ABV: 50%

Michigan state minimum: $46.75

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Alcohol, new leather, white chocolate.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Sweet sherry, old oak, toffee.

Finish: Rubber, oak, alcohol

Parting words: Copper & Kings is one of the few microdistillers that is taking brandy seriously. In fact, they do more than take it seriously, it’s the heart of their business. They have six brandies on Michigan shelves, including an unaged apple brandy and the aged Floodwall.

Floodwall has a lot of things going for it. It’s 100 proof, a rarity for brandy (although Laird’s does make a bonded apple brandy), is under $50 (a rarity for aged craft spirits), mixes well and tastes a little like an old Calvados.

That last item is also its greatest weakness, though. My favorite apple brandies are ones that are mature but still retain some apple character to balance out the cask characteristics. Old Calvados is usually all cask and Floodwall is too. In Floodwall’s case, the cause is not age, but heavy handed use of sherry cask. There are some interesting things in the nose and on the front end of the palate but it all quickly turns one dimensional. If you like big sherry finishes, you’ll probably like Floodwall, but I wasn’t very keen on it. Floodwall is not recommended.

Delpech Fougerat VS

Maker: Vinet-Delpech, Brie-sous Archaiac, Jonzac, Charente-Maritime, France.20180129_101844.jpg

Age: At least 2 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $58

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Grape soda, Sunny D, cola.

Palate: Light-bodied, Golden raisins, black currant jelly, oak.

Finish: Raisin-y with a little burn and chewy oak.

Parting words: There’s not a lot of information on this Cognac online or anywhere else for this matter. Vinet-Delpech is located in Brie-sous Archaic a tiny (<300 people) commune about 17 miles (27 km) south of Cognac. According to their family owns 100 hectares (247 acres) of vineyards in the Petite Champagne and Fins Bois regions of Cognac. They (presumably) produce Cognac from the family vineyards and also seem to do brisk business as a bottler and contract distiller (one wonders if they’re the source of Brenne).

Vinet-Delpech has two lines of Cognac, the Delpech Fougerat line with the standard VS, VSOP and XO expressions and the Vinet-Delpech line with those plus Hors d’âge with the names and faces of the family members that produced the expression on the label. They also produce a non-Cognac brandy called Hector Legrand Extra. As far as I can tell, none of them are widely distributed in the US. Why the Delpech line is available in Michigan is a mystery to me.

Delprect Fougerat VS is a fruity, refreshing, weeknight Cognac at a decent price. If you run across it, I recommend you buy it

Free Run Cellars XO

Maker: Free Run Cellars, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA (Round Barn)

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Grape: Vidal Blanc.

Age: 8 y/o

ABV: 50%

Price: I forgot.

Note: At time of purchase, I received a complimentary tour, tasting, lunch, and discount on purchases. See my visit to Round Barn cellars here.

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Golden raisins, alcohol, oak, Juicy Fruit gum.

Palate: Light bodied and mild. Banana pudding with vanilla wafers.

Finish: Also mild. Alcohol, oak, fruit punch.

Parting words: Free Run was founded by Matt and Christian Moersch, sons of Round Barn founder (and former Tabor Hill winemaker) Rick Moersch. The name is a play on the “free run” juice of the initial grape crush and the brothers being given “free run” of the cellar by their father. Free Run began by specializing in estate, single vineyard wines, but has since branched out. Free Run’s “Epicurean” tasting room in Berrien Springs is more than the traditional “belly up to the bar” set up. It offers a culinary experience for groups (with paired wines of course) but it’s only open seasonally. Free Run’s Union Pier tasting room is more conventional.

At any rate, the label describes this brandy as “Cognac style” which it sort of is, though it would fall on the fruity and mild end of the Cognac spectrum, in spite of the high ABV. While I don’t like it as much as I liked the Free Run grappa (review here), it is an easy-drinking, even refreshing sipper that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend were it more readily available. I’m not sure if it’s made anymore, but if it isn’t I hope it gets put into production again but in bigger bottles and with wider distribuition. Free Run Cellars XO Brandy is recommended.

Christian Drouin head to head: VSOP vs XO

Maker: Christian Drouin, Gonneville-le-Theil, Manche, Normandy, France (Drouin family).20171115_142041.jpg

Place of origin: Pays d’Auge AOC, Calvados, Normandy, France.

Age

VSOP: at least four years old

XO: at least six years old

Price

VSOP: $67(Party source)

XO: $80? (From memory. Not listed on the websites of Binny’s, TPS or anywhere else I looked.)

ABV: 40%

Thanks to Amy & Pete for picking the XO up for me!

Appearance

VSOP: Bright orange.

XO: A little darker, burnt orange.

Nose

VSOP: Cut apple, alcohol, leather.

XO: Oak, sweet apple cider.

Palate

VSOP: Full-bodied. Caramel apple (no nuts)

XO: Full-bodied. White chocolate-covered apple.

Finish

VSOP: Fruity and chewy. Pinch of celery leaf.

XO: Bitter oak, a little caramel.

Parting words: Christian Drouin (not to be confused with Joseph Drouhin, the Burgundian négociant) has not been in business very long for the producer of a spirit that’s been around for five hundred years or more. It was founded in 1960 when Rouen industrialist Christian Drouin (the elder) purchased a farm in Gonneville, Manche, near Cherbourg. Since then, the brand has expanded rapidly and is one of the most widely distributed lines of Calvados in the world. It is currently run by Christian Drouin the younger with the elder’s grandchildren also working at the family business. Drouin currently produces (in ascending order of age) an unaged apple/pear eau de vie (Blanche de Normandie), Sélection (reviewed back in April), Réserve, VSOP, XO, Hors d’Age, 25 y/o, and a range of vintage Calvados.

I purchased the VSOP in Indianapolis and when FotBs Pete and Amy stopped off at The Party Source last spring, I asked them to pick up a bottle of the Réserve. The Réserve was not in stock but the XO was, so they picked that one up instead. I was surprised but not disappointed.

Both of these brandies are delicious. If I had to pick one over the other, I would pick the VSOP. It retains more apple aroma and flavor than the XO does and makes a refreshing, but still somplex summertime sip. The XO does retain some spple character but it takes a back seat to the rich, dessert flavors that come with age and use of different types of cooperage, a point of emphasis for Drouin. It is said that as Calvados ages it slowly loses its apple character and moves closer the flavor of aged grape brandies like Cognac. The XO seems to exemplify that phenomenon.

Christian Drouin VSOP and XO are both recommended.

 

Domaine d’Espérance, 5 ans

Maker: Domaine d’Espérance, Mauvezin-d’Armagnac, Landes, France.20171019_164323.jpg

Grape: Baco Blanc

Region: Bas-Armagnac

Age: 5 y/o

ABV: 40.2%

Michigan state minimum: $62

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, raisin bread, toasted French oak.

Palate: Sugared raisins, alcohol, vanilla, clove, oak.

Finish: Rubbery, with more dried fruit and alcohol.

Parting words: Why am I reviewing a French brandy? First, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I like, man. Secondly, and more importantly, I review foreign brandies so that I can better know what I’m talking about when I review Michigan and other US brandies. The focus of this blog is now and always will be local (or at least North American) wine and spirits but I can’t place them in their proper context without understanding them globally.

Domaine d’Espérance, 5 ans is, I think, the second least expensive Armagnac available in the state of Michigan. It’s definately the cheapest Espérance expression available with the XO at $86 and the 1998 vintage at $123. It’s brash and lacks complexity compared to older Armagnacs, but is still an enjoyable after dinner or afternoon sip, especially as the weather turns cold. The only thing unpleasant is the rubber in the finish, but it isn’t too obnoxious. Having cut my proverbial teeth on bourbon, I had a hard time bringing myself to mix a spirit that costs $62 but it does mix well, though I would stick to quality, classic cocktails. Domaine d’Espérance, 5 ans is recommended.

 

 

Uncle John’s Fruit House Apple Brandy

Maker: Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery, St. John’s, Michigan, USA20170627_154846

Distiller: Red Cedar, East Lansing, Michigan, USA (From Uncle John’s own cider)

Age: NAS (2-6 y/o)

ABV: 45%

Price: Don’t remember/375 ml. Only available at the winery. Complimentary bottle.

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Apple cider, cola, caramel, leather.

Palate: Sweet and medium bodied. Salted caramel, candy apple, alcohol.

Finish: Lavender, raisins, toasted oak. Long.

Mixed: I tried this brandy in two cocktails, both of which put the brandy front and center. The first was the classic Jack Rose (with lime juice and grenadine). It was good. The second was the Marconi Wireless (basically an apple brandy Manhattan). It was just OK. The pungent sweet vermouth I used overwhelmed the brandy.

Parting words: From my “A Visit to Uncle John’s“: “We then moved on to the really good stuff, apple brandy. They have twelve barrels aging at the Cider Mill. They have two different types of barrels to age their brandy. Some is aged in toasted French oak (in barrels intended for Calvados) and some in Michigan oak barrels, also toasted. The Michigan oak barrels were sourced by St. Julien’s to be distributed to wineries across the state. Mike prefers the French oak barrels but again credits St. Julien’s with doing a good thing for wineries in the state by facilitating the use of home grown wood in wine and spirits production. It’s a cool thing for a Michigan producer to be able to say that [its] product has been aged in Michigan oak.”

Uncle John’s Apple Brandy was fine mixed, but it’s really a back porch neat sipping brandy. I don’t remember the price but I don’t remember it being unreasonable for a half sized bottle. It’s made in very limited quantities (currently sold out) so get some if you’re ever in the Lansing area. Uncle John’s Apple Brandy is recommended.