Chateau de Laubade, 2000

Maker: Chateau de Laubade, Sorbets, Landes, France.

Grapes: Baco, Ugni Blanc.

Place of origin: Bas Armagnac

Vintage: 2000 (bottled at 20 y/o).

ABV: 52.4%

Thanks to Sku of Serious Brandy and Chateau de Laubade for the sample.

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Aromatic. Alcohol, oak, maple syrup, oatmeal raisin cookies.

Palate: Full-bodied. Sweet and fruity, then big burn. Largely the same with water, but longer mid-palate.

Finish: Dried figs, horehound. burn, star anise. Less burn with water, naturally

Parting words: This brandy was one of the highlights of the Serious Brandy Facebook Group tasting earlier this year. You can view that event here.

This one didn’t stand out as particularly unique, but it tasted like a good, solid example of a well-made (pretty) old Armagnac. It’s rich and mature without being unbalanced or weird like some very old French brandies I’ve tried. Weird isn’t always bad, of course, but as with Scotch, too much oak and oxidation can ruin my drinking experience. There’s nothing not to like here.

I was able to find a price of about $130 for a 700 ml bottle of this online. That makes it outside of my usual price range, for sure, but you’d be hard pressed to find a 20 y/o cask strength single malt for that much these days. With that in mind, Chateau Laubade 2000 cask strength is recommended.

Fontan XO

Maker: Vignobles Fontan, Noulens, Gers, Gascony, France.

I had a better picture at one time, I promise.

Region: Bas Armagnac

Grape: Ugni Blanc (100%)

Age category: XO (6-10 y/o). Website lists age as 10 y/o.

ABV: 42%

Purchased for $43 at The Party Source

Appearance: Dark caramel.

Nose: Leather, anise, lavender, old oak, velvet, violets.

Palate: Full-bodied. Grape hard candy, leather, clove, burn.

Finish: Horehound, anise, eucalyptus, alcohol.

Parting words: I’m still very much a French brandy newbie, but I really enjoyed this Armagnac. It’s pretty complex with some very nice spice balanced with the perfect amount of oak and sweetness. Maybe a little too perfect. It seems too dark to be natural, even if it is an XO. If caramel was added, then I suspect sugar and other additives were used as well. In the end, though, this isn’t very expensive for an XO Armagnac and it tastes good. Although I prefer additive-free spirits, that’s what really matters. Fontan XO is recommended.

Domain du Tertre, PM Spirits/Seelbach’s selection

Maker: Domaine du Terte, Mahéru, Orne, Normandy, France.

Apples: 30 or so different French cider apple varieties, possibly pear as well.

Place of origin: Calvados AOC, Normandy, France.

Age: 16 y/o (distilled 2004, bottled 2020, XO status)

ABV: 55% (cask strength)

Notes: No additives or chill filtering. Estate grown apples. 80 bottles produced. Fermented using native yeast. For more information see the Seelbach’s website.

Price: $250 (Seelbach’s exclusive)

Thanks to Blake from Seelbach’s for the complementary bottle I used for this review!

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Oak, Norman cider, apple cores, cut Granny Smith apples.

Palate: Light bodied and delicate. Session cider, apple tannin, maple sugar candy. A little sweeter with water, but a lot of the other flavors are lost.

Finish: Swimming pool (this is not a bad note!), oak, dessert apple, burn, maple syrup.

Parting words: I will never doubt the power of whining again. When friend of the blog Sku posted tasting notes to this Calvados in the Serious Brandy Facebook group and thanked Blake Riber of Bourbonr and Seelbach’s for the sample, I commented that I also accepted samples. Blake took my jokey whine seriously and got me my own bottle so I could pass along my thoughts on it. I am very thankful that he did too.

Domaine du Tertre is a small operation in a small village in Orne. The closest city (such as it is) is Alenço(u)n, the capital of the department. The majority of the Domaine’s production is cider, perry, and juice, but it does make a small amount of Calvados every year. It’s been operated by the Havard family since the 19th century, and has been making Calvados since the 1870s. It is currently owned and operated by brothers Michel and Oliver. The farm is currently 50 hectares in area and the current orchards date from 1991.

I haven’t tasted a lot of old Calvados, but many of the ones I have tasted had lost their distinctive character in the barrel and tasted more like a Cognac of the same age than an apple brandy. This Domaine du Tertre does not have that problem. It took me a little time to wrap my head around it, but it tastes what it actually is: a kicked up Norman cider. There’s a lot of tannin and a little funk with some delicious cut apple aromas and flavors. It works very well as a special occasion aperitif or summer patio sipper for when old friends come to visit. A little water cools off some of the burn but too much kills all the interesting things going on here. Go easy.

I am so glad I was able to taste this wonderful brandy, and big thanks again to Blake for sending it my way. $250 is a lot of money, to be sure, but if it’s in your budget, Seelbach’s Domaine du Tertre 2004 selection is recommended!

Claque Pépin Vieille Réserve Organic

Maker: Claque Pépin, Écouché-les-Vallées (formery Serans), Orne, France. (Benoit Louvet, owner)

Region: Calvados AOC, Normandy, France.

Age: NAS (around 6 y/o according to the Heavenly Spirits website)

ABV: 40%

Purchased for $41 (Vine & Table)

Michigan state minimum: $47

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Caramel apple, bouquet garni.

Palate: Full bodied and silky. Caramel, apple juice, wood, cassia.

Finish: Spicy and juicy.

Parting words: Claque Pépin Vieille Réserve is, according to the aforementioned Heavenly Spirits website, the first certified organic Calvados available in the US. Claque Pépin, named after a French heirloom apple variety, is not a very old company by Calvados standards, but owner Benoit Louvet worked in the industry for many years before starting his own cidery and distillery in 2005, and his family has roots in the area.

Overall this is a very pleasant Calvados. It’s simultaneously full-bodied and delicate, bold and elegant. It lacks the depth of older brandies, but there’s more than enough flavor to make up for that. It stands out vs the big VSOPs like Bushnel and Coquerel and the price is competitive. The fact that it’s organic and from a small producer are added bonuses. I really like this Calavados.

Claque Pépin Vieille Réserve Organic is recommended.

Jean-Luc Pasquet Cognac, Lot 62, Serious Brandy selection, cask #2

Maker: Sarl Domaine Pasquet, Bellevigne, Cognac, Charente, France.

Distiller: Undisclosed small distiller in Petite Champagne.

Region: Petite Champagne, Cognac, Charente, France.

Grape: Ugni Blanc (100%)

Vintage: 1962

Age: 58 y/o (100% in oak)

Note: No chill filtering or additives.

Purchased for $244/700 ml (200€) via Cognatheque.

Appearance: Bright oxblood.

Nose: Dried figs, dates, old oak, lavender, chamomile.

Palate: Full-bodied and dry, but with a little fruit. Dried cherry, oak, walnut.

Finish: Big. Anise candy, horehound, oak.

Parting words: I think is bottle is both the most expensive and oldest (longest time in oak) spirit I’ve ever purchased. I’ve tasted bourbons distilled in the 1960s and earlier (I even tried one from the 1860s once), and 30+ y/o Scotch, but never a brandy this old. Truth be told, I’m not generally not a fan of ultra-aged spirits. I find most of them unbalanced and overpriced. Why should I pay three or four figures for a whiskey that is so woody, only a beaver would enjoy it.

Despite all that, I was very excited when the administrator of a Facebook group I’m a member of, Serious Brandy, decided to do a group buy of two casks of Cognac from the cellars of Jean-Luc Pasquet. Domaine Pasquet is currently owned by Jean-Luc’s son Jean and his wife Amy, who is a frequent poster in the group. Serious Brandy’s founder, Steve (aka retired whiskey blogger Sku) is someone whose palate and knowledge of brandy I trust, and in the grand scheme of things $244 is not a huge sum for a 58 year old spirit. Single Malt Scotch in that age range sells for 5 figures or more. Be that as it may, I only bought one bottle from the second cask selected due to budgetary constraints (i.e. my wife’s strong desire to pay off all our student loans at the end of this year).

So when I opened it for the first time, I was a little disappointed. It was very intense, and the experience of drinking it was like having old fashioned licorice shoved up every orifice. I was a little sad after that so I let it sit in my cabinet for a couple weeks. Then I tried it again, and it was better. Then a tried it again after another week or two and it was even better. Now, a few months after I opened it, it’s become very good.

The finish is still intense, but the nose and palate are much more balanced. It’s still clearly an old spirit, but it’s now more spry than senile. After a few months of enjoying it I’m putting it back into my cellar and I will put it back into rotation after I finish the next French brandy I have waiting in the wings, as it were.

Anyway, big thanks to Steve and the Pasquets for giving me the opportunity to own such a rare and interesting Cognac! Jean-Luc Pasquet Cognac, Lot 62, First Serious Brandy selection, cask #2 is recommended.

Busnel VSOP

Maker: Busnel, Cormeilles, Eure, Normany, France

Region: AOC Pays d’Auge, Calvados.

Age: VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $50

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Caramel, parsley, leather, English lavender.

Palate: Mild. Sage, French oak, pecans, toffee.

Finish: Caramel apple, eucalyptus.

Parting words: Pays d’Auge is the most prestigious apellation in Calvados. Its brandies are required to be distilled twice in pot stills (unlike the column stills used elsewhere), and the fruit (mostly apples) that goes into it must all come from the region of the same name in east-central Calvados (duh). Pears are allowed into the mix, but unlike the neighboring AOC Domfrontais, there is no minimum percetage that must be used. My understanding is that very few pears are used in Pays d’Auge anymore.

At any rate, Busnel is one of the leasing producers of Calvados, or at least one of the most commonly seen brands in the US. They’ve been distilling since the early 19th century, although brandy has been made in Calvados since at least the 17th, and probably earlier than that. They produce a full line of all the age categories, although VSOP is the only expression available in Michigan.

From my tasting notes, it may seem like this brandy is a bit cattywampus, but it really is integrated into a seemless whole. Busnel VSOP is the perfect example of a spirit that is elegant without being dull. It’s worth all $50 I paid for it, and maybe even a little more. Busnel VSOP is highly recommended.

Père Magloire Fine VS

Maker: Père Magloire, Pont L’Eveque, Calvados, Normandy, France.wp-1576808764615.jpg

Region: Calvados AOC, France.

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

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $35

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Varnish, apples.

Palate: Medium bodied. Celery, some dry apple flavor.

Finish: Dry and clean. A pinch of celery leaf.

Parting words: I’ve been exploring French apple brandies for a year or two and I figured it was about time I got around to trying something from Père Magloire, France’s (and the world’s?) best selling Calvados. I was not impressed.

This is an inoffensive but dull brandy. Light apple and celery (typical of young French or French-style apple brandies) are the only flavors detectable. Not a trace of wood, caramel, vanilla or anything else. It mixes well enough, but at $35 a bottle, you’re better off getting Laird’s Applejack or 7 1/2 y/o apple brandy if you’re looking for a light apple flavor for mixing. If you’re looking for a sipper, upgrade to the VSOP (if you can find it, it’s no longer on the Michigan list).

Père Magloire Fine VS is not recommended.

Camus VSOP Elegance

Maker: Camus, Cognac, Charente, France.20191107_175812.jpg

Region: Various

Age category: VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $48

Appearance: Cherry wood.

Nose: Grape soda, oak, alcohol, pink peppercorn.

Palate: Full-bodied and silky. Golden raisins, cola, vanilla.

Finish: Heat, cherry, French oak, brown sugar.

Parting words: Camus the Cognac has been produced by Camus the family since 1863. It’s a mid-sized house located in The Borderies with its own vineyards, although it does also source from other estates as well. Camus’ Elegence range consists of inexpensive (at least compared to the rest of the line) Cognac blends.

Camus VSOP Elegance is a pleasant step up from the VS which I reviewed here. I had fairly high expectations for the VSOP based on how good the VS was. Those expectations were met. It’s elegent and easy drinking, but relatively complex with lots of fruit and cola. The price of Camus VSOP Elegance is higher than most of the VSOP offerings from the big houses, but it’s also more interesting than most of those. That’s why Camus VSOP Elegence is recommended.

Janneau VSOP

Maker: Janneau (distills, ages and bottles), Condom, Gers, France.20190621_175548.jpg

Region: Armagnac

Age category: VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $56

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: French oak, raisins, vanilla, dried orange peel.

Palate: Mildly fruity. Fruit punch, oak.

Finish: Subtle. Sangria, alcohol, oak.

Parting words: Janneau VSOP is one of the better distributed Armagnacs in Michigan, which is admittedly a low bar. It’s a solid one, though. It’s relatively subtle on the palate and finish but it’s an enjoyable, fruity pour for a pretty good price. Its accessibility also makes it a good choice for newcomers to Armagnac. My biggest complaint is the squat bottle that takes up a lot of room on the shelf. Janneau VSOP is recommended.