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.

 

Roger Groult, 8 y/o

Maker: Roger Goult, Valorbiquet (Saint-Cyr-du-Ronceray), Calvados, Normandy, France.20190620_214902.jpg

Place of origin: Clos de la Hurvanière, Pays d’Auge AOC, Calvados, Normandy, France.

Age: 8 y/o

ABV: 41%

Price: $60 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Crushed cider apple, toasted oak, vanilla, nutmeg.

Palate: White chocolate apple, vanilla custard, burn.

Finish: Butterscotch hard candy, ginger, kiss of oak.

Parting words: Roger Groult is a family-owned Calvados producer in the Pays d’Auge, in the eastern half of the Calvados AOC. Groult produces a full line of apple brandies that often show up on the shelves of large liquor stores in the US.

I haven’t tried any of the other Groult brandies so I can’t comment on how this one compares to the others, but I did enjoy it. There’s nothing too distictive but there’s also nothing unpleasant. At 8 years I did expect a bit more oak, but I’m not big on oaky apple brandies, so that was fine with me. I just wish that there was a little more depth. $60 isn’t terrible for an age-stated Calvados so Roger Groult 8 year old Calvados is recommended.

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.

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.

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.

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.