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.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

Christian Drouin Sélection

Maker: Coeur de Lion distillery, Coudray-Rabut, Lisieux, Calvados, France.20170320_113028.jpg

Age: Under three years.

ABV: 40%

Price: $40 (Binny’s)

Note: Single distilled. Made from a combination of apples and pears.

Appearance: Shining copper with thick legs.

Nose: Celery leaves, dry cider, cut pear, toasted oak.

Palate: Medium sweet. Maple sugar, partially fermented apple cider.

Finish: Herbal and slightly oaky.

Mixed: Performed well in cocktails with lemon like the Deauville cocktail (brandy, apple brandy, triple sec, lemon juice) named for the seaside resort town down the road from Coudray-Rabut. It did poorly in cocktails containing Vermouth, clashing with the other ingredients.

Parting words: Like most distillers in Calvados, Christian Drouin’s Coeur de Lion distillery makes a range of apple brandies as well as producing cider and perry (poire). The Drouin brandy range includes (in ascending order of age) an unaged apple/pear eau de vie (Blanche de Normandie), Sélection, Réserve, VSOP, XO, Hors d’Age, 25 y/o, and a range of vintage Calvados (dates from 1939 to 1983 are listed on the outdated website).

The Sélection is fine for what it is, a bottom end casual drinking or mixing Calvados. I didn’t know it was made with pears in the mix along with apples. The source material represents itself well, as it should in a young whiskey or brandy. $40 is more than I would pay for a bourbon of this quality but given the inflation of non Cognac French brandy prices, that’s probably fair. I tasted from a 375 ml bottle. If you’re on the fence on this, that might be a good way to dip your toe in the proverbial water. Christian Drouin Sélection is recommended.

 

Larressingle VSOP

Maker: Larressingle, Condom, Gers, Occitanie (formerly Midi-Pyrénées), France.20161220_084818.jpg

Region: Armagnac (blend of Bas-Armagnac and Ténarèze).

Grapes: Ugli Blanc, Folle Branche (according to the internet).

Vintage: NV

Age grade: VSOP (at least 3 y/o, though the importer says this is 8 y/o).

Note: 20% of the blend was double distilled, as opposed to the customary single distillation.

ABV: 40%

Price: $50 (Party Source)

Appearance: Light caramel.

Nose: Apple juice, passito wine, stollen, old oak.

Palate: Light bodied and light in flavor. Caramel, prune juice, vanilla.

Finish: Alcohol, raisins, a little oak.

Parting words: My bottle of Larressingle VSOP is something of a mystery. I know I bought it locally but it is not on the state list and I can’t find any of sign it ever being on the list. I won’t say where I got it (snitches get stitches) but however it got here, I’m glad I was able to pick up a bottle.

Armagnac fans are fond of saying how much more flavorful and affordable Armagnac is vs. Cognac. I’m not sure where that is the case, but it isn’t here. Larressingle VSOP is affordable for an Armagnac, but it’s not very flavorful at all. The last brandy I reviewed, D’usse VSOP Cognac, was about the same price but with twice the flavor.

Despite the watery taste, Larressingle VSOP mixes pretty well. I tried it in an Old Fashioned, a Japanese Cocktail, a Continental Sour (sour plus red wine) and the quintessential Armagnac drink, the d’Artagnan (Arm + orange liqueur, oj, sugar and dry sparkling wine), named for the literary Gascon swashbuckler.

If you can find Larressingle VSOP for around $40, I recommend buying it. Otherwise, it is only mildly recommended for mixing or as an option for those just dipping their toe into the Armagnac pool.

 

Bastille 1789

Maker: Daucourt , Angoulême, France

Style: Blended (Malt/Wheat) Whisky.

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $27

Thanks to Keith for the sample.

Appearance: Bright gold with thin legs.

Nose: Similar to an Irish whiskey but fruitier. Alcohol, malt, raisins, cherry pie.

Palate: Medium bodied and light. Some burn, malt, sugar plums, dried figs.

Finish: Alcohol burn, cherry juice, then a big weird blast of dried chili chipotle.

Mixed: The Bastille website recommends three cocktails: a manhattan, whisky sour and an old fashioned. The old fashioned was very good. The fruity notes came out without too much of the chipotle. The manhattan was really exceptional. The fruity aromas dovetailed perfectly with the red vermouth. I didn’t try the sour because I was too lazy.

Parting words: My expectations were low coming into this review. I expected it to be boring and flawed. While it wasn’t exactly a barnburner of a whisky, it wasn’t bad and was just different enough to be interesting, at least until the end of the sample bottle. The price is not too bad either. It’s in the same price range as Jameson and it compares favorably to it. It mixes very nicely which is a nice bonus. It won’t knock your socks off but as a curiosity (ever tried a French whisky?), change of pace and mixer it’s worth buying. Bastille 1789 is recommended.

Rémy Martin 1738

Maker: Rémy Martin, Cognac, France (Rémy Cointreau)Remy 1738

Place of origin: Champagne, Cognac, France. (Not to be confused with the winemaking region of the same name).

Age: NAS (minimum 2 y/o )

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $50

Appearance: Auburn with thick legs and necklace.

Nose: Fruity. Fresh wine grapes, cardamom, dried blueberries, saffron, ginger.

On the palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Panettone with raisins.

Finish: Golden raisins, hint of oak and alcohol. Fades fairly quickly.

Parting words: I believe this is the first Cognac I have reviewed for the blog, although I did review an Armagnac back in 2012. I decided that I needed to review a Cognac when I recently purchased a bourbon finished in a Cognac barrel and I realized I couldn’t pick out any specific Cognac influenced aromas or tastes.

For those who may not be familiar with Cognac, it’s a French brandy made from white wine made from grapes grown in and around the city of Cognac in western France, north of Bordeaux. There are six subregions within the Cognac zone: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaire. Rémy Martin 1738 is a Champagne Cognac, meaning it was made with a blend of grapes from both Grande and Petite Champagne. According to the Rémy Martin website, it is composed of 65% Grande and 35% Petite. Cognac is distilled in an old style of pot still called an alembic still and must be aged for a minimum of two years in French oak before being sold. The grapes used to produce the wine used to produce Cognac are typically wines that don’t drink very well. Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano) is one of the primary varietals used

1783 (named for the date of a royal warrant the company was granted) is positioned in the middle of the Rémy Martin range and as such I thought it represented a good place to jump in to the Cognac. I was not disappointed. It contains no age statement or age grade (V.O., V.S.O.P., etc), but strikes what seems to be a good balance between fruity youth and oaky maturity. It’s worth the price, but if you’re still not sure, it is availble in 375 and 200 ml bottles as well. Rémy Martin 1738 is recommended.

Magellan Gin

Maker: ???, France. Imported by Crillon Importers Ltd, Paramus, New Jersey, USAMAg

ABV: 44%

Appearance: Blue, like diluted window cleaning solution.

Nose: Lots of juniper and iris (I’m assuming the other botanical I’m smelling a lot of is iris, given the fact that iris is emphasized on the label). Citrus peel, grains-of-paradise.

On the palate: Full bodied and semi-sweet with a bit of spice on the back end.

Finish: Sweet and spicy, then a little hot.

Mixed: A little brash with tonic, but goes down ok. Very good in a Tom Collins and good in a dry martini.

Parting words:  Magellan is a good gin. It’s a little too aggressive for my tastes, but it does OK mixed, which is what most gin is going to be used for. The cheesy branding and the blue coloring are distractions I could do without. The $30 price tag is also something I could do without. I’m kind of on the fence about this one, but I’ll err on the side of niceness this time and give Magellan Gin a recommendation.