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.

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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.

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

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.

 

 

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.