Cognac D’Usse VSOP

Maker: Chateau de Cognac, Cognac, Charente, France. (Bacardi)20160929_162624.jpg

Region: Blend.

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

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $51

Appearance: Brownish copper with long, elegant legs.

Nose: Alcohol, felt, old oak, prune juice.

Palate: Full bodied. Juicy and a little chewy with a bold burn throughout.

Finish: Raisins, oak, heat. Long.

Parting words: Cognac d’Ussé is best known for being developed (endorsed?) by Jay-Z. Don’t confuse it with other celebrity spirits like Conjure Cognac or Ciroc vodka. Those are garbage, this is not. D’Usse is a product of Chateau de Cognac, appropriately located   in a castle in central Cognac. Baron Otard is Chateau de Cognac’s primary product line with all the usual suspects. Unlike those, D’Usse (this and the $200+ XO) is made by blending brandies from all over CdC’s estates. It was intended to rope in a young, hip audience. How young and/or hip I am is up for debate, but I have been roped in.

There are no flavors or aromas here that are too far outside the norm for Cognacs, but they’re all amped up while remaining balanced. As a newcomer to good Cognac, I really enjoyed it. The price is in the same ballpark as other VSOPs from Cognac houses of comparable size. Not that it matters but the bottle is really cool looking too. D’Usse VSOP is recommended.

 

Chateau du Tariquet, 8 years old.

Maker: Chateau du Tarquiet, Éauze, Condom, Gers, France.wp-1468538722885.jpg

Grape: Folle Blanche (100%)

Place of origin: Tariquet estate, Bas-Armagnac.

Age: 8 y/o (distilled Nov 1999, bottled July 2010)

ABV: 51.1%

Purchased for $64 (Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana)

Appearance: Dark auburn with lots of closely spaced legs.

Nose: Overdone oatmeal raisin cookies: Vanilla, toasted cookie, raisins.

Palate: Alcohol, dried figs, old oak.

Finish: Hot, fading into macerated raisins.

Parting words: Armagnac is a type of French brandy produced in the Armagnac region of southwestern France. It differs from Cognac in a few ways. First, it’s made in a different region altogether. Second, Armagnac is made in Alembic continuous stills unlike Cognac, and it is only distilled once, also unlike Cognac which is distilled twice. This can give Armagnac a bold, rustic character that sets it apart from its mild, easy drinking cousin.

There’s not a lot of information on this Armagnac house to be found on the internet. What I was able to discover was that Tarquiet produces a fairly wide assortment of Armagnacs as well as Cote de Gascogne wines. The vineyards were purchased by the Arnaud family (bear-trainers by trade) in 1912. Hélène Arnaud married a young hairdresser named Pierre Grassa after World War II and the estate passed into the hands of the Grassa family. Armin and Rémy Grassa, grandsons of Hélène and Pierre, are now chief winemakers at the estate.

I don’t review a lot of Armagnacs, but I would like to review more. The biggest obstacle to that is the extremely limited select of them in Michigan. So I try to pick some up when I can when traveling. This one appealed to me because it is relatively affordable and available at cask strength. It’s not the most flavorful one I’ve had, but it has some very nice oak characteristics and rich raisin flavors that make it fun to drink. I like it. Chateau du Tariquet, 8 years old (100% Folle Blanche, cask strength) is recommended.

NOTE: Factual error about method of distillation has been corrected.

Camus VS Elegance

Maker: Camus, Cognac, Charente, France2016-01-06-14.57.54.jpg.jpeg

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

ABV: 40%

Price: $26 (The Party Source)

Appearance: Bright copper with thick, slow moving legs

Nose: Raisins, old oak, fig, alcohol.

Palate: Soft and mild. Oatmeal raisin cookies.

Finish: Dried fig, dates, alcohol, vanilla.

Parting words: The Camus Cognac house dates back to 1863. Unlike its much bigger competitors it is family and French owned, and always has been. The current president is Cyril Camus (b. 1971), a descendent of founder Jean-Baptiste Camus (b. 1835). They also share similar facial hair. Cyril created the Elegance line of entry level, age category cognacs, and the Borderies XO, made with grapes from the family vineyards in the Borderies sub-region of Cognac. He also began a line of cognacs made entirely with grapes from Île de Ré, a small island (33 square miles or so) off the coast of western France. Frankly, Camus produces a bewildering number of products for such a small company.

The Elegance line, as mentioned above, seems to be intended as an entry level product line. It also includes Elegance VSOP, XO and Extra (in ascending order of age). The VS is the least expensive but the VSOP is affordable as well. Unfortunately, the state of Michigan does not carry the VS, but the VSOP retails for $39, which is not bad in the grand scheme of things. Michigan also carries Elegance XO ($157), Borderies XO ($177), Extra Elegance ($500) and Cuvee 5.150 ($14,000).

I expected this brandy to be mixing quality at best. I was pleasantly shocked. The fruity quality of the distillate clearly takes the lead here, but it’s very good on its own and is balanced with enough cask character to keep it from tasting like an unaged eau de vie. I tasted from a 50 ml bottle so I didn’t quite have enough to try it mixed, but I can see the assertive fruit getting in the way of some mixers. Or maybe it wouldn’t. What I can say with certainty is that Camus Elegance VS is very good. Recommended.

Rémy Martin XO Excellence

Maker: Rémy Martin, Cognac, Charente, Poitou-Charentes, France (Remy Cointreau)wpid-2015-07-14-17.52.08.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Champagne, Cognac (not to be confused with the wine region of the same name)

Age category: XO (6 y/o or older)

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $150

Apparently: Reddish orange.

Nose: Alcohol, rancio, orange peel, almond extract, cherry, vanilla.

Palate: Full mouthfeel. Semi-dry. Roasted almonds, Queen Anne Cherries, white mulberries, white wine grapes.

Finish: Golden raisins, old oak, leather. Lingers for a very long time.

Parting words: I’m not in the habit of buying $150 bottles of anything, let alone Cognac. Luckily I was able to find a 50 ml bottle of this. I had to share it with you, of course, dear readers.

My biggest question is always, is it worth the money? My Cognac experience is limited but this is by far the best one I’ve ever had. It’s complex and well integrated. Fruity but not sweet. For 40% ABV, it has a lot of power too. If I were tasting blind, I would never guess that it was that low. As a bourbon guy, I would still appreciate a bigger proof at this price, but cask strength Cognac isn’t really a thing so it would probably be unfair to criticize this on that basis.

As elegant as it gets, Rémy Martin XO Excellence is recommended.

Calvados Coquerel Fine

Maker: Calvados Coquerel, Milly, Manche, Normandy, Francewpid-2015-05-26-11.35.46.jpg.jpeg

Age: 2 y/o

ABV: 40%

Price: $29 (The Party Source. It seems to have disappeared off the Michigan list)

Appearance: Golden auburn, a lot of necklacing, big thick legs.

Nose: Alcohol, dry apple cider, toasted French oak.

Palate: Thin, alcohol, dry apples, maple sugar, celery.

Finish: celery, oak, under ripe apple, Like Arkansas black or similar variety, white sugar, dash of vanilla.

Parting words: Calvados Coquerel was founded in 1937 by René Gilbert and remained in the hands of the Gillbert family until it was purchased by Asbach in 1971. Asbach became a part of Diageo in 1990 but Calvados Coquerel regained its independence when it was sold to Jean-François Martin in 1996 (not to be confused with the Remy-Martin Cognac house).

Fine is the bottom shelf, err “entry level”, apple brandy from Calvados Coquerel. The other grades are Vieux (3 y/o), VSOP(4 y/o) and XO (6 y/o). The line is capped off with the Marquis de la Pomme fifteen and twenty year old brandies. They also make a variety of other apple-related beverages including cider all using Norman apples.

This brandy has been savaged online, maybe a bit unfairly. It’s certainly not great, but as a mixer or casual sipper it’s good enough. The price is a bit hard to swallow, though. One can get the Laird’s 7 ½ y/o apple brandy for three dollars more and the 100 proof Laird’s for just one dollar more. Black Star Farms does make an apple brandy in a similar style but at $22 for a 375 ml bottle, it works out to be much more expensive per ml.

All that said, given European brandy prices, this product isn’t priced too far out of line but that doesn’t mean its worth the money either. Calvados Coquerel Fine is mildly recommended.

Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie

Maker: Etienne Dupont, Victot-Pontfol, Normandy, Francewpid-2014-11-18-10.22.09.jpg.jpeg

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 5.5%

Purchased for $12/750 ml

Appearance: light ochre with a big fizzy head that disperses soon after pouring.

Nose: Dry and flinty with a hint of yeasty funk.

Palate: Fizzy, apple juice, sourdough, chalk dust.

Finish: Fairly clean with a little funk and a touch of sweetness.

Parting words: There are very few denizens of the Wonderful Land of Booze that I just don’t enjoy. Sherry, flavored vodka, American blended whiskey, Coors/Bud/Miller beer and French cider all fall into that category.

This cider is drinkable enough, but the combination of funky yeast and dry chalk don’t exactly keep me coming back. Maybe I should have started my cider journey in Normandy and then sailed to the UK and US, or it’s over or underaged but this is not a repeat buy, especially at this price. Not recommended.

Domaine de Pouy

Maker: Tariquet, Eauze, Midi-Pyrénées, France (Grassa family)

Grapes: Ugni Blanc & Colombard

Place of origin: Côtes de Gascone

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 11.5%

Appearance: Golden straw.

Nose: Crisp and lightly fruity. Peach, pear, tangerine.

On the palate: A bit more citrus, but still crispy. Peach, Clementine, lemon thyme drying to flintiness. As it opens up, more grapefruit comes to the fore.

Finish: Drying. The fruit is still there but loses out to minerals in the end. Leaves a slight bitterness on the tongue.

Parting words: I love wines (and beers and whiskeys and other stuff) that defy my expectations. You see, I had decided that I didn’t like French whites from the western part of the country. I had some dull white Bordeaux and so I wrote off the entire area.  But being an adventurous soul, I saw this wine recommended as a “crisp summer white” by a local wine-monger who has never failed to find me good values in French wine in the past. So I bought a bottle.

I’m glad I did. It certainly delivers on the crispness and it would be hard to ask for a better wine of this type at $10 or less. Might buy a couple more of these before the summer is out! Domaine de Pouy is highly recommended.

Domaine de Font-Sane Vielles Vignes

Maker: C. Peysson & Son, Gigondas, France

Grapes: 70% Grenache, 30% Syrah/Shiraz

Region: Ventoux AOC, Vaucluse, Rhone Valley, France.

Vintage: 2008

ABV: 13.5%

Appearance: Deep plum.

Nose: A bit of oak, lightly sweet and grapey. Pluot plums, black raspberries.

On the palate: Semi-dry. Easy going, sweet and mild upon entrance, but turns chewy. Strawberries, Black raspberries, blueberries, plums, then oak and leather.

Finish: Fruity and woody. Faintly lingers for a long while, but who wants to let it? Pour yourself another glass quick!

Parting Words: Domaine de Font-Sane Vielles Vignes is an easy drinking, but fairly complex red Rhone. Fruity but tannic and assertive. It is very food friendly. I would almost say it tastes even better with food. And it’s cheap to boot. This was a supermarket wine guy recommendation, and I must say I will be asking for another recommendation from that guy very soon.. Domaine de Font-Sane Vielles Vignes Ventoux earns a recommendation.

Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac

Maker: Delord Family, Armagnac, France

Region: Bas Armagnac, Gers, France

Age: 6 y/o

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Auburn with thick, heavy legs.

Nose: Pungent, rustic, but rounded nose. Solera sherry, prunes, plum eau de vie.

On the palate: Very full-bodied, boozy and sweet. Raisins, prunes, star anise, clove. A tiny tannic hit of oak.

Finish: Warm and dry with a little more oak. Plenty of heat that seems to get more intense after a swallow.

Parting words: Armagnac has long been Cognac’s lesser known older brother, but the upside of that is while Cognac is dominated by big foreign-owned producers (the product of the British love of Cognac), Armagnac is still filled with family producers like the Delords.

This is the first brandy I’ve reviewed for this blog, and it was a fun one. Brandy is not something I drink a lot of, especially in the warmer months, but even on an 80 degree day Marie Duffau was a pleasant companion. She’s brash and spicy, but I’ve always enjoyed the company of such ladies. The Delord family makes a full line of Armagnac, all of which are very good according to bandy-loving friends of mine. Being a younger expression, this one is also a good value and a nice introduction to the flavor profile of Armagnac. Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac is recommended.

Domaine Bott Frères Gewürztraminer Reserve Personnelle

Maker: Domaine Bott Frères, Ribeauville, Alsace, France

Grape: Gewürztraminer

Region: Alsace AOC, France

Vintage: 2008

ABV: 12.5%

Appearance: Old gold,

Nose: Woodruff, thyme, paper white narcissus, tangerine.

One the palate: Thick and lightly sweet. Bartlett pears, tarragon, lavender, woodruff.

Finish: Thick, sweet, herbal and floral. A voluptuous sweetness tempered by a light bitterness that clings to the roof of the mouth and the cheeks for the whole afternoon.

Parting words: I rarely buy bottles of wine based on what’s written on the back label. The presence of this stream-of-consciousness poem on the back is what drew me to  this bottle. It reads as follows:

“Robe slightly lemon yellow with an unctuous leg. In this aromatic and scented wine, one may notice aromas of the litchi [sic] fruit and hints of oriental scents. Served with dishes seasoned with spices, with chinese [sic], indonesian [sic], or indian [sic] cooking but also with cheese such as munster [sic], blue of Auvergne or Maroilles.”

Note that only the names of French places are capitalized. Do with that what you will.

At any rate, this is a thick, luscious, one might even say unctuous, wine that does pair well with spicy food or just on its own. Bott Frères Gewürz is recommended.