Monday, February 4, 2013

Cognac Review: Pierre Ferrand Reserve

Pierre Ferrand is both a very old and a relatively new company. Old, in the sense that the history of Pierre Ferrand stretches back to the late 18th century. New, in the sense that the company was revived in the late 1980s by Alexandre Gabriel, who formed Cognac Ferrand. The company now also produces its own gin, as well as sourcing and aging rums and other spirits.

Located in the heart of the Grand Champagne region - considered one of the best areas for making cognac because its very chalky soils help to retain moisture that keeps the grapes healthy during the long, dry summer months. All of their cognac is double distilled in a small 25 hectoliter alembic still from wine on the lees (the solids are not filtered out before loading the still, which means that flavors are also extracted from the lees). Aging is done, as with all cognac, in limousin oak. A variety of different toasting levels are used in the barrels, which will change the types of compounds extracted by the spirit. The distillery has over half a dozen different locations for aging, all with different ranges of humidity and temperature. All of these give Pierre Ferrand a wide selection of eau de vie to select for blending into their standard expressions.

Their Reserve expression is in the middle of their range, above the younger Ambre expression and below the older Esprit des Dieux. While there's no age statement on it, the number I've seen most often is 20 years old. However, I haven't been able to get anything official and there are conflicting statements about whether that's the average age or the maximum age of the eau de vie going into the blend. Either way, it's definitely mature.

Pierre Ferrand Reserve

Nose: baked spiced and green apples, ripe berries, light floral and honey notes, slightly musty/vegetal, purple/cherry cough syrup, sweet grapes. After dilution, the nose becomes more oily (nut oils?), the cherry notes become more woody, some grassy notes emerge alongside some sweet and salty barbecue.

Taste: up front is lemon and orange peel alongside cane sugar sweetness - both of which continue through the palate, mild oak and pepper aren't far behind, which introduce some bitterness along with mineral notes and hints of grape skins. After dilution, the sweetness is more subdued, with strong pepper that overlaps with the fruit flavors.

Finish: vegetal, musty, bittersweet oak, green apples, grapes, and pepper.

I really enjoy the balance of this cognac. While there is certainly plenty of sweet fruit flavors to go around, the palate is balanced by pepper and bittersweet oak that keep it from going off the rails. The freshness of the flavors is also a pleasant surprise from a spirit with so much age on it.

As a value proposition, I'd say this is a pretty good choice. I was very, very lucky and snagged my bottle for under $40 (the OLCC does some peculiar things). Normally it's more around $70, which isn't cheap, but doesn't seem absurd for a spirit of this quality. I need to try the younger Ambre expression to get a sense of how it compares, as that one is usually around $40. However, if I'm ever able to find a bottle of the Reserve for under $60, I will jump right on it. It's just so nice that I couldn't say no.

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