Friday, February 28, 2020

Cognac Review: Park Borderies

Maison Park has an interesting twist in the middle of their lineup - instead of Napoleon or some other fanciful name to mark the midpoint between their VSOP and XO expressions, they decided to focus on their home region of the Borderies. I find this to be a really interesting opportunity to gain some understanding of how regions influence the different styles of cognac without having to buy a specialty single cask or limited release.

As the name suggests, this is produced from 100% Borderies grapes, filled into 400 L fresh lightly toasted barrels for ten months, transferred to used casks, then blended and bottled at 40%, probably with various adjustments and chill filtration. The L13 bottling code on the neck makes me assume that this was put together in 2013, which would be consistent with how slowly specialty bottles move in Oregon.

Cognac Park Borderies

Nose: classic cognac notes of grape, a little alcohol heat, gently floral, woody baking spices, honeycomb, green apple and pear, ripe berries, citrus peel, and a touch of incense. After adding a few drops of water the honey notes become stronger, the apple and pear become fresher, the oak becomes a little more tannic, but some of the complexity is suppressed amid softer aromas.

Taste: sweet with strong fruity notes of grape, berry, apple, and pear up front, soft oak beginning in the middle and carrying through to the back where it is joined by some floral notes. After dilution the fruit up front becomes stronger but less distinct and returns right at the back, the oak becomes even softer until the very back, and the floral notes are largely quashed until the finish.

Finish: caramel, floral, bittersweet grape, mild oak

This is essentially what I expected the VSOP to be. While there's nothing stunning, it has a solid level of complexity and leans into the floral notes that are a hallmark of its origins. Water shifts it in an even sweeter direction, though I find the loss of complexity to be disappointing. It does make me wonder what this spirit could have been with a higher bottling proof and a little less caramel. With a bit of a punch up I think it could hold its own against single malts in a similar price range.

In a Sidecar the nose is very floral, almost overwhelming the orange notes. The sip opens bittersweet with Seville orange and floral top notes, becoming rather creamy with some lemo around the middle, then fading out somewhat limply. The finish is rather muted with some cognac notes and a bit of orange.

Well, that was a bit disappointing. While this definitely brings floral notes to a cocktail, it doesn't fit in the way that the VSOP did. With that said, I can see this being used alongside a more rounded cognac to bring some floral character without it being all of the base spirit.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Cognac Review: Park VSOP

As with most cognac houses, Park's VSOP expression is the next step up from their entry-level VS (though they also have an Organic Fins Bois that is comparably priced).

In keeping with the upgraded profile, the VSOP is constructed from 40% Fins bois, 40% Petite Champagne, and 20% Grande Champagne grapes, filled into 400 L fresh lightly toasted barrels for eight months, transferred to used casks, then blended and bottled at 40%, probably with various adjustments and chill filtration. The L13 bottling code on the neck makes me assume that this was put together in 2013, which would be consistent with how slowly specialty bottles move in Oregon.

Cognac Park VSOP

Nose: darker than the VS - caramel, maple syrup, a rounded creaminess, light toasted oak, cinnamon and woody baking spices, a little green grass, gently floral. After adding a few drops of water it shifts towards the oak, grass, and something a little funky (hard boiled eggs?), but it also has even less intensity.

Taste: syrupy maple sweetness up front with both grape and cask character, a little citrus peel around the middle, some grassy/hay notes in the background that grow stronger toward the back, drier but not particular tannic going into the finish. After dilution it becomes softer and sweeter, but less syrupy, with a thick layer of caramel throughout, a floral overlay around the middle, and some mixed fruit with light oak tannins coming out around the back.

Finish: slightly cardboard-y oak, flat grape notes, caramel, lingering vanilla and grapefruit

While this is a clear upgrade from the VS in terms of smoothness and richness, I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn't much of an improvement in complexity. While it's a more engineered product, I think Rémy Martin VSOP is a big upgrade over this.

In a Sidecar the nose is balanced between orange from the liqueur and floral notes from the cognac. The sip opens with grape and orange sweetness, backed up by a touch of aspirin bitterness, then fades into bittersweet orange with some oak tannins at the back. The finish continues the orange notes with some cognac roundness arriving.

That was... not bad. While not the most characterful cognac, the VSOP does manage to hold its own here and keep the weird parts of the Ferrand Curaçao in check. While it's a little expensive for mixing, I'm willing to say that this is a fairly solid pick.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Cognac Review: Park VS

Cognac Park has something of a peculiar history. The distillery goes back to 1880 and has been in the hands of the Tessendier family ever since. However, the Park brand was developed as a collaboration between the distillery and Dominic Park, a Scotsman, in 1993. In 2008 the distillery purchased the brand and everything has been in house since then.

While the distillery is situation in the Borderies, Park gets wines from all over the Cognac region to ensure that they have a broad pallet with which to construct their expressions. With the exception of their single region releases, each will be a blend of spirits from 2-4 different regions.

The VS is built from 50% Fins Bois and 50% Petite Champagne, filled into 400 L fresh lightly toasted barrels for six months, transferred to used casks, then blended and bottled at 40%, probably with various adjustments and chill filtration. The L13 bottling code on the neck makes me assume that this was put together in 2013, which would be consistent with how slowly specialty bottles move in Oregon.

Cognac Park VS

Nose: rather faint - alcohol burn, some acetone, grape and barrel sweetness, maybe a touch of something floral and citrus. After adding a few drops of water the aromas shift significantly to vanilla, fresh apples, oak, bright caramel, and a stronger floral note.

Taste: rather sweet up front with caramel and grape carrying through to the back, some fresh apple around the middle, then a touch of oak tannins and some rounder marshmallow notes at the back. After dilution it becomes rounder up front and some more well-defined oak emerges at the back.

Finish: balanced caramel, grape, and oak plus lingering vanilla

This is honestly pretty forgettable at full strength. There's practically no complexity, even compared to stuff like Hennessy or Courvoisier. The only redeeming feature is that there are no overt flaws or off-putting flavors, though I wouldn't recommend spending too much time sniffing it. Water, oddly, pumps it up a bit and reduces the solvent notes in the aromas. Maybe a sign that this was built for mixed drinks? Unfortunately since I only have a miniature I won't be able to find out.

With that said, for the price I would still pick Hardy VS over this.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Cognac Review: Louis Royer VSOP Force 53

Louis Royer Force 53 has a very particular place in my journey in the spirits world. I first heard about it through Cocktail Chronicles singing its praises in pre-Prohibition cocktails. From there it became something of a white whale, a spirit that I could occasionally glimpse on the occasional liquor store website, but never any that would ship to me.

Lo and behold, it randomly appeared in the OLCC system, even at MSRP. I was able to snag a bottle before they disappeared, many years after I had shifted my focus primarily from cocktails to whisky and other spirits.

Louis Royer VSOP Force 53

Nose: rather intense for a cognac, but also somewhat closed - moderately sweet grapes and apples, a thicker layer of fresh French oak, toffee, floral and citrus peel notes in the background. After adding a splash of water it become softer and richer, but almost all of the complexity is lost among a wave of caramel, with just some basic grape notes in the background.

Taste: sweet up front with thick grape, caramel, and oak notes, some citrus peel (mostly orange) in the background, shifting towards more tannic oak, vanilla, and a touch of chocolate around the middle, with some heat towards the back. After dilution it becomes thick and rich with almost none of the original heat, but most of the progression and development is lost in a wash of caramel and grape sweetness.

Finish: alcohol heat, moderately tannic oak, grape

This does what it says on the label - it takes a fairly standard cognac profile and amps it up with a higher bottling proof. Compared to the Rémy Martin from earlier this week, the next most noticeable difference is how much more oak influence is in this spirit.

It seems fairly clear to me that this is built primarily for cocktails. The features that make it somewhat brash and unrefined at full strength are the same ones that help it stand up against other formidable ingredients in a mixed drink.

In a Sidecar the nose is dominated by woody and floral notes from the cognac, with backing orange peel. The sip opens with strong cognac notes, with slowly growing orange notes into the middle, then more tart lemon near the back. The finish is long with tannic notes on top of lemon and bitter orange peel, plus a touch of vanilla.

Now this is more like it. While the orange liqueur isn't perfect here, the cognac absolutely shines. The higher proof really lets it punch through the other elements, keeping itself in the fore despite the strong character of the liqueur and lemon. While Force 53 isn't cheap, it is absolutely worth the extra expense for the way it can stand up to the strongest ingredients. This will take almost any drink calling for cognac to the next level as it has a lot of what makes bonded bourbons and ryes spirits that bartenders have been reaching for all through the cocktail renaissance.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Cognac Review: Rémy Martin VSOP Revisited

Looking back, Rémy Martin VSOP was the earliest cognac I looked at as a sipping spirit. While I haven't gained a ton of experience since then, it is the kind of thing that I'd like to return to to see how my own palate has changed.

As Josh aptly put it, this is the Johnnie Walker Black Label of cognacs. While Rémy is not on the same level as Hennessy, it sits squarely among the second tier of producers along with Courvoisier and Martell. This gives it the depth of stock needed to produce something with broad appeal and consistency.

Rémy Martin VSOP

Nose: big notes of apple and pear, grapefruit, lemon, and orange, mild grape, vanilla, and oak in the background, vague floral and vegetal notes, a little caramel. After dilution it becomes a little muted and less complex, but more vanilla and grape come out, plus something soapy.

Taste: sweet caramel with some grapefruit bitterness up front, a little oak and something floral starting around the middle, then even more mixed citrus going into the finish. After dilution the grapefruit retreats, it's a little sweeter and more oak-y with some berries around the middle, but the flavors become more muddled.

Finish: grapefruit peel with a citric tang, mild oak, caramel and grape roundness, long but not particularly strong

The nose is absolutely the winner here. If you're looking for a fruit-forward cognac, Rémy Martin has you covered. The turn towards more bittersweet notes in the palate and finish gives it something of a moreish quality if you alternate between sniffing and sipping. While not overly punchy at 40%, it still manages a respectable weight throughout. Overall this is heads and tails above the VS cognacs I tried a few weeks ago and might even edge out Pierre Ferrand Ambre in my estimation. Especially if you're just getting into the category, you could do far worse than this.

With all of that said, I still feel like this is a slightly over-engineered product. While technically flaw-less, I have to wonder what it would be like if the spirit was given a little more room to shine. While I do appreciate the lack of intrusive oak in this expression, which is a pleasant change of pace in a mass-market spirit, but it's lost something of the edge that I think it could have had. The Dudognon I tried a while might be close since it also has a strong fruit and citrus profile but isn't tampered with in the way this one is.

In a Sidecar the nose is pleasantly balanced between the cognac and orange liqueur, with some floral notes and just a bit of lemon and baking spices. The sip begins with moderate sweetness, once again balanced between the cognac and the orange liqueur, rounded with some nice thickness from the lemon juice around the middle, then a sharper and more tart fade out into the finish along with some less pleasant bitterness. The finish continues, with light bitterness.

While this is pleasant enough, Rémy doesn't have quite enough heft to stand up on its own. Different proportions might do the trick, but I wanted to be more consistent about my recipe when comparing different cognacs. However, I stand by my original assessment of it that this is a fine cognac for mixing, even if it's a bit on the expensive side.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Brandy Review: Cartron Marc de Bourgogne 15 Year Hors d'Age

Odds are if you've seen a Cartron product before, it was one of the liqueurs they produce rather than their grappa. What began as a wholesale lemonade business in the 19th century was transformed into a producer of liqueurs and marc de Bourgogne during the 20th century.

This marc is produced entirely from Burgundy Pinot Noir pomace, which is aged for 15 years before being bottled at 42% (according to their website), probably without coloring or filtration.

Thanks to Florin for this sample.

Cartron Marc de Bourgogne 15 Year Hors d'Age

Nose: the rougher grappa notes have been polished into something resembling a more refined version of the original grape pomace, there are leathery and gingerbread notes that I associate with Campbeltown malts, gently floral, savory/nutty, some more rounded grape and apple, hints of oak in the background. After adding a few drops of water it becomes even smoother, the leather and oak are emphasized, and it feels more mature if less complex.

Taste: fairly restrained fruity sweetness up front, quickly joined by sharper herbal notes of grappa - not much progression. After dilution the sweetness is increased but doesn't go over the top, there's some berries right behind, the grappa notes are more well-integrated and more herbal, but there's little additional complexity.

Finish: rather floral, well-integrated grappa notes, gentle grape sweetness, leather, rounded oak and chocolate bitterness

Compared to the Labet I reviewed earlier this week, this is a much more refined marc. Some of that may simply be additional time in the cask, but the spirit itself also seems more delicate. The pale color makes me think that these were relatively inactive casks, so any polishing has primarily been about time rather than oak. With that said, it's absolutely not lacking in intensity - the aromas practically jumping out of the glass even with a lower bottling proof than the Labet.

In terms of similarities, one thing I noticed is that once again most of the action is happening in the aromas and finish. The flavors, while not bad, were not especially engaging and didn't show any development. That forces this to be something of a more contemplative spirit, since getting the most out of it requires more focused attention and nosing. While I'm not sure it's what I want to be drinking every day, it is growing on me and I think I'll be searching for more marc de Bourgogne in future.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Brandy Review: Domaine Labet Marc du Jura 2003

This is a new one for me: grappa-style pomance brandy made in France. While it sounds like Domaine Labet's focus is primarily on their unfortified wines, they also produce marc du Jura and a sherry-style vin de voile. The marc is used to fortify the latter as well as sold by itself.

This particular bottle was distilled in 2003, aged for ten years in oak casks, then bottled at 45%, I presume without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Florin for this sample.

Domaine Labet Marc du Jura 2003

Nose: big notes of brandy/madeira/raisins, a rougher herbal grappa edge, some cured fish underneath, buttery, sweet oak, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it gets richer and rounder, some brine comes out, and some of the sweetness is replaced with a fermented savoriness.

Taste: rather hot and rough up front, some round sweetness shifting into sharper, more ethereal notes, then oak and earth going into the finish. After dilution it becomes a little softer and more rounded, the grappa notes are better integrated, the earthiness spreads out under everything, and some more overt young brandy notes come out at the back.

Finish: raisins, gentle herbal notes, grappa funk, fresh oak

I'm not sure this is something I want to drink every day, but there's no question that it is a quality spirit. The nose and finish are the most engaging parts for me, though water helped bring the flavors together.

If, as Florin argued, this is the Ledaig of grappa, I think it would have to be a Ledaig sherry cask. While the spirit is big and funky, the barrel has shifted it closer to a traditional brandy with some fortified wine notes to help soften it even more. And, as with Ledaig, it's not something that I would recommend right off the bat, but if you like strong, barely restrained flavors, this might be the kind of thing you want to seek out.

You can find a similar review from Bozzy, though I think he managed to extract some more complexity from it than I was able to.