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Dudognon Vielle Reserve Cognac

I had a dream last night which reminded me of what I was doing in 2015. This somehow revived memories of my brief dive into Cognac, thanks to a couple K&L Spirits Journal episode, which featured Charles Neal of Charles Neal Selection and Nicolas Palazzi of PM Spirits.

That brief dive, led to my purchasing of this bottle of Dudognon Vieille Reserve. Maison Dudognon is a family business that has been producing Cognac in the Grand Champagne region since 1776.

For starters, Cognac does not only refer to a kind of French brandy. It also refers to a city and a region in the southwest of France. The region of Cognac is divided into six subregions, or terroir. These subregions are Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaries. Among these, Grand Champagne is considered to have the best terroir for producing Cognac.

The AOC only allows three types of grapes allowed for use in Cognac production. The most widely used is Ugni Blanc due to it being planted in 98% of the vineyards. The other two grapes are Folle Blanch and Collombard.

A French grape brandy distilled in Cognac can only be Cognac if it is double distilled in copper pot stills. Cognac must be aged in French oak. The most common types of French oak are from the forests of Limousin and Troncais. Water, caramel coloring and sugar syrup can be added to Cognac. The only thing Dudognon adds to their Cognac is water though! Cognac is usually bottled at 40%. This applies to small houses as well.

Bottled Cognac are usually blends of different vintages. Its age statements are expressed through the terms VS, VSOP and XO. VS stands for Very Special and means the blend is a minimum blend of 2-year-old Cognac. VSOP stands for Very Special Old Pale. A minimum of 4-year-old Cognac must be in this blend. XO stands for Extra Old. It used to only require for the blend to have 6-year-old Cognac as the youngest. But the rule was changed to a minimum of 10 years sometime in 2018 or 2019.

These facts may lead you to wonder from which regions the big brand Cognacs like Hennesy, Remi and Martell are from. The answer is from all over the region. These brands are so big that the vineyards they own cannot meet the demand they’ve created. As a result, they have contracts with lots of small producers from all over the region. Some of these small producers supply the Cognac they distill and age themselves. (The barrels are sometimes supplied by the big brands.) There are those who just supply the eau de vie they distilled from their own grapes. The big brands collect and blend everything themselves. This sort of sounds like how Scotch blended whisky works, no?

Dudognon Vielle Reserve Cognac – review

Color: honey

On the nose: Feisty, funky and sharp ethanol which clouds the different scents being given off on the nose. I believe this is what the French refer to as rancio. I get different shades of honey, apples & pears followed by dried and candied apricots and hints of melons.

In the mouth: This is much more mellow and fruity in the mouth. There’s a mild heat all throughout the body. I taste things like fuji apples, cream, honey, hints of coffee, dried apricots, melons, plums and hints of peaches. Hints of rancio funk at the end.

Conclusions

A bit of a two-faced spirit as it shows different… temperaments on the nose versus in the mouth. From a rather rough texture on the nose, to a mellow yet full body in the mouth.

This Vieille Reserve is said to be an average blend of 20-year-old Cognac. Despite being only bottled at 40% abv, this doesn’t have the usual watery body a 40% spirit does. There’s a lot of weight, depth and length in this. I’m wondering if this is the effect of incremental dilution which French brandy producers are known to do? I’m really curious to try this straight from the cask. Perhaps something to experience in the future should I have the chance to visit the Cognac region.

I consider this a steal as this only cost me $90 back in 2015. Trying Cognac like this makes me wish more people had the chance to try small house Cognac like this. I bet it will make them wonder why they and many others are willing to pay around $150 or more, for the big brand XOs? The rum geek in me is bothered by this, as these aren’t pure Cognac due to their being sweetened.

Score: 7/10

CategoriesCognac
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

    1. John says:

      Hi PB,

      Yes, a lot of the big brands. The French call it dosage. Some put the sugar in casks to give it some complexity but I don’t know which brands do this.

      1. PBMichiganWolverine says:

        I have the older sibling of this one—Heritage. Im wondering if that’s sweetened. Will need to check…

        1. John says:

          This sku does not taste sweetened. So I’m sure an older sibling of this one will not be sweetened. I’m told the small houses, aside from Ferrand, don’t usually like sweetening their cognac.

  1. Thanks for the review. Dudognon is a great cognac producer, and I can confirm that they only add distilled water during the reduction process – no E150, boise, caramel, sugar, etc.

    Quick question: So-called “malternatives” are getting a lot of attention these days, most notably premium sipping rums. Curiously, based on my surfing the web and following different spirits blogs and other spirits commentary sites, cognac does not get mentioned too much in the “malternatives” conversation. Any idea why this might be? Is it purely a question of accessibility, i.e. just not being able to locally purchase small producer quality cognac? Or, do you think it has something to do with the spirit profile itself?

    1. John says:

      Hi Taylor, thanks for the comment.
      What is boise?

      I think with brandy as malternatives, it’s Armagnac that gets more attention. I only currently only have four bottles of 700ml cognac while I have had seven of Armagnac.

      I think the main reason is accessibility. I’m based in the Philippines and we only get the big brands here. With my limited awareness of the US market, the brandy seems to be only strong in NYC and California (thanks largely to Astor and K&L in my opinion).

      Awareness is a factor as well as I don’t see much marketing by the small houses. There’s a lack of brands reaching out and educating about Cognac. But then, I could be wrong as I live in the wrong continent for brandy. More drinkers are also more conscious about age statement. You barely see them in Cognac. In Armagnac, vintages and age statements go together which makes them more attractive. They’re also cheaper!

      1. My understanding is that boise (pronounced: bwah-zay) is basically wood chips boiled in water. Once the wood chips are removed, the resulting liquid is then reduced. So yes, it’s pretty much the most horrific sounding additive cognac producers are allowed to use. While I can’t confirm this, it seems to be widely understood that it is not uncommon for the big houses to use boise, and other additives. Thankfully, there are lots of sensible quality small producers that do not go that route.

        From your comments, it seems to be mostly a problem of awareness, education, and availability. And as far as age statements go, yes, there is no denying that the more hardcore spirits folks out there want to see an age statement. However, I think the difference between NAS whiskies, for example, and NAS cognacs (vs, vsop, napoleon, xo, etc). stems from intent and cultural identity: NAS whisky is a recent trend in response to market forces whereas cognac age categories are not recent (1983). It is not uncommon to find small producers who bottle 10 year old vsops and 20-25 year XOs. And I’m not even mentioning many of their Hors d’Age bottlings. It does seem as though cognac producers shoot themselves in the foot by not stating the minimum age of their specific bottlings on the labels. Moreover, cognac’s identity is that of a blended spirit whose sum is more than its parts.

        And from what I understand, vintage cognacs are extremely tightly regulated, requiring officially sealed casks and/or storage in specific doubly-locked vintage warehouses, where the producer has one key and the authorities have the other. I imagine it costs much more to produce as well.

        Anyways, I do not intend to be some sort of cognac crusader here. I’m relatively new to the spirits world, and I’m just trying to get my bearings with the different spirits and the different spirits communities.

        Malt has been, and will continue to be, a tremendous source of information. Thank you.

        1. John says:

          Boise sounds like something to add if you want to add a layer of oak to a Cognac that came from a tired cask.

          I think with Cognac there is very few in between selections? After the big brands you have the smaller houses who source Cognac then you have the much smaller houses who only sell what they grow and distill. I’m assuming these smaller guys don’t have reps in the majority of the foreign markets. There’s a lack of education, awareness and availability in that aspect.

          I don’t mind that VS, VSOP and etc system. I agree it’s a cultural identity. But it goes back to education again to tell consumers what makes this XO different from others. Or how old the Cognac were when they were bottled.

          I have no comment regarding the vintages. I haven’t learned much about it.

          I don’t mind this. I find this welcoming.

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