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
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.
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.