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Remi Landier Très Vieux Fins Bois

Remi Landier

A couple of things, before I get into the meat of this Cognac. The first is on the notion of strength, for you’ll note this bottle is 40% ABV. In fact, the vast majority of Cognac is bottled at this strength.

In a comment recently I was reminded that I had previously flagged the cask strength obsession of the whisky community, and that such an obsession wasn’t healthy. After a year of everyone drinking at home, I merely wanted to flag that again. Not to patronise or chastise you naughty boys and girls, for as a parent during the pandemic I quite understand the necessity for drinking something robust at the end of the working day, if indeed it ever ends for many of you. But simply this: steady as she goes.

As I contemplate this glass beside me, wondering if it might be nice for a couple more ABV percentage points, I am also having to remind myself not mistake intensity of strength for complexity of flavours in a drink. Properly distilled spirit, aged in good wood, can speak volumes at any, uh, volume.

Then rather a macro note about the Cognac community, and the difference from the whisky community. Which is to say, there isn’t much of a Cognac community online. Rather a lot of Cognac is sold, worldwide but there isn’t quite the same online vibrancy as whisky or beer even. You’ll do well to find a famous Cognac influencer.

I wondered why this might be for some time, and concluded that (a) the digital whisky community, of which I am a part, is almost entirely a US/UK thing, which by cultural design or language barrier tends to turn a blind eye the vast communities found in significant whisky markets elsewhere in the world, many of whom may not be quite as vociferous culturally for thumb-tapping the keyboard; and/or (b) that the French can’t be arsed to talk about Cognac to anyone outside of France, let alone on social media.

In general I think it’s more complicated than that, though I find similar for champagne (the category, not the terroir) as cognac, in that the French language barrier probably prevents the free exchange of dopamine-hitting likes. But I actually found this fresh space quite charming, especially as I shall hold my hand up as someone not overly knowledgeable about Cognac – I come to it as a whisky nerd first and foremost.

Perhaps like the much-missed Adam has found since has perambulated the drinks community into the cider world, there’s something wonderful about an industry yet to really fly fully digitally. No bitterness, no passive aggressive (or just aggressive) tweets, no warring tribes – or if it is, then it’s all in French so I can’t understand –  but as a solo drinks explorer it’s rather pleasant indeed. This also isn’t to say there’s a lack of information, not at all; there’s actually a lot of information on Cognac out there, on the raw materials, what went into the bottle; lovely maps, glorious images of the region, vines, and those onionesque Alembic stills. It’s nicely nerdy.

Of course, the majority of Cognac is sold by a handful of producers, much the same way as whisky is, but it seems a little bit more of an bad oligopoly situation – at least this is the case in narrative terms, for there are hundreds of producers that no one has ever heard about let alone attempts to pronounce. So perhaps that is at the heart of the problem; it’s hard to explore beyond quotidian Cognacs and get exposure to the countless artisanal producers.

Anyway one of the extensive category of artisanal producers is Remi Landier – a small family business, based in Rouilliac, and the focus of today’s review.

Remi Landier family

The Rémi Landier brand itself was established in 1973, though the family have been involved in production for a good number of decades prior to that. They’re based on the fringe of the Fins Bois appellation, a spot that knocks on the door of the prime Grand Champagne terroir (in Cognac terroirs – their environmental units – are enshrined by law, each one producing notably different eaux-de-vie). More specifically they’re based on the clay-limestone soils of Terre de Groie and naturally grow Ugni Blanc grapes – which because of the hangovers of the phylloxera crisis (perhaps today the reason many of you will be drinking whisky and not Cognac) and their acidity, makes up the vast, vast majority of the region’s grapes – some 98% of vineyards.

Rémi Landier produces “on the lees”, which in short is a good signifier their distillates will gain a more unique, expressive flavour – the company itself describes this as giving more aromas, more body to their distillates – before ageing in oak from forests in Limousin (wide grain oak, bolder influence) and Allier (tighter grain, more finesse), two of the country’s largest forests.

I cannot talk too much about the producer’s other wares – I can’t think I have even tried any in recent years – but what I have today – Très Vieux Fins Bois – is over forty years of age. People talk about Fins Bois as if these cognacs are a little inferior to those whose origin lies in the vineyards of Grande and Petite Champagne, but since you could probably lob a chunk of limestone from their vineyards into primetime territory, we could be perhaps more open-minded here.

You can snag a bottle of their Très Vieux Fins Bois, but it will set you back many Euros. Whisky.fr has it for €355. Though I’ve found it also at the excellent Hedonism for a lot less than that.

Remi Landier

Remi Landier Très Vieux Fins Bois – Review

Colour: tawny, with a lovely peach hue.

On the nose: exceptional balance of sweet and savoury notes; tropical sweetness, with mango and hints of pineapple, moving towards dried apricots and peaches. Floral bouquet – like stepping into a florist – but not at all too sweet; more harmonious, the skin of a green tomato, fresh figs. Mince pies fresh out of the oven. Touches of amber, a hint of toffee, but this is really alluring.

In the mouth: glorious texture and complexity on show; less floral here, more caramel, quince jelly, with slightly acidic pink grapefruit juice, touches of ginger, tobacco, but never too woody nor spicy. A little nutmeg. Golden syrup sponge cake, but again not overly sweet. Heather honey with a few whirls of peppermint that linger into the finish.

Conclusions

That transition between summer and autumn captured in a glass. Utterly lovely stuff. So well blended, so exquisitely balanced. Scanning a few other notes online and the great Serge comments that the low strength brings it down a peg or two. I’m not sure I agree wholly with that – though it is impossible to say without anything higher strength there to compare with – and I think this is spot on just as it is. Indeed, to bookend with my thoughts on ABV – intensity is not the same complexity, as this perfectly demonstrates. Complex, and full of vitality, contemplative and companionable. This might not be Grande Champagne Cognac, but it is a grand cognac. The glass still gives alluring aromas long after it has been emptied.

If you’re in the market for something like this, I would not hesitate if I were you.

 

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  1. John
    John says:

    Nice to finally have someone else write about Cognac, Mark.
    I agree that there are a lot of Cognac content out there. But I think the barrier that keeps more spirits enthusiast from entering it is that fact that the small brands aren’t that engaged to the market outside of France.

    I guess it’s partly due to the language barrier. I’m guessing it’s also partly due to them being unable to meet the impending demand once it reaches a certain status. While the information on Cognac is out there, it’s still important for the producers themselves to say what they exactly do. Otherwise, we’d all just be guessing how they do things which doesn’t really give the dopamine high.

    1. Mark
      Mark says:

      Cheers, John. Yes I think you’re right about the demand thing – I suppose if it’s small scale, and it’s selling enough domestically, is there a ‘need’ to?

  2. Jeremy Watt
    Jeremy Watt says:

    Interestingly I would say the opposite about the small Cognac producers. I’m not an expert, but have been finding out more recently, and think this should be correct.

    There is a small but vibrant community online, but more within for example Facebook groups (one example is Cognac Ambassadors). One difference is almost all bottles are open, there’s not really the will waving of collections! The language can be a thing, but isn’t so much just French, as almost all Cognac is exported – so there isn’t many drinking it there. Here in Norway there is a lot of people drinking old Cognac, and have been for many years. We’re lucky enough to get a lot of the best stuff here, which is impossible with whisky due to the small market and huge worldwide demand, unlike Cognac. Within those groups several of the small great producers are very active.

    Another area some issues can come in is as mentioned how the industry is organised. There is the few major houses, which dominate almost all Cognac sold. It’s probably more like things used to be with whisky, when everything went into blending and single malt was almost non-existent. However, unlike whisky, production tends to be from thousands of small farmers, who then either provide the grapes or casks to brokers. This means the farmers themselves don’t have the same link to the final product for advertising “their” product. Instead the brokers would perhaps be there – but they sell most to the few big companies. So it’s perhaps harder to have a unified effort to show what Cognac can be.

    Cognac is creeping up in price as more whisky drinkers/IBs come in, but it probably is in a golden age relative to age and often quality for the money – if you go for the small brands – for example Jean Luc Pasquet, Vallein-Tercinier, Grosperrin etc. One of the “big” issues for whisky geeks can be the abv as mentioned, but also the transparency. If you speak to the producers then you can find out a lot, but often it’s not written on the bottles. Part of the reason is the rules for Cognac so they’re not legally allowed to say things that are normal in whisky (for example they are very strict with a single cask – due to previous fakeries meaning to be defined as a single cask vintage it has to be specially sealed and opened by officials, not just the owner etc). Quite often the abv will have been reduced over time by adding a little water at a time to the cask over years, rather than just dumped in at the end when bottling.

    1. John
      John says:

      Jeremy, nice to see that the bottles in the social media groups you know of get opened. Would you know the demographic of the group members? I’m in Serious Brandy but most of the members are based in America. So, I’m curious how different their activities and perspectives are.

      Agree that Cognac prices and other French brandy prices are creeping up but it’s not that noticeable to make me cry. I guess it’s a good thing as the producers get a little bit more for their efforts.

      1. Jeremy
        Jeremy says:

        I guess like whisky quite a lot of middle aged men, but also some younger ones, and some women too – perhaps more at the tastings (before corona) than online? But not too sure, as not really thought too much about it. Yes, there seems to be a small group of US enthusiasts who seem to have very good connections, and are able to import special bottles, including their own bottlings. It seems to be about what is in the glass that evening, I don’t think I’ve seen a photo of just a bottle collection ever! One slight issue is that most stuff is described as great/wonderful etc – but that can make it more tricky to find the absolute best stuff.

        Yes – compared to whisky it’s nowhere near the same level.

  3. Mark
    Mark says:

    First of all, quite right to name Jean-Luc Pasquet – I literally have 4 bottles (plus a further 3 samples) in my cupboard at the moment. Excellent producer!

    Many good points in all of what you say. Part of me wonders if it’s the reality we make for ourselves online – that I’m so invested in the whisky community wearing other hats – that it’s what I see. But there is a remarkable, vast community for whisky these days – several different social channels/medium, video through to essays, and properly, properly global, which is to say vast in-depth, lively communities within countries and ring-fenced by local languages. It’s mind-boggling just how diverse it is.

    And that isn’t the case for cognac, not even close. Which is not to say it’s a bad thing per se – and indeed what’s there is quite engaging, charming and so on. There’s plenty of good stuff for the newbie to dive into – but one can see the bottom of it.

    Excellent points about transparency.

    There’s also a philosophical divide: cognac, like wine, is viewed through an agricultural lens, and that ain’t exactly catnip for social feeds. (Though I like it.) Take grower champagne – perhaps my go-to drinks category now, the one I want to engage in truly as a hobbyist; it’s quite small, quite fragmented; agricultural. A lot like cognac. Whisky will never truly be viewed as an agricultural product: it’s viewed through the lens of history and advertising (I wrote an article series on the history of Scotch advertising for Whisky Magazine years ago – it’s always been the way).

    Do these things inherently make whisky more suitable for the chattering classes online?

    1. Jeremy
      Jeremy says:

      Yes, it is a very different world, with nowhere near the same level of engagement. I guess part is just down to popularity these days – whisky is in a golden age for sales/popularity (which will drop at some point). Groups for cask types, distilleries, local whisky groups etc! And about a million reviewers all trying to get a slice of the pie.

      Cognac seems to be some whisky reviewers who do it on the side (Serge, Plebyak etc), plus a few more specialists (such as Hors d’Age on insta) and then the majority who tend to comment about how good it is, but not in the same detailed/critical view you might get in whisky. Less showing off too, it’s all very friendly.

      I guess whisky has done excellent PR – what is effectively a factory product has been linked to romance, history etc. It’s done as a combined industry and also per company. You’d imagine if Cognac tried to push it then they could do well with the link to the tiny producers, links to the land, to history etc, where those are all important for many modern buyers. I think a huge part is the big companies don’t need to push it, and the smaller companies are too small to do much. There’s not really medium-sized companies who can push against the big companies and pull in more geeks?

      Maybe another issue is because it is thousands of tiny producers it is basically impossible to get a consistent regular supply to build a brand too? Although it can be a benefit that you could select the best casks that you find anywhere and sell them under the same brand?

      Did you see Pasquet were trying some Waterford the other day?

      1. Mark
        Mark says:

        I read an interesting thing in the Spirits Business a while back on the efforts of smaller producers to communicate their provenance: https://www.thespiritsbusiness.com/2020/09/cognacs-quest-to-communicate-provenance-cues/

        The machine of the whisky industry – or I’d say more specifically the Scotch industry – has done well in the PR department, that’s for sure, from regionality for the tourist trails (not raw materials flavour), through to it being a robustly protected status symbol the world over. Perhaps that’s really the advantage here: that there have been industry bodies (SWA for example) tied to a national identity (Scotland, tourism) that’s driven incessantly alongside some massive corporate budgets to make stuff happen in a way that never really got going for Cognac. I don’t suppose Phylloxera ever helped, either…

        (I did, yes!)

  4. Avatar
    Taylor says:

    Thanks for the interesting review and the engaging commentary on the current state of cognac and the noisy abv race.

    As you suggest, it’s helpful to recall that Cognac producers are first and foremost winemakers who carry on to distill their wine and then put the barrels away for long periods of time (I’m referring to small producers here). Sensible, quality-conscious French winemakers treasure nuance, elegance, and balance, so it is not unreasonable to assume that a Cognac producer treasures those very same things for his or her Cognacs. The French tend to be deeply philosophical and introspective, and so I again assume that many producers have specific well-thought-out reasons for bottling at 40%, 42%, or 43%, instead of 50%+.

    I recently listened to an interview with Pierre Vaudon (Francois Voyer and Cognac Vaudon) and he states that at 40% the natural fruitiness is allowed to shine whereas his bottlings at 42%-44% tend to showcase spices, while masking the fruitiness. Such a response suggests that he, as other cellar masters, have considered – and tested – bottling at different strengths but ultimately settle on the abv level that best achieves the desired flavor profile for the blend – again with nuance, balance, and elegance always on the top of their minds.

    When I taste a relatively mature Cognac bottled at 40% (Audry XO, for example), I often feel as though the Cognac is a touch underpowered, but that the balance and complexity is spot on. I can only wonder what bottling at higher strength might give, but I also am conflicted since doing so might ruin the already perfect balance and complexity.

    So from a Cognac enthusiast who gets a tad frustrated with the incessant chest-thumpy drive for higher abv, thanks for your review and pointing out that complexity and balance have their own set of merits, regardless of abv.

    1. Mark
      Mark says:

      Hi Taylor. Yes, a good observation about the French being “philosophical and introspective” on the whole. In some respects it would be very interesting to see the impact of 1% extra or less on the flavour profiles; what is revealed. Indeed what is tradition.

      That intensity does not equal complexity has been overlooked by many quarters – it’s a shame! The cask strength trends in whisky are I suspect going to magnify this issue; it’s dragged up single malt ABVs in general. (Whereas 43% ABV was the exception at one time, everything else being 40%, now it feels rather miserly. ) Those seeking malternatives now have these higher expectations.

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