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.
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.
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.
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.