It’s a great time to be spirits geek.
The internet makes it easier for people with the information and people looking for information to connect to one another. Big brands with wide distribution are no longer the only options. Small artisanal brands who really care about the quality of their products are being found and sold by geeks who actually care about a spirit’s intrinsic quality. As a result, it’s more rewarding and enticing for the curious to be geeks.
Geeky luck struck me again when I was able to connect with Nicolas Palazzi of PM Spirits via Instagram at the start of 2021. After seeing some of his interesting IG stories, we exchanged a few messages. Somewhere in the exchange, I mentioned where I am and that I had been a fan since his guest appearance in the K&L Spirits Journal podcast more than half a decade ago.
He offered to send me samples from his portfolio despite the fact that I am based outside of the USA, which is his location. Of course, I accepted his offer. I’d be crazy not to! His largesse came with no strings attached—he even declined when I asked if I could pay for the samples and postage for the California address I provided. This sample of Cognac Hommage a Yves et Jean-Noel Pelletan is one of the three samples he sent me. Super generous of him.
One man-turned-geek who has been a great boon for the American spirits industry is Nicolas Palazzi. He is the owner and founder of PM Spirits, a very small operation that imports and distributes geeky spirits to the US market. They believe that spirits are more than just commodities, that they are an authentic expression of place. It communicates the stories of the producers and artisans who are passionate and dedicated to their craft.
You might be wondering, who is Nicolas Palazzi? He grew up in Bordeaux; his family makes wine there. Despite the pedigree, he wasn’t always in the alcohol trade. Palazzi’s family encouraged him to do something else, so before his current role as an importer of geeky spirits, he worked as a chemical engineer in France and the US for a total of five years. He found out that he didn’t like his job, and it led to him founding PM Spirits.
There might be old fanciful stereotypes that every Frenchman will know a lot about their wines and brandy. This is, of course, false. Nicholas started not knowing much about spirits. He learned more about cognac through his grandfather’s best friend, a ninth-generation cognac maker! Another influence that got him into the spirit was an encounter with a collector in New York City. They drank cognac there and started talking about it; this encounter eventually led to a trip to Cognac to source the spirit.
PM Spirits started in 2011, so they celebrate a decade of their existence this year. I seriously hope they go on for much longer. I think they’ve gone a long way for just being a small company. In addition to cognac and Armagnac, which they started with, they now deal with spirits like rum, Mezcal, eau de vie, gin and even American whisky.
This Cognac Hommage Yves et Jean-Noel Pelletan is a blend of a single cask cognac and an assortment of demijohns acquired by Nicholas over the years. It was bottled as an homage to Yves and Jean-Noel Pelletan, a father-son duo who are said to be legendary coopers in Cognac; the Pelletans are two of only a handful of people to hold the title of Maitres Artisans Tonneliers, is the apex of cooperage professions.
Nicholas credits Yves and Jean-Noel as instrumental to his understanding of cognac. The components they have range from distillates between 1925 and 1965 and were bottled in July of 2020. If you don’t know what demijohns are, they are essentially glass jars used by French brandy producers to store brandy without any further aging in wood. If cognac used age statements, then I guess this would be a 55-year-old cognac?
Because it’s so old, I expect a lot of rancio in this. It’s a phenomenon I only loosely know as a French funk. The little I’ve read is that rancio in cognac starts developing at around 10 years of aging. If you want to read a more in-depth article about it, check out this Cognac Expert blog post.
Due to the age of this sample, I’m going to provide two sets of tasting notes. The first will be from after it has just been poured. The second will come after letting the cognac sit in the glass for 30 minutes to see how more exposure to oxygen will change it.
Cognac Hommage a Yves et Jean-Noel Pelletan – Review
On the nose: Medium aromas of oak and an enveloping rancio. I got more of a shiitake mushroom aroma, but floral at the end. After that are also medium aromas of stewed apples, candied melons, dried apricots, Juicy Fruit gum, Doublemint gum, honey and some tannins.
In the mouth: The tannins and rancio are more pronounced. A quick burst of sulfur. It’s followed by stewed plums, apples and dates. A burst of rancio comes out this time, but it is similar to the nose due to the slightly sweet and floral character. I’m reminded of a Chinese medicine soup I drank as a kid that had stewed plums and a white clear-ish fungus with a sweet flavor. This is all I taste for a bit until some light tastes of apples and goji berries come out.
Thoughts after 30 minutes:
On the nose: Less oak and more fruits. I’m immediately greeted by pronounced aromas of cantaloupe, starfruit, dried dates, plums, dried apricots and stewed apples. After it are lighter aromas of Juicy Fruit & Doublemint gum and lychee. The oak and rancio are cut short and are closer to neutral, which is surprising for the age.
In the mouth: The tannins, rancio and sulfur are less pronounced, but they still linger and can be tasted throughout. There are more sweet fruity notes now. I get medium tastes of cantaloupes, stewed apples, strawberries, cherries, starfruit, Bazooka chewing gum and bananas. At the end is a rancio taste like earthy mushrooms with a floral note to it.
I will immediately say this is a type of cognac I’ve never had before. Is this what happens to really old cognac? I’ll need to try more old cognac to know. The Cognac Expert blog mentions to expect a lot of tropical fruits, sandalwood, library shelves filled with old books and the polished leather of aged horses. I haven’t been to a library in years. I don’t know what polished leather of aged horses is like, so these notes didn’t particularly help.
One that surprised me is the sulfur I tasted. I didn’t get it in the nose, but there was quite a bit in the mouth. Yes, cognac uses copper pot stills with worm tub condensers. Worm tubs are known to have less copper contact, but I’ve never tasted this much sulfur in more contemporary cognacs or other spirits distilled in stills with worm tub condensers. Could the various old distillates used for this blend have come from older versions of stills with even less copper contact than the ones that are being used now?
Aside from these questions, this is a great experience. I absolutely love the nose on this one. I wouldn’t mind having candles scented like this. There are some issues in the mouth, but as someone who has only had really old cognac for the first time, how will I know whether this is what really old cognac tastes like, or whether this is what cognac tasted like close to a century ago?
Image courtesy of Astor Wines.