With this review, I end my Cognac attack on Malt… for now.
The idea of each spirits category having their own regional styles has been getting more popular. Scotch’s regional malts would be the most obvious example. The differences between regions of Islay, the Islands, Campbelltown, Speyside, Highland and Lowlands aren’t perfect, and aren’t really regulated, but people get it.
The only regional rules of Scotch that I know of is there must be at least 3 distilleries in a region to be considered a region. This is why the owner of J & A Mitchell (Springbank Distillery) bought and opened Glengyle Distillery, to keep the Campbelltown designation alive, with the third distillery being Glen Scotia. I don’t know if this was mandated by the SWA, but if this was their doing, it sounds like the big boys messing with competition.
I say “not perfect” because the differences between each region’s styles are getting blurred. For example, Islay’s signature characteristic has been peat and smoke, but unpeated whisky coming from there have also been getting popular. Also, with more consumers developing a taste for peat and smoke, other regions have been producing more peated whisky. Yes, peated whisky from other regions like the Highland’s Ardmore Distillery have always been around. We’re also now seeing peated malts from distilleries who either have not produced any for the longest time or haven’t produced it in their history.
Another factor that makes the regional differences of Scotch imperfect is the lack of terroir. After the word craft, terroir might be one of the next abused and misused words by the marketing machine. The real meaning of terroir is the factors that affect the crop; the environment such as the climate, altitude, soil, and the people who tend to them.
Having established that: most Scotch has no terroir. The majority of the distilleries import their grains. According to folks in the industry who have been into whisky for far longer than me, the regional styles of Scotch is a marketing gimmick started by Diageo (I just don’t know when).
As someone who is curious to taste the effects of terroir, I’ve learned that French brandy is a great option. Cognac has six sub-regions or Crus. Armagnac has three. These Crus, mostly, have different types of soils, with a certain type of soil dictating what kind/s of grapes are good to grow there, or how long brandy made from that area should generally be aged. In short, the soil affects the grapes. Then the grapes affect brandy.
With the big Cognac brands sourcing and blending most of their Cognac – or the wine they distill into Cognac – from various producers, the terroir gets muddled. Think of them as the equivalent of blended Scotch in this regard, while the Cognac that comes from just one producer should be considered the equivalent of single malts.
Amongst Cognac’s crus, Grand Champagne (no relation to the sparkling wine) is the most popular and is held in the highest regard. The cru is said to be rather hilly and has a very pure, quality chalky soil. High chalk content is said to be the product of millions of years’ accumulation of small marine fossils. As a result, this Cru produces Cognac with finesse. They’re normally floral, light, and are suited to be aged for a long time.
I feel compelled to say that there’s also the Petite Champagne cru, which has similar soil but more compact and not as hilly when compared to its Grander sibling. This is the home of Rémy Martin, but they source and blend from Grand Champagne. I can’t say anything else about this Cru, as I have no experience with any Cognac exclusively from this area.
Looking at the limited Cognacs I’ve had, I noticed that the majority of the single house Cognac I’ve had are from Grand Champagne. They’re good, but I want to try products from other Crus. Sticking to Cognac from only the Grand Champagne region is probably the equivalent of only sticking to Speyside single malt, in terms of availability. So, I was glad when the sample set Cognac Expert sent me included a Cognac from the Bin Bois region.
In terms of land mass, the Bin Bois region is the largest. The soil there is a mixture of clay, limestone and sand. Brandy from this region is said to be round and age faster than the other areas, but this cru also has a few areas with high quality chalky soil.
My first taste of Bin Bois Cognac is from the house called André Petit. The expression is Les Quatre Années de Berneuil. This is a blend of Cognac from four different vintages (1983, 1985, 1988, 1993). It’s also a Brut de fut (cask strength) Cognac which, to my experience, is rare to see. With limited land and season to grow, harvest (grapes), and distill (the wine), I can understand how most houses would dilute their products.
André Petit is a small family-run Cognac producer from Berneuil. The Petit family works with traditional methods handed down from their grandparents. They hand harvest grapes. This is said to be rare now due to the growing demand for Cognac. This house used to supply Cognac to Hennessy, but they stopped in the 1960s after deciding to bottle their own product. Aside from making Cognac, they also make Pineau de Charentes.
André Petit Les Quatre Années de Berneuil – Review
44.3% ABV. €133 from Cognac Expert.
Color: Maple syrup.
On the nose: I immediately get candied and stewed fruits enveloped by a passive but rough wood texture. The fruits I get are light, round, and messy aromas of apricots, peaches, strawberries, honey, raspberries, cherries, and pears. After that are just as light but shorter notes of cacao, dark chocolate with nuts, caramel, and cappuccino. The wood’s intensity is consistent all the way. It makes me think of oak, leather, cinnamon, leather, and sandalwood. Surprising aromas of orange peel oil and a rubbery plastic funk appears at the very end.
In the mouth: Initially not as round as the nose, but it gets there. The rough texture is still here. Stewed and candied fruit notes are still upfront and dominant. I get light tastes of dried apricot, peaches, pears, white grapefruit, honey, and raspberries. Similarly light tastes of caramel, chocolate-covered-nuts, toffee, cinnamon syrup, and cappuccino immediately take over after the fruits. The wood notes are less expressive here. But I still get tinges of sandalwood, oak and leather.
As it opens up more, the fruit and confectionery notes come together. I can liken the sensation to eating a less sweet Snickers bar with an assortment of dry fruits.
I love that this is more distillate-forward than the other Cognac Expert samples, which have been more wood-forward.
It also feels like this was crafted to be a mysterious and intriguing blend. Everyone loves a mystery. Something catches your attention; But you don’t have the whole idea or image. You’re slowly reeled in as bits of information are given to you at a snail’s pace. A feeling that the reward will be worthwhile as long as you stick to it. In this case, it was very worth it for me.
The rough texture in the mouth reminds me of when I drink most worm tub condensed single malts like Mortlach and Edradour. Note that all Cognacs stills are pot (Charentais stills) and use worm tub condensers. As mentioned above, I didn’t really get the worm tub texture in the other samples, but it’s really obvious here. I guess the grapes and terroir are the larger factor this time? This is also just as old, or even younger, than the samples sent to me.
I’m not sure when this was bottled, but I’m sure it was bottled recently. If this was bottled in 2021, then this would be at least 28 years old if it bore an age statement. An aged spirit this old at this price and quality is a steal.
Photo and sample courtesy of Cognac Expert, which does not affect our notes or score.