As a spirits geek who has dabbled in almost every category of spirits, I’ve come to realize that Cognac is one of the worst to learn about so far.
One of the things that makes me think of this is the use of Lots. My limited understanding of it is that it’s a pseudo age statement. Aside from the AOC being not that easy to understand, it’s also difficult to intimately learn about what goes into it. Yes, we know the basics such as the variety of grapes and wood that can be used. But do we, the consumers, really get told of these details?
Think of it in terms of single malt. Except for a few brands, we can assume that the barley used for most brands are of a mixed variety. However, the type(s) of wood used are usually disclosed. It doesn’t happen in Cognac.
It was pointed out to me that Cognac is its own little world. What happens in Cognac stays in Cognac. That can seem amusing for those who want to uncover mysteries, but it can also get frustrating for geeks who want more intimate details about a certain SKU or house.
There’s no denying that age statements and barrel types are initially the most intriguing aspects of any brown spirit. In my opinion, if Cognac wants to become more popular, they should be more open like whisky. How about some more transparency on types of French Oak they use? I understand that it may not be feasible for their basic expressions. But can they at least start with their limited expressions?
The majority of the grapes used for Cognac today are of the Ugni Blanc variety. I’d just love to learn what a Cognac of a certain age made from Ugni Blanc tastes like when exclusively aged in Limousin French oak and Troncais oak. Maybe even know how different these are when the Cognac was distilled on the lees? Heck, aside from the type of oak and grapes, there are even dry and humid cellars which affect the aging. I’d love to learn more about these too.
Luckily, some outfits give more detail about their Cognac bottlings, one of which is Cognac Expert’s L’essentiel bottlings. There’s even mention of the Cognacs being unchill filtered. Which is what most whisky geeks love but don’t really get mentioned in brandy.
Because there’s quite a bit of information, just go these links to see the information Cognac Expert has shared. The stories are worth reading too, for example L’essentiel Grosperrin A29 and L’essentiel Marancheville A45.
So far, they seem to be just independent bottlers. But their family has their own vineyards. Hopefully, they’ll start producing their own Cognac soon. Also, I hope that these do well so other Cognac producers follow them and create a domino effect.
Thanks to Cognac Expert for sending me these samples.
L’Essentiel Marancheville A45 – Review
42.8% ABV. €230 from Cognac Expert.
On the nose: I immediately get some rancio with fruits. The rancio manifests in the form of leather, dried shiitake mushrooms, cinnamon syrup, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Short intervals of aromas of pears, apples, peaches, dried apricots, and honey quickly follow.
In the mouth: Pretty similar to the nose but I get more fruit notes. The rancio tastes are also upfront. I get tastes of leather, dried shiitake mushrooms and cinnamon sticks. Then short-lasting tastes of fruits like apples, pears, bananas, dried apricots, and peaches appear with honey.
I find this to be very similar to the Marancheville 10 year I had a while back. The rancio flavors are pronounced which, I think, gives this rather short and simple flavors, resulting in a Cognac with different flavors but which is easy to drink.
A45 stands for 45 years, which explains the amount of rancio I get in it. And rancio is what you’re most likely to get in old Cognac. A 45 year old spirit at this price? That’s pretty good.
It’s a shame that the specific type of French oak wasn’t indicated here. But it was very interesting to learn that there are Cognac producers who use small casks (60L in this case) just like how whisky producers use smaller casks such as Quarter Casks. Despite the age, I guess that’s why I found the rancio flavors to be persistent and pronounced. Yet it’s also surprising that all the woodiness isn’t overwhelming.
(7/10 if you consider price and age)
L’Essentiel Grosperrin A29 – Review
47.8% ABV. €164 from Cognac Expert.
On the nose: Very fruity. I get light to medium but lasting aromas of dried apricots, honey, cantaloupes, fresh peaches, apples and Mandarin oranges. I also get the apricot and orange jams. In between are subtle aromas of vanilla, leather and cinnamon.
In the mouth: Initially lots of fruit jams with bits of tannic tastes. I get light but lasting tastes of apricot jam, orange jam, fresh peaches, honey and blood orange. After these, I get subtle but also lasting tastes of cinnamon sticks, leather, cloves and old wooden furniture. In-between I get even subtle but bursts of milk chocolate and mocha. A bit of negligible sulfur appears at the end.
This is different from the L’Essentiel Marancheville. I’d consider that as a more straightforward Cognac. I see this as a more delicate one. It’s more complex and has layers of different fruits. It’s my first time trying anything from Grosperrin., which has a solid reputation. I’m now more inclined to try their basic expressions.
A29 stands for 29 years old. Again, a 29 year old spirit at this price and quality? It’s a good deal. Aside from the age, the cellar this initially came from is also said to be a pig hut. It was there for 12 years until Guilhem Grosperrin bought it in 2005. Now that’s a story. How often can you say you’ve had a spirit that was initially aged in a pig hut?
Despite the type of grape here not being specified, it’s nice to learn that I may have a thing for Cognac specifically from the crus that aren’t Cognac from Grand Champagne and Petite Champagne. These two tend to take most of the glory. I think that’s largely due to their being able to age well and long. Which should make for more oaky style Cognac. While the ones from Bon Bois and Fin Bois make for me spirit-forward and delicate ones.
(8/10 if price and age are considered)