Cognac

Review: Tiffon Tres Vieille Reserve Grande Champagne Cognac by Jason Hambrey

Pierre+Ferrand+Renegade+Barrel+2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
80 yrs
Recipe
Grande Champagne Grapes
Distiller Tiffon (Jarnac, France)

Now here is a rather impressive one. 95% of all cognac is produced by 5 massive companies, but there are a handful of small, family owned cognac producers who give out some excellent product often for a very reasonable price. Here is one.

Ages for this product on the internet are different – some say 70 to 80 years, some say 90 – but Tiffon’s website says the cognacs in this blend are all more than 80 years old. Wow! There is some very old cognac in here and all the grapes are from the best region of cognac, Grande Champagne from Tiffon’s old vineyards (many cognac houses just buy grapes, they don’t own vineyards).

There are different versions of this “Tres Vieille” bottling from different regions – for example the more available ones from Fins Bois and Borderies.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016 (purchased 2016, not sure when bottled)

The nose has a beautiful fruity sharpness to it, with notes of fresh cherries, plums, but more intense – in the way that the flavour intensifies as the fruit dries. Lots here: French oak, vanilla, caramel, dark maple syrup, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, cherry pits, rancio, toasted almonds, red currant jam, strawberry jam, and elderberry. Honey really grows with time – strong honey like manuka. Some really nice ethereal aged-spirit notes, too. The palate is oaky (especially with water) and a bit tart but balanced with a heavy dose of rich dried fruit, spice, and French oak characteristics. Nuttiness really comes out on the palate. It’s not too oaky or unbalanced on the palate. The sharpness of the dried fruit remains, and the spiciness is rich. Too bad it’s only 40%, a bit higher ABV would balance the richness of the palate and the finish better.  The finish is lightly tart and oaky, with lots of old wood notes and rancio. The tannins really pick up on the finish, and the oak is a bit too central at the finish – the other notes are there, but they are a bit too masked by the oak. Oddly enough, if you move your tongue in your mouth it seems to release more flavour on the finish.

I really like the nose, I can smell this for a long time and be quite entertained. The palate and finish, while very good, falls a bit short of the nose but are still good.

How about some reference points: St-Remy XO is reminiscent of a light unaged fruit spirit compared to this (age really does show up in side-by-side tastings); it is very rich compared to many of the spicy, fruity, and somewhat clean mass market cognacs; it is richer even than some of the old Armagnacs (40+) in my cabinet – but I find Armagnacs tend to lighten favourably with age. Though it has a better nose, this isn’t quite as nicely balanced as Dartigalongue’s 1975 39-year-old Armagnac, which I rate slightly higher. It has perhaps the best nose I’ve ever encountered on a Brandy, Cognac, or Armagnac.

This has been a stunner for every guest I’ve shared it with.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.

Value: Low, based on $260.


Review: Pierre Ferrand Renegade Barrel 2 Eau De Vie De Vin Chestnut Wood Finish by Jason Hambrey

Pierre+Ferrand+Renegade+Barrel+2.jpg
ABV
47.1%
Aging
6-26 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Maison Ferrand (Cognac, France)

Despite coming from a cognac house, this is not a cognac because of its rather unique aging regimen - a chestnut barrel! Apparently, this was a practice before the second world war but it has fallen out of fashion (and regulation – this is called a grade eau de vie because it cannot be called cognac due to the cask type). This is made with a Pierre Ferrand cognac from Ugni Blanc grapes, matured for 5-7 years in 350 litre new and used oak barrels. There is a small amount of 25 year old cognac included as well. Then, the blend is finished in a 225 litre chestnut cask for a year which apparently gives notes of candied fruits, floral, and honey notes. 18 casks went into this release.

Although we don’t see many chestnut casks for whisky or other spirits, they are still used in the production of certain items, like balsamic vinegar.

Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Renegade Barrel #2, cask 1/18.

  • Bottling Code: 1P020518

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A spicy, oaky nose with charred oak, wood spices, raisins, dried cranberries, black tea, and deep woody notes. It’s quite torn between rich dark fruit, rich oak, and spice. Caramel, fig, berry jams, star anise, pineapple, stewed plums, wet wicker baskets, brazil nuts, and even some woodworking shop notes like leather and maybe furniture polish. I really like that this is bottled at 47.1% since it brings out the wood notes really well.

The palate has lots of wood notes, and, indeed – some chestnut notes. Vanilla, dark chocolate, dried currants, dried cranberries, dried papaya, dried pineapple, chesnut spread, and sweet fresh sawdust. It has some nice, unique roasted notes – like roasted wood, but not oak. It’s richly creamy, but more like a cacao butter than vanilla. The finish is slightly tannic, with dried hibiscus flower, dried cranberries, golden raisins, and buttery wood notes. The finish is deep and complex.

Well, this is quite unique – especially in the unique creaminess and woodiness – it’s one of the rare spirits which is pushing me to increase my tasting vocabulary.

Assessment: Highly recommended. There are some incredibly complex threads woven into this one.

Value: Low, at $136.


Review: Crown Royal XO Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
Finished in cognac casks
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Gimli (Gimli, Manitoba)

This whisky was introduced in what seems to be a replacement for the cognac finished Cask no. 16. It is created from over 50 whiskies which are blended together and finished in cognac casks. So, why 50 unique whiskies? That’s a lot of work for a single regular product, isn’t it? This is basically because there’s so much variation of production at the Crown Royal plant in Gimli, Manitoba – there are a lot of different whiskies produced between 5 different recipes, 3 types of wood (newly charred, ex-bourbon barrels, and refill/reused barrels), alongside a wide range of aging length. The name, “XO” (extra old) , is a tribute to the cognac classification for their spirits, indicating the highest grade of cognac in terms of age.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L40932N001315251SL143

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: A hefty bit of rye comes through the nose, interestingly enough because that wasn’t my first impression with Cask no. 16, which I assumed this would emulate. Not so, this is a bit darker and, initially, I thought, less fruity, but after successive tastings I am not sure. There’s a good bit of maple syrup – it’s quite prominent –  it keeps reminding me of an overly crisp waffle soaked in maple syrup especially with some of the grains coming through. Vanilla comes through, and a bit of orange – overall it’s a bit of a dense nose, but it does lighten up as it sits. There are interesting spicy notes – green cardamom (quite prominent), cinnamon, ginger, and toasted black pepper – indicative of the French Oak which the cognac casks were made from. There’s also some nice light grape notes which tend to go quite well with Crown Royal.

Taste: After the pretty dense and dark nose I was surprised to find a light-feeling and delicate whisky enter my mouth. Starts off with some rye emphasis before some light fruit and vanilla come through with some bourbon notes before the end turns to oak and spice. A very interesting movement in this whisky is that it seems to start off quite light before upping both in flavour and feel until the end which feels quite dense and a bit dry. Towards the end there’s a bit of an oxidized sherry-type flavour too. Very nice, I must say – the main knack is that it is just a bit too dry, I think, without something to counteract it.

Finish: Mainly spices – ginger and green cardamom, with some cinnamon mixed in too. There’s a bit of oak in the background and a light orange citrusy background as well, and a bit of nuttiness. Nicely done. It’s slightly dry, but not too dry, and I like finishes that are a bit on the dry side.

I quite enjoy this, and I like this a fair bit more than the Cask no. 16 bottlings that I’ve tried. It’s perhaps most surprising to me how rye-forward the profile is – I expected a bit more of a hybrid with this one. But the fruit, spiciness, and complexity do good work in this one.

Score: 88/100

Value: Average to high. Quite decent for $75. This is a particularly good batch, which puts it on the upper end of average - at the threshold of high.


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L42812N00114 4451SL143

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Grain and spice heavy, candied orange peel, cola, lime, rich oak, and apple. On the palate, caramel, vanilla, macadamia, and white chocolate. Spice and tannins are also at play, with some excellent complex fruit on the finish.

While still very nice, it doesn't have the depth of the previous bottle I own (above), which shows more spice, complexity, and particularly a better integration of rancio and a bit more of a dried fruit character rather than candied fruit.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Decent for $75.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Apple, oak, brown sugar, nuts, green grape, fennel, and a variety of dried fruit come together on a slightly tangy and spicy whisky balanced with pleasant brown sugar and sweet potato in the mix.

Still good, but not what it was when it first came out and the oak, finish, and spices shone through quite uniquely.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Decent for $75.


Review: Grosperrin 1970 Grande Champagne Cognac by Jason Hambrey

ABV
51.5%
Aging
~46 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Grosperrin (Cognac, France)

Here is something special - not only an old Grande Champagne cognac, but one bottled at 51.5%. As far as I know, it was bottled in 2016 - hence 46 years of age, but I haven't confirmed it to my satisfaction hence "~46" years.

I was put onto Grosperrin thanks to the most excellent Serge Valentin at whisky fun. Having had some nice old cognacs already, I was eager to try an old one at a respectable ABV.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

An oaky, oaky nose - very spicy. Clove, dried blueberry, fennel, black pepper, earth, currants, cinnamon, and candle wax on the nose. The taste is full of oak - wow. Puckering tannins, orange, lots more wood spices. Finish continues with baking spices, mint, dried fruits - retaining a creamy texture. Way bigger than most cognacs!

Really enjoyable, but some things lost in all the oak.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.

Value: Low. Unique and excellent, but not cheap (~400$)


Review: Baron Otard VSOP Cognac by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
>4 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Otard (Cognac, France)

Otard was founded in 1795 by Jean-Baptiste Antoine Otard - in Cognac. The products are named after Jean-Baptiste's grandfather, who fought alongside Louis XIV and was consequently made a baron. Jean-Baptiste bought the beautiful Chateau de Cognac, which still has cognac aging in its cellars. Essentially, it is a castle which has cognac sleeping in its depth - the thick walls provide a relatively constant temperature and humidity.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

This is some nice spirit here – nice and viscous, incredibly evident as you pour it out of the bottle. Vanilla, rancio, light spices – cinnamon, clove, and light complexity. Quite nice. The palate is viscous, and clean, with raisin holding the fore and baking spices holding the back. Doesn’t develop much but the flavours are well integrated. Slightly bitter on the finish. Slightly elegant too – clean, viscous, light and yet subtle – I enjoy that.

Assessment: Recommended.

Value: Average. Good, and not very expensive in terms of cognac, but not a necessarily high value spirit bottling.


Review: Hine Rare VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
>4 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Hine (Jarnac, France)

Hine has been making cognacs since 1763 - it's a very different spirit than the Armagnacs I've recently been producing. It is distilled twice, and has more regulations - what sort of wine presses can be used, how long after harvest you are legally allowed to distill the wines, and distilled to a much higher ABV. The oak is from local forests, and the resulting product is quite a bit lighter than Armagnac and tends to be quite spicy - naturally, probably, a bit less elegant (though I really do generally like the rustic-ness of Armagnac more). Moreover, 95% of Cognac is controlled by 5 brands - unlike the hundreds of family owned businesses in Armagnac. Interestingly, additions are prohibited in cognac - except -  sugar, caramel, and oak infusion.

This is from the region of "Fine Champagne" a legal designation composed of at least 50% of Grand Champage cognac (the most prestigious region of cognac), and the rest composed of cognac from the region of Petit Champage.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

The nose has raisins, nuts, and lots of spices – menthol, cedar, green cardamom, dried cranberry , dried blueberries, dried orange peel– fairly perfumed too. And all nicely integrated. The palate does not disappoint, and has terrific feel – raisins, vanilla, oak, dried berries, and lots of those spices just listed. Great dryness. Not creamy, but has some custard-like richness. Oak takes over on the finish, while being still quite spicy. Warm and developing on the finish – and continuing to be dry – brilliant.

Assessment: Recommended.

Value: Average. Not bad, for a cognac, but there are generally better value spirits available.


Review: Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
Finished in Cognac Casks
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Gimli (Gimli, Manitoba)

A whisky that is now out of production, though replaced by a very similar in concept Crown Royal XO, also finished in cognac casks - cheaper, and, better, from what I have tasted. This whisky is blended from over 50 different whiskies, and is then finished in cognac casks from the limousin forest – which is French oak – a style which brings out more spiciness, dried fruit, and tannin than american oak. On top of this, you have the fruity-spicy character of the cognac which has flavoured the wood in which the whisky is placed before bottling, enabling this flavour to seep into this whisky.

The name “Cask no. 16” comes from the label stamped on the cognac barrels, indicating where the barrels came from. The whisky was discontinued in 2012, although Canada still got a good number for 2013.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2012

Nose: There’s some lovely deep vanilla, and strong cognac notes which become less prominent as it sits. It’s light, and rich with a subtle spiciness - fruitcake aromas, with prominent currants and raisins, toasted oak, black pepper, thyme, and the menthol-like note you get from crushing (fresh) green cardamom seeds. There’s a very slight meaty aroma on the nose with a touch of bitterness which detracts from the nose.

Taste: This has a beautiful rich and deep vanilla sweetness carrying the whisky through the palate, with a bit of a rum-like kick. It’s light, and subtly peppery and spicy, with some green grape, light caramel, a good kick of thompson raisins, star anise, brown sugar, and some cloves. There’s even a bit of light banana and smokiness. Those raisins do certainly come out, and come through in an older tawny-port style with the caramel and wood. Light, and yet rich, as Crown Royal does so well.

Finish: Fruity, with some raisins, cinnamon, cardamom and clove. It’s not that big- but it’s very pleasant. The mouth dries out quite a bit afterward and some oak emerges – but it dries out too much for my liking.

I would be very interested to see what this whisky would taste like at 46% – it would change it quite a bit, but I think it would be more fascinating with just a bit more concentration of flavour.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. Decent whisky, but you can do better for $100.