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BRANDY/GRAPPA, etc.

The most famous brandy in the world is "Cognac".   All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac.   The producers of Cognac would like the world to believe that this is the finest brandy in the world.  Of course, the really fine, well-aged brandies from this region are excellent.  But Cognac is not the only place on the planet producing wonderful brandy.

Cognac is north of Bordeaux.  It's brandies are, typically, distilled from wines of little character.  The predominant grape variety is called "St. Emilion" (Ugni Blanc in other parts of France and it's known as "Trebbiano" in Italy).  Folle Blanche and Colombard are Cognac's "other" varieties.   Typically, Cognac is distilled batch-by-batch and undergoes two distillations.   The spirit is then matured in Limousin oak cooperage.

SOME COGNAC TERMINOLOGY

V.S.  (Very Superior) or Three Star 30 month minimum aging
V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Pale)    V.O. (Very Old)   or Réserve 54 month minimum aging
X.O. (Extra Old) Extra, Napoleon, Vieille Réserve or Hors d'Age 72 month minimum aging
Fine Champagne A blend of Petite and Grande Champagne Cognacs, which must be, at least, 50% from Grande Champagne.

Armagnac is produced south of Bordeaux.   It has produced a brandy for many more years than has Cognac.  Folle Blanche, Baco and Colombard are the main varieties.  While there are many large Cognac firms, the situation in Armagnac is different.   Comparing Bordeaux to Burgundy, the former has many sizeable estates, producing a substantial amount of brandy and marketed world-wide.  The former has many small growers/producers who are unable to mount much of a marketing campaign.  So Cognac is to Armagnac as Bordeaux is to Burgundy in this little scenario.  Armagnac usually is the product of a single, pot-still distillation.  It is matured in either Monlezun black oak or Limousin oak barrels.  

ARMAGNAC TERMINOLOGY

V.S.  36 month minimum aging
V.O., V.S.O.P. or Réserve 60 month minimum aging
Extra, X.O., Napoleon, Vieille Réserve 72 month minimum aging
Hors d'Age 120 month minimum aging
Bas Armagnac, Ténarèze, Haut Armagnac Name of the 3 sub-regions of the area



California is west of Bordeaux.  California has a long history of Brandy production, but a short history of really fine, connoisseur-quality brandy-making.   Though the firms in France won't take a back seat to California, we find there are several local distillers whose products are superior to the mass-marketed Cognacs and Armagnacs.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that the price tags on some of their products are pretty high.  Bonny Doon and St. George Spirits make some excellent "white alcohols", distilling a variety of fruits.  We find some of their products to be as good as their European counterparts.

California Brandy Terminology

Most California Brandies fall into one of these two categories.

D.T.G.S. Damn, That's Good Stuff!
W.I.T.S. What Is This Stuff???

Oregon is north of California.  It has a modest history of brandy production.  The Clear Creek Distillery in Portland produces wonderful eaux-de-vie!  Stephen McCarthy has a pear brandy as good as any we've tasted in our numerous journeys to France, Italy, Germany or Switzerland! 

Spain is another good source of oak-aged brandies.   The region of Jerez, famous for Sherry, is probably the most highly-regarded area for Spanish brandy production.  Most producers use "continuous" stills, though there are a couple of producers using Cognac-styled stills.  We have a few terrific Spanish brandies and these are worth exploring if you're not yet familiar with them.

Italy produces a tremendous amount of distilled products.   "Grappa" and "Aquavite" are to be found everywhere.  The former is distilled from the fermented skins of grapes, while the latter is distilled from unfermented juice.  These range from sublime to rocket-fuel.  Some are produced from red grapes, some from white.  Typically, smaller distillers bottle single-varietal grappas (grappe in Italiano).  Many vintners sell their pressed grape skins to a local distiller.  Whether the grappa they receive in return is actually from their own fruit is another question, though most claim this to be the case. 

Prices listed are subject to change...
We do our best to keep pricing updated.

 

What We Like:

DUDOGNON
The Dudognon family has been growing grapes in the region of Cognac since the United States declared its independence from Great Britain.

They're in the town of Lignières-Sonneville, a short walk from Ambleville in the heart of the Cognac sub-region called Grande Champagne.  The soils are rather chalky here and said to produce top quality brandy as a result.

Claudine Dudognon runs the estate with her husband Gerald Buraud.  The couple distills wine from the Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Montils grape varieties and exclusively fruit from their own estate vineyards.  The Ugni Blanc predominates, though.

Claudine's late father, Raymond Dudognon, was a major figure in the region and he was well-known to those in the Cognac scene.  Most of Dad's production was sold in bulk to negociant firms and he distilled using a wood-fired alembic still.  Years later he switched to a gas fire, but when teaching his daughter, he insisted she learn his craft using an old-fashioned wood fire.  This, he said, would allow her to have greater skill in her work doing the distillation.
 


Claudine and Gerald have become very well-known for their Cognacs.  I was surprised to note how highly-regarded they are in France, particularly by fancy dining establishments.  It doesn't seem to me they do much advertising, yet their Cognacs are found in top restaurants and they're favored by savvy sommeliers.

I read that the couple has done some interesting experiments in the interest of making improvements to their Cognacs.  One involved making a wine that was a blend of the three grape varieties and distilling that.  It seems, however, the results were not as good as distilling each grape variety separately and making a calculated "assemblage."  
 
While most large houses incorporate various additives to their spirits, Dudognon's lone "additive," if you will, is water.  Big firms tend to try to take some shortcuts, since actually maturing the spirit in wood (where a significant portion evaporates) is costly.  As a result, you'll find caramel, sugar and an oak flavoring to be used by most houses, though none admit this publicly.

 
We have their Reserve Cognac which carries the Grande Champagne appellation.
This is said to be a ten year old spirit, though I've heard it's even a bit older than that.
You'll see the color of this brandy is light...again, it's not been "fortified" with sweeteners to make it approachable as a younger spirit.  It's bottled in its natural state.
Though it costs fifty bucks a bottle, I can tell you that we see numerous "repeat customers" for this, even if it is a bit of a splurge for most folks.

Their Vieille Reserve is a 20+ year old spirit. It doesn't come in a fancy bottle, nor does it have an expensive advertising campaign to convince consumers of its quality.  But it's "in the bottle" and this spirit speaks eloquently.  The aromas are mildly nutty and floral.  There's a sweet aspect to this in its fragrance and on the palate, though sugar is not part of the equation.  Swirling a small amount in a nice wine glass allows the perfume to be more expressive and it's quite complex.  The finish is long, too...

The company gained worldwide fame recently when they collaborated on a bottle containing some of their precious, extremely old Cognac.  A jeweler was involved in this production, too, creating a bottle that has gold, silver and diamonds and it's being ransomed for more than a couple of million dollars by some enterprising merchant.  
The bottles in our shop are rather ordinary, unless you consider cellophane wrapping to be "deluxe."  But the spirit contained by these simple flagons is of exceptional quality and we highly recommend them.
 
Currently in stock:  DUDOGNON "RESERVE" Grande Champagne COGNAC $49.99 (750ml)
DUDOGNON "VIEILLE RESERVE" Grande Champagne COGNAC $104.99 (750ml)
 


 



 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 


DELAMAIN
For such a connoisseur's Cognac and having a national importer in the U.S., Delamain is virtually unknown.  Perhaps it is better this way.  They bottle only Grande Champagne Cognacs.  Only recently did they even label their "young" Cognac with any sort of age designation familiar to the Cognac neophyte!  For years this has been known as nothing more than "Pale & Dry".  Today the label has "X.O." on it!  It is still extremely pale and very dry.  In buying Cognac from independent growers and distillers, they will accept nothing younger than a 15 year old Cognac!  We usually have the Pale & Dry in stock and will be happy to order for you their Vesper, Tres Venerable or the Réserve de la Famille for you.
Pale & Dry X.O. Grande Champagne  SALE $109.99

 
 

KELT
This is the work of a fellow who acts somewhat as a negociant, doing no distilling of his own.  He purchases old Cognacs and then assembles them to suit his palate. The unusual feature of Kelt's Cognac is that he puts the spirits in barrels and then ships them on a three month ocean voyage before bottling!  Some claim the rather constant and gentle motion of the sea voyage helps add a note of maturity to the Cognac.  
Kelt "Tour de Monde" V.S.O.P. Grande Champagne $55.99


 

PIERRE FERRAND
Pierre Ferrand was a noteworthy artisan distiller in second half of the 20th Century when he met two fellows who ended up taking over the company.

Today the firm is run by one of those two guys, Alexandre Gabriel.  

The Ferrand name is still a good one for serious Cognac fans.  Gabriel comes from a Burgundy heritage, so he's a fan of "terroir" and will tell you Cognac reflects its origins and terroir, much as does a good bottle of wine.

He'll also assert there are no shortcuts in making good brandy and so a measure of patience is required so the spirit is aged properly in wood.

The entry level bottling is called Ambre and it's a nice, mildly floral, lightly fruity spirits.  

We have their Reserve bottling and a new Reserve "Cigare" Cognac.  There's a rather sublime bottling called Selection des Anges (see the photo above) and this is quite smooth and complex...

 

AMBRE  $44.99
RESERVE  $70.99
RESERVE CIGARE $59.99
SELECTIONS DES ANGES  SALE $151.99

 

 

 

TESSERON
The Tesseron name has been in our shop for a few years now and it's a really fine producer of Cognac.

The firm was founded in 1905 by Abel Tesseron, a name vaguely familiar to some Bordeaux wine geeks, as a Tesseron family member purchased Chateau Pontet-Canet in the mid-1970s and they still own it today.

We've been fans of their Cognacs for a number of years, having several of them in the shop.  

The entry level is called Lot 90...there's a touch of a quince-like character here along with a faintly woodsy tone...

Then there's Lot 76 which if you ask them how long this spends in wood, they'll tell you "more than a generation."

A really special and memorable bottle is their Lot 53...This has been matured for "more than two generations."  It comes in that big, old heavy bottle you see above and it is clearly an old and mature brandy...even sniffing the empty glass you've finished provides some pleasure...

TESSERON Lot 53   SALE $299.99
TESSERON Lot 76  SALE  $129.99
TESSERON Lot 90 SALE $69.99

 

 

CHATEAU FONTPINOT (FRAPIN COGNAC)
The Frapin family claims more than 20 generations of wine-growers as its history!  And within the family tree, there's a famous celebrity in Francois Rabelais, son of Antoine Rabelais and Catherine Frapin.  

Rabelais had many skills, being a doctor, an anatomy professor and director of the hospital in Lyon, once upon a time.  He was also quite an author, penning the Gargantua stories, which sang the praises of some Loire Valley wines.  Some claims are Rabelais was born in the Loire and that his Pop was a lawyer there.

The family is not only interested in Cognac, but they make perfumes, too!  (No wonder their Cognac smells so good!)
Genevieve Frapin married a member of the Cointreau family, another distilled spirits specialist.

The Frapins own something like 300 hectares of vineyards, mostly Ugni Blanc and all situated in the Grande Champagne area.

We've been fans of their rather nicely aged Cognac from the Chateau Fontpinot property.  This shows all sorts of nice fragrances with floral and orange peel notes.  There's a nice nutty quality...the technical term is rancio and you'll find this perfume in a glass of Fontpinot which you've emptied...just wait for this to show up as you swirl the empty glass.  It's smooth and dry on the palate.

FRAPIN'S  CHATEAU DE FONTPINOT XO Cognac  SALE $119.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
MORE BRANDIES WE LIKE
 

 

GRAPPA

 

CALVADOS

 

 

 

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