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Cognac


Jason Perlow x
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I saw Gil's post on Port and I thought I'd interject my thoughts on cognac. I've been drinking quite a bit of this stuff lately and I figure I'd share my thoughts on good brands and values I've found lately. <p>In the VS/VSOP range, my current faves are Ferrand or Meukow, which are usually under 40 dollars a bottle. Very smooth by themselves with maybe a little cube of ice, and you wont feel bad about using them to make stingers at those prices. The lower end Ferrand is so good at about 35 a bottle that its almost a waste to get the more expensive ones.

In the XO range I have to say the best value right now is probably Hine Antique (Hine is the official cognac producer of the Royal house of Windsor), which you can get for about $75-$80 if you look around. This stuff is aged for at least 20-25 years, and in my opinion is a lot smoother than Remy Martin XO at over $100. I'm also a big fan of Meukow XO, which is truly amazing stuff at about $120 a bottle (and has a really striking crystal bottle with a carved predatory feline jumping out of it), but is primarily only avaliable via mail order because the Asian market totally snaps it up before it gets to the states. I really wish they would increase their distribution somewhat. I've also heard a lot of good things about the single-estate Henessey's that were recently released but I havent tried them yet. Any thoughts?

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Jason, I've tried all but one of the Cognacs you list and not found any of them impressive. It's been years since I've tasted a Congac worth its price. In the brandy category I drink Armagnac, Cognac’s not so distant cousin to the south in Gascony, exclusively. Rather than being mass produced, as even nearly all the "best" Cognac is today. Armagnac, on a much smaller scale, and in my opinion of far superior quality, is truly a brandy to be reckoned with. It is still being made in a very artistic manner, by skillful, accomplished artisans who take a great deal of pride in their final product.

Let’s begin with a few facts. Armagnac production dates back to the early 15th century. It is a produced from white wine grapes, primarily Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Colombard.

It is always aged in cask, usually the local Monlezun black oak is used. However in recent years, due to environmental concerns, as their forest was being depleted, some producers have switched to Limousin oak, a perfectly acceptable substitute.

The minimum alcohol content is 40 percent. Cognac is distilled twice, whereas Armagnac, in general, is only distilled once. For this reason it is allowed more time in cask to evolve, with the end result being a much more integrated brandy with more finesse and roundness.

It is very often a blend of mixed vintages. This means that the age on the label is reflecting the youngest wine in the blend. There may, and usually is, many much older vintages in the assemblage. Ages in cask will range from 2 years (VS) to a minimum of 10 years (Hors d’Age). VSOP and Reserve must be aged at least 5 years, whereas XO and Napoleon will be a mandatory minimum of six years.

The industry insiders I know, noting the dramatic rise in the price of Cognac recently, agree that Armagnac offers the consumer a far superior.

Jason, here are some tasting notes I've made lately tasting Armagnacs. Welcome to the world of Armagnac!

Armagnac tasting notes:

Larressingle:

VSOP: pale color, wood dominates on the nose, brown sugar & honey with a touch of almonds and anise.

XO: caramel color, medium-bodied, very round on the palate, beautiful finesse. Excellent for the price!

Domaine Boingneres:

1985 Bas-Armagnac, Folle Blanche: golden hue, classic scent of prunes, almond bark, intense aromas of cinnamon & spice.

1979 Bas-Armagnac, Folle Blanche: sweet plums, orange aromas, marzipan, with a touch of wood.

1976 Bas-Armagnac, Ugni Blanc: raspberry, summer fruit,  hint of caramel and maple syrup, a bit robust.

1959 Bas-Armagnac, Folle Blanche: dry on the palate, wonderful complexity, rich viscosity, layers of flavors unfold, cedar, walnut hints of peaches.

1972 Chateau de Ravignan: concentrated dried fruits, prune, raisin, vanilla bean and toffee notes.

1982 F. Darroze, Bas-Armagnac

Domaine du Martin: amber color, bright wood scent meshes with floral nuances, touch of spice.

1900 Bas-Armagnac, Folle Blanche

Reserve Personnelle, Cerbois: great finesse, mellow, intense woody and nutty aromas integrated with floral fragrances.

Delord, 40 year old: dark amber color, unctuous body and mouth feel, complex aromas with many layers of flavors unfolding, very smooth and refined, long lingering finish.

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Robert Weaver

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Yes Bob, Armagnacs are awesome. Except that I can hardly afford to buy most of the ones offered in even the best stocked liquor stores! <p>The other day I saw some 1946 and 1900 vintage Armagnacs ... The 1900 was $600 a bottle and the 46 was over three bills. Ouch. Maybe if I do better in the stock market this year...

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Both Armagnacs and Cognacs can get expensive but dollar for dollar you will always get better value from Armagnac. Pick any Armagnac at random at same price point as a highly ranked Cognac and the Armagnac will show better I am sure of it.

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Robert Weaver

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Michelle perhaps you have never properly tasted a fine brandy, in particular an Armagnac.

As with all wine and spirits, the choice of glassware is key. Riedel offers a different glass for young brandy versus aged brandy. They found in taste testing that when a refined mature brandy was tasted in stemware designed for the youthful spirit, the nuances of the bouquet were suppressed. They firmly believe, as I do, that the size and shape of the glass is essential. Ideally a tulip shaped glass with a tapered chimney is best, not a snifter. Rather than using a traditional snifter, some suggest to see people try a tulip-shaped Champagne glass.

Do not swirl the brandy around in the glass and then immediately stick your nose in and inhale deeply as most people do wrongly. All you will succeed in doing is burning yourself inside the nose as the energetic alcohol esters, rising up to escape, singe your nasal passages.

Gently warm the glass in your hand, (not over a flame please!). As the intense aromas emerge, their intoxicating fragrance fills the night air.

Bouquet is such an important step in the enjoyment of this most beguiling libation. Luxuriate in all the delicate fragrances as they take flight. Hints of vanilla bean, English toffee, nougat, white pepper, delicate rose petals, lovely chocolate notes. This is what it’s all about.

Don’t just swirl once and then take a big gulp. You will truly miss out on the best part. The seductive smell. Relish it, a little goes a long way.

You can even try rubbing a drop on the back of your hand or forearm, as the experts do in blind tasting. Over time you will notice all of the sublime scents develop, dried apricots, prunes, butterscotch, peanut brittle, licorice, and violets. This method allows the subtleties to present themselves on the skin, rather than in the glass. It removes the burn of the alcohol and is a much easier way for the taster to unveil the mysteries in the glass.

Plus the really good news, Armagnac, in moderation, is actually good for you. It’s not called a digestif for no reason. It will definitely aid in ones digestion after a lavish feast.

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Robert Weaver

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A cursory web survey of the better local wine & spirit merchants reveals the following under ุ Armagnacs. Which ones do you recommend?

Astor Wines:

Armagnac Dom. Grassa 3 Star  #05864   (750ml)   ศ.99/bottle   趼.90/case  

Dom. Grassa VSOP Armagnac   #05515   (750ml)   า.99/bottle   า.99/case  

Sherry Lehmann:

Nothing under ์

Garnet:

De Montal VSOP stock number  2294 price ั.00

Larresingle VSOP stock number  14905 price ั.00

Loubère Napoléon  stock number  14916 price ิ.00

Montesquieu Napoléon stock number  14962 price ำ.00

St-Vivant  stock number  25323 price ส.00

BTW Jason, Garnet's prices for Ferrand are the lowest I've seen:

Ferrand Ambre  stock number  31522 price อ.99

Ferrand Réserve  stock number  31263 price ฽.00

IMO Also good in Cognac:

Gabriel & Andreu Borderies stock number  100197 price ฼.00 (The Fins Bois is good if you can find it and cheaper)

Léopold Gourmel Age des Saveurs  stock number  31214 price ฮ.99 (I haven't tried this particular one but Gourmel is a good producer)

Finally, for something completely different, the solera aged Brandies de Jerez are quite nice

Cardenal Mendoza  stock number  12598 price ื.99

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Quote: from Michelle Ng on 12:30 pm on July 20, 2001

I've never liked the taste of any brandy, all of which reminds me of gasoline. Can you articulate what it is you like about it?

Hmm. Brandies never remind me of gasoline at all. White truffle oil used too liberally - now THAT reminds me of gasoline.

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First of all thank you for doing that research which I hope will spur Mr. Perlow to try some Armagnac at those very good prices. There are so many Armagnacs that even fanatics, and I am a low level one, have only tasted a few. On your list I am embarrassed to admit that I have tried only the Larresingle VSOP, the Grassa VSOP, and the Montesquieu Napoléon, and I only recorded tasting notes on the Larresingle. They're all excellent (you will hardly find a bad Armagnac exported and precious few locally either) but Larresingle is my favorite in that pricerange. See my notes above. Between the others, I would lean towards the Grassa because I favor the house style.

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Robert Weaver

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1900 Bas-Armagnac, Folle Blanche

Reserve Personnelle, Cerbois:

Just checking, cause this one is so much older than the others - is this a typo or are we talking 101 year old Armaganac and if it so, what does this cost at retail?

My understanding about very old spirits is that, unlike wine, they don't really change much once they've been bottled. How long were these ancient Bas-Armagnacs aged in cask?

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The reserve personnelle Armagnacs from Cerbois are aged eighteen to twenty-two years in general though I do not have notes on the exact specification of the 1900. But it would be safe to conclude that the 1900 would have tasted the same in the 1920s as it does today. Once brandy is transferred from vat to glass bottle the aging process ceases. That means that no matter how long you lay that bottle of special XO down that was given to you by your great-grandfather, aside from gathering dust, it is never going to change. This is also true once the cork is pulled. Unlike wine, oxygen is not the enemy of brandy. You can open any distilled spirit and leave it in the credenza indefinitely, it is not going to spoil provided you keep it upright to avoid possible spoilage through contact with the cork. Now that’s a relief, isn’t it? The idea is not to age it longer for developmental purposes, but rather to enjoy the experience and connection with the past and a different way of life that perhaps can be hinted at by understanding what the vintage tasted like in that specific year. I am sure these are very expensive at retail but do not know the exact price of that bottle. I saw some similar vintages in England recently for 400-600 pounds range. I participated in a very large group tasting so my share was very little for tastes of many. My budget does not allow such bottles for personal use. THough I do buy some that cost a bit, because you drink such small portions that they can last for years.

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Robert Weaver

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Best NYC restaurant for sampling a range of Armagnacs:

Gascogne

158 Eighth Ave.

(between 17th and 18th Sts.)

(212) 675-6564

Good introductory article on Armagnac:

"Armagnac: The Golden Flame", from Cigar Aficionado

http://www.cigaraficionado.com/Cigar/Aficionado/drinks/spirits/MW1196a.html

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Steven A. Shaw

www.fat-guy.com

eGullet Community Coordinator, New York

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Jason...

Looks like you are going to have to p*ss off the wife again and go shopping for Armagnac.   :)

But putting evangelism aside for a moment, Jason is right that if you want a good affordable Cognac, Pierre Ferrand Ambre is the way to go.  Dump your Remy Martin, Couvoissier, etc. in the river.   :)

I won't argue that the various low-end Armagnacs might be better since I don't have experience with them yet.  I'm simply giving a recommendation of one quality lower end Cognac that isn't a rip off for what you get.

And yes... to the unitiated it might all taste like gasoline at first.  If you like the Cognac warm you do indeed have to learn to savor instead of gulp to get past that.  Heck, even after years I still always find my first few sips slightly repulsive, but after a few sips my nose kicks in and my tastebuds seem to register a completely different taste.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Since reading the informative posts on Armagnac, we've invested in a couple of bottles:

Larressingle VSOP.

Chateau de Laubade, VSOP.

Both are really good value, mid-ฮs. The first is prune-y and the second, to me, has a hint of vanilla. Great after dinner digestif as Spirit Bob said. On re-reading the advice for drinking it, I’ll use different glasses next time.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 3 weeks later...

can 1 "really" taste the difference between a 'vsop' vs a

'vs' cognac?

sorry fat guy, but gascogne is a total rip-off! try 2 discourage as many not 2 go. ripped off once is enough & if can save some1 from wasting their $'s - do not go!!

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Quote: from baruch on 1:12 pm on Aug. 20, 2001

only problems r: 1) weird location, 2) miniscule bar 2 linger & enjoy an armagnac

that area needs a couple of decent restaurants.  but yes, that is the smallest bar perhaps on the planet.  they should do away with their take-away counter, perhaps opening up a separate retail store, and open up that bar area.  even the back of the first floor could possibly be transformed into a bar/food area.

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simple: i was OVERCH'D @the bar; i wanted 2 lve my overcoat on my bar stool, but when i went 2 the restrm, the maitre'd/jerk had moved it without my permission; then it was "taken" by a patron with the bartender's knowledge; the owner "finally believed me & recovered my coat after a certain amt of aggravation - do u need any more reasons????? prior to that, i had had dinner in sweltering heat, the ac was not being utilized - i should have known then!! so, my advice - don't go or caveat emptor!

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That sounds like an annoying incident, but hardly justifies the claim that the restaurant is a ripoff. I've had good luck there, as have a number of those who have written to me. Here are some examples:

"I have a love affair with Gascogne on  8th Avenue between 17th and 18th streets. The garden in back is transporting. Edith Piaf serenades while ex pat French waiters look after you. They look after you well. The restaurant is, of course, the cuisine of Gascony and while not everything hits (sweetbreads were surprisingly bland) those dishes that do are marvelous.

Also, they do with Armagnac what Gramercy Tavern does with cheese. A whole tableside display of them, ranging in vintages from 1929 through 1977 at last visit. I like it!"

"I lived in the neigborhood for a while, and find myself returning fairly regularly for dinner at Gascogne.  The food is predictably and reliably very good, the service is warm, never hurried, and unpretentious.  It's very easy to spend over three hours there, at a reasonable price, lingering at the end over one of a broad selection of Armagnacs (and a contraband cigarette, mercifully overlooked by management when the dining room is empty enough). The basics never disappoint: duck confit, rack of lamb, etc.  My only real complaint is the thin wine list. Bonus points for a solid (if somewhat uninspired), alarmingly cheap Sunday brunch, preferably served in the delightfully disheveled garden."

"One restaurant we frequently make a pilgrimage to is Gascogne's Restaurant at 158 8th Avenue (212-675-6564). What a find!! One of NYC's best kept secrets. We've had nothing but fabulous experiences there. It's particularly wonderful in the summer because of the garden/terrace.

Everything we've eaten there has been exquisite (particularly the fois gras). I wanted to bring it to your attention as I believe it's such a great french restaurant."

Nobody has ever written to me with a complaint, which is rare, so I have to assume what you experienced was an anomaly.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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That sounds like an annoying incident,
I suppose so if you can make heads or tails out of the story. This has gone so far off topic that I'm a bit reluctant to continue the subthread. I also hate to knock restaurants I've not been to in six months, but the last time we were in Gascogne, it was a very disappointing experience. Our companions were a French couple and an American couple who spend much of the year in their house in the Languedoc. Neither couple eats regularly in three star restaurants, but they do know their food and we've dined with them in France, the US and at El Bulli. Our concensus was that this was not the restaurant the four of us, who have eaten there before, remember. The food was largely unsatisfactory and in some cases bore little resemblance to what one might reasonably expect from the listing on the menu. If I recall correctly a tastless boeuf bouilli with a bland cream sauce and pickles on the side, was served as a pot au feu. Wine service was particularly strange from an outspoken waiter unfamiliar with the list and the wines of the southwset of France. At the time I expressed my views in a public forum and a trusted voice noted that she had found great inconsistency lately from a restaurant that was a trusted favorite in its class.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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