Archive for December 5, 2013
For wine lovers who want to learn and explore the spirit world, Cognac is the quintessential bridge. Yes, it’s derived from grapes, but more importantly this elixir’s tradition is intertwined with wine’s rich culture.
During a recent visit to the region I was awestruck by the sheer vastness of Cognac’s vineyards. It was harvest time, and just like in wine country across the northern hemisphere, that euphoric buzz of grape picking and pressing was palpable everywhere I went, from the dusty vine rows to the bustling cafés on cobblestone streets.
Another shared trait with wine’s heritage: Practically everyone you meet in Cognac either works for one of the vineyards or distillers, or is related to someone who does. And with Cognac’s old-vine grapes and its often decades-long aging time, it’s not uncommon to sip something crafted by multiple generations of a single family.
There has never been a better time to explore Cognac, as now there is wide spectrum of styles to try—from the resoundingly bold and full-bodied (Jean Fillioux Cep D’Or) to the light and crisp (Leopold Gourmel Premieres Saveurs); from flavored offerings (Courvoisier Gold and Rose) to stiff, high-proof mixers (Louis Royer’s 53 Cask Strength). What’s more Cognacs receivedsome of my highest scores all year, particularly the longest-aged brandies (XO, or “Extra Old”). Still, some younger pours did manage to rate extremely high. With so many options to choose from, you will find that right bottle. Bon chance, and enjoy your delicious journey into Cognac.
97 Cognac Prunier XO (France; Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York, NY). A particularly fruit-forward Cognac, look for candied-orange peel, ripe grapes and stone fruit on the first sips, which soon mellow to stewed-fruit flavors on the caramel-coated finish. Savory, mouthwatering rancio notes make for addictive sipping. Made with brandies aged 20–50 years.
abv: 40% Price: $108
97 Distillerie du Peyrat XO (France; Heavenly Spirits, Lakeville, MA). Peyrat is one of the few producers to focus on certified organic
Cognac—this one is certified by France’s Ecocert, with USDA certification still in the works. Organic or not, this is a beauty, rich in Sherry and birch beer-like notes, dappled with cinnamon and allspice. The dry finish suggests accents of spiced cocoa and leather.
abv: 40% Price: $150
96 Cognac Paul Giraud XO (France; Robert Kacher Selections, Washington DC). Like gingerbread in a glass, this topaz-hued and highly aromatic brandy offers bold baking spice, orange peel and floral notes, and an elegant, spicy finish, with flavors of ginger and clove.
abv: 40% Price: $90
96 Jean Fillioux Cep D’Or (France; Heavenly Spirits, Lakeville, MA). Rich and luxurious, this 12-year-old “Tres Vielle” Cognac offers deep toffee and hazelnut flavors, before tapering off to a cocoa and espresso-inflected finish. It’s a well-structured brandy that puts you in mind of a leather club chair—you just want to close your eyes and sink into it.
abv: 40% Price: $90
95 Camus XO Elegance (France; CIL US, West Palm Beach, FL). This copper-penny colored Cognac is best when allowed time to open, since it evolves in the glass. The nose offers notes of dried cherries, toffee and oak. The palate is light at first, with vanilla and warm caramel deepening to an unusually
fruity finish full of rounded apricot and orange flavors. It’s mouthwatering and delicious, perfect for pairing
with fruit tarts and pies.
abv: 40% Price: $139
95 Delamain XO (France; Kobrand, New York, NY). Bold and butterscotchy, this easy-drinking Cognac also has dried fruit and nutty tones, plus a saline touch that’s reminiscent of salted caramel. There’s a spicy flourish on the relatively dry finish. Delamain notes that it is one of the only Cognac houses to exclude VS and VSOP expressions from its portfolio, “its range starts where others end, with an X.O.”
abv: 40% Price: $119
95 Lise Baccara XO Old Vines (France; Heavenly Spirits, Lakeville, MA). The aroma is particularly rich and complex, with notes of cocoa and apricot. On the palate, thick caramel and cocoa flavors lead, finishing with a perky baking-spice accent and hints of almond and apricot. If you can bear to squander a few ounces of a Cognac made from old vine grapes, consider making a Japanese cocktail—orgeat would complement the natural nuttiness.
abv: 40% Price: $130
95 Pierre Ferrand Ancestrale (France; W.J. Deutsch & Sons, White Plains, NY). At the more precious end of Ferrand’s offerings, it takes 90 bottles of wine and 70 years to make just one bottle of Ancestrale. It’s undeniably delicious, with dark fruit notes that suggest brandied cherries, Port, ripe plums and cassis, finishing with a wash of dusty cocoa. The concentrated, rounded flavor may remind some of Bourbon.
abv: 40% Price: $800
Sixteen glasses of single malts were lined up, glint amber in the glass, perfuming the room with vanilla, caramel and smoke. And lucky me, I get to sample them all. Some people might call this a special occasion. But as a spirits reviewer for Wine Enthusiast, I simply call this Tuesday.
But this particular Tuesday, I was in for a big surprise. Among those glasses of what I thought was Scotch whisky, was a single malt from Taiwan. I tasted it, and it was off-the-charts good.
When I discovered the brand, I was floored. From Taiwan? Not Scotland, home of the most-lauded whiskies in the world?
This mysterious stranger, Kavalan Single Malt Whisky, hit all the right flavor notes—fresh fruit, light smoke, mouthwatering butterscotch. Delicious.
It got me thinking: Why aren’t I drinking more whisky from Asia? Why isn’t everyone?
Frankly, Asia’s rising crop of whiskies is every bit as good as some of the finest Scotches around. Most were deliberately made in Scotch whisky’s image, but added twists give Asia’s whiskies their own distinct identity. For example, the local water in Japan is said to be the key to creating that uniquely silky texture found in many of the country’s standout whiskies. India’s Amrut uses a local barley in its mash bill that helps temper the otherwise stiff stuff with a soft, candied citrus note. And the inhospitable heat and humidity in that country is said to accelerate aging, creating bold flavors. Not unlike terroir in wine, whisky is shaped by the world around it.
I’m glad the Kavalan snuck into the Scotch lineup. It was a welcome excuse to forget about the restrictions of provenance and just focus on what’s in the glass, and to be open to surprises and serendipity, whatever the source. And, of course, it was a reminder to drink more whisky from Asia.
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt, 12 Year (Japan): Bright gold and fresh, this single malt hits a pitch-perfect balance between orchard fruit, oak and smoke. Wallet permitting, the newly released 17-year-old ($150) and 21-year-old ($180) bottlings are also worth seeking out, $70.
The Yamazaki, 18 Year (Japan): Velvety soft to the point of luxe. Luscious butterscotch is enlivened by touches of stone fruit, lychee and the faintest hint of smoke, $120.
Amrut Fusion (India): Made with Indian barley and peated Scottish barley “fused” together in ex-Bourbon casks, hence the name. Not for wimps, this robust 100-proof single malt mixes smoke and hints of chocolate-covered orange peel, $64.
Kavalan Concertmaster (Taiwan): A Port-cask finish means rich, candy-like caramel aromatics in this single malt, plus dark, mouthwatering hints of cola, allspice, espresso and dried figs, $90.
Kavalan Single Malt (Taiwan): Harmonious and delicious. Mild smoky notes, fresh apple and pineapple swirl together with rich vanilla and butterscotch flavors, $120.
3 Reasons Why Ginga-Kogen Weizen is your new favorite craft beer.
1. It’s Delicious
It’s a yeasty hefeweizen, with aromas and flavors of banana, scone, orange zest and allspice, and a deliciously dense yet polished-smooth mouthfeel.
2. How cool is this bottle?
It comes in a super heavy, beautiful deep-blue glass bottle that’s fun to hold and tip.
3. It’s Saving A Village
The brewery opened in 1996 as an economic development project for the strapped community of Iwate Sawauchi, a rural village on Mt. Wagatake. The village elders agreed that with an abundance of local wheat, barley and mountain snow-melt spring water—plus the burg shares roughly the same climate and elevation as Munich—that a German-style brewery was to be a part of the town’s future.