Category Archives: Brandy

Review: Aga Vie Esprit D’Agave

aga vie 143x300 Review: Aga Vie Esprit DAgaveWhat is it about the French and tequila? First Given blends tequila with lime juice and grape juice in Cognac, France, and now there’s Aga Vie, a commingling of blanco tequila and Cognac that have been (re-)distilled together into one oddball spirit. (This distillation removes whatever color is left behind, namely from the Cognac.)

Describing Aga Vie leads terms that are exactly as you’d expect: The nose is sweet like tequila, and the body offers an agave punch plus some of that brandied sweetness. To dig into the details, when you first get a whiff of Aga Vie, imagine not blanco but reposado tequila (there’s some wood in there), with a little honey thrown into the mix. On the palate, things get weird. The tequila’s there — though it’s not particularly definable beyond indistinct agave notes — but it’s considerably overpowered by the sweetness of the Cognac. Aga Vie doesn’t delineate the proportions of tequila to brandy in this spirit, and it’s hard to tell whether a little expensive Cognac goes a long way in a lot of cheaper tequila or whether it’s the other way around, but either way the mixture will be confusing to anyone who’s accustomed to drinking either of the two. The vanilla notes from the Cognac make you feel like you’re drinking an older tequila stock at first, but the impression soon fades as a hefty sweetness takes hold on your throat. The spirit ends with a mouth-coating candy-like character that is hard to shake and which, all things considered, is the only part of the experience that isn’t particularly satisfying.

The natural question you might ask next is: But why? Why would you take perfectly good tequila and Cognac and blend them together? The official story on the Aga Vie website evokes the French occupation of Mexico (a brief period in the country’s history), but I doubt anyone was mixing up tequila and Cognac during those years. Whether we should be doing that now is left as an exercise for the reader.

B- / $45 / agavie.com

Tasting Report: Vini d’Italia Tour 2013

Our friends at Winebow, a major wine importer, host this event on a fairly annual basis, bringing some of the biggest names in Italian wine (and a little grappa) to the States for tasting and consideration. In addition, some virtually unknown brands, looking for distribution in the U.S., are made available, too. Prices below are wholesale. As always, thoughts follow on everything tasted.

Tasting Report: Vini d’Italia Tour 2013

2009 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT / $17 / B+ / slightly green
2009 Allegrini La Grola Veronese IGT / $23 / A- / fresh, nice body
2007 Allegrini La Poja Corvina Veronese IGT / $68 / A / gorgeous nose, brilliant minerals
2008 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC / $67 / A / dense, cocoa, cofee, complex
2010 Altesino Rosso di Altesino Toscana IGT / $16 / B / fresh, earth meets fruit
2010 Altesino Rosso di Montalcino DOC / $24 / B / similar, some green notes, bitter finish
2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG / $55 / B / nose is off, heavy herbs and olive
2011 Fattoria Le Pupille Morellino di Scansano DOCG / $17 / A- / lively, pretty fruit, light herbs
2008 Fattoria Le Pupille Poggio Valente Morellino di Scansano Riserva DOCG / $43 / A- / licorice, chunky chocolate notes
2009 Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi Maremma IGT / $103 / A / classic Super Tuscan, no complaints
2010 Leono de Castris Malana Salice Salentino Rosso DOC / $11 / A- / complex for a young wine, some jam, herbal touches,
2008 Leono de Castris Malana Salice Salentino Rosso DOC 50th Vendemmia / $13 / B+ / much more wood here, clinging to a fruity core
2010 Maculan Brentino Veneto IGT / $16 / B / light, enjoyable, fresh herbs
2010 Maculan Palazzotto Cabernet Sauvignon Breganze DOC / $26 / A- / nice balance, great everyday drinker, versatile
2009 Montevetrano Colli di Salerno IGT / $73 / A- / elegant, beautiful structure, fruit meets charcoal, roasted meats
2010 San Polo Rubio Toscana IGT / $13 / B- / heavy earth, tannic
2010 San Polo Rosso di Montalcino DOC / $20 / B- / similar, unripe
2008 San Polo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG / $65 / B- / green and tough
2010 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Borgo Syrah Cortona DOC / $18 / A- / lovely, fresh fruit and berry notes
2009 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Il Bosco Syrah Cortona DOC / $50 / A- / old vines; some licorice and chocolate
2009 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Migliara Syrah Cortona DOC / $74 / B+ / inky, almost like an Australian Shiraz in style
2011 Tua Rita Rosso dei Notri Toscana IGT / $20 / B / slight tannin, raspberries, plummy core
2009 Tua Rita Giusto di Notri Toscana IGT / $67 / A- / intense, fennel and cedar, tar, herbs follow

Spirits

Nardini Grappa Aquavite di Vinaccia Bianca / $41 / A- / powerful nose, surprisingly fruity body, lemon and citrus, 100 proof
Nardini Grappa Aquavite di Vinaccia Riserva / $49 / B+ / wood doesn’t add much to this grappa, a touch of vanilla, 100 proof
Nardini Grappa Tagliatella / $41 / B / strong cherry, bittersweet; marketed as an alternative to Campari, 70 proof
Nardini Grappa Acqua di Cedro Liqueur / $41 / B+ / like limoncello without the color, light herbal notes
Nardini Grappa Amaro / $34 / A- / slight mint, almonds, licorice touches; bitter finish, good balance

Review: Louis Royer Cognac XO

louis royer xo cognac 228x300 Review: Louis Royer Cognac XOLouis Royer has been producing Cognac since 1853, but it’s relatively obscure on U.S. shores. This XO, like most, doesn’t offer much information by way of production or aging notes (Royer uses grapes from the six big growing regions of Cognac), but I wouldn’t fret over it. This is quality Cognac that is worth visiting, and a bargain for a spirit of this quality.

Immediate dark chocolate and coffee notes on the nose and on the first sips. This is a much darker, burlier Cognac than most other brands, particularly XOs, which tend to run fruitier, with more of a baking spice note. Alongside the above, the Louis Royer XO offers more incense, burnt orange, and root beer notes — backed by a heavy vanilla extract finish — making for an altogether intriguing, complex spirit. There’s so much going on here that it invites continued discovery. I keep going back to it, finding something a little different every time out.

80 proof.

A / $140 / louis-royer.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Campo de Encanto Pisco Grand & Noble Acholado

campo de encanto pisco bottle low 120x300 Review: Campo de Encanto Pisco Grand & Noble AcholadoOne of the top brands of the pisco revival, Encanto has been making waves for years — and we’re only just now getting around to reviewing it formally. An acholado style pisco, Encanto is a blend of distillate from four types of grapes — Quebranta (74%), Torontel (6%), Moscatel (4%) and Italia (16%). (Most other pisco styles are single-varietal. See our primer here.)

Encanto is a very fresh and lively Peruvian pisco, lacking in the hoary funk that defines so many of its competitors. The nose features fresh citrus along with some pine needle — tangy and inviting, almost gin-like. The body follows suit. Ample lemon notes meld nicely with secondary notes of evergreen, pencil shavings, and modest floral notes on the back end. As pisco goes, this is easygoing, pleasant, and — again — fresh. While pisco still doesn’t show up in a whole lot of cocktails today (and few are drinking this stuff straight), if you’re going to invest in one bottle of pisco, Encanto is probably the one to buy.

Note: Encanto has a single-varietal pisco in the works which I’ve tasted (once). Not sure how close it is to release… stay tuned.

A / $35 / encantopisco.com

Review: Harvest Spirits Core Vodkas, Liqueurs, and Brandies

harvest spirits farm distillery 300x202 Review: Harvest Spirits Core Vodkas, Liqueurs, and BrandiesHarvest Spirits Farm Distillery, in Valatie, New York, focuses like so many other operations in this region on using local fruits to produce artisinal, farm-to-bottle spirits. The lineup below represents a full farmers’ market of goodies. Thoughts on the bulk of Harvest Spirits’ production follow.

Harvest Spirits Core Vodka – Another vodka distilled from New York apples, these grown in the company’s own orchards and triple distilled (leaving only the “core” of the spirit… get it?). Clean on the nose, with a caramel note. Slightly sweet, somewhat nutty on the body, with a surprisingly grain-focused finish. Apple character is evident on the nose, but only in passing, as the spirit opens up in glass. Intriguing and unique. 80 proof. B+ / $34

Harvest Spirits Rare Pear Brandy – Double distilled from Hudson Valley pears and aged for two years in American oak. Wood and pear — always a tricky combination — don’t come together well on the nose, here. It’s got a huge medicinal quality to it, vaguely fruity but knocked around by astringency and pungency, redolent of mothballs. The body is less palatable, more of that mothball character with a hint of pear on the finish. Just not drinkable. 80 proof. D- / $35 (375ml)

Harvest Spirits Cornelius Applejack – Named after a veteran cider presser from the company farm, this apple brandy is rested in oak barrels for an unstated length of time before bottling. On the nose: Apples? Sure, but less present than you think: This is surprisingly far more whiskey-like than any applejack I’ve had. The body backs that up, with clear vanilla notes, wood, and a smooth cocoa finish. In a world where you’d probably never dream of drinking rustic applejack unless it was the last bottle left on the back bar, Cornelius challenges what this spirit can be and proves it belongs on the top shelf. 80 proof. A- / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Harvest Spirits Core Black Raspberry Vodka – A flavored vodka, distilled from apples and black raspberries (both local), with a small amount of black raspberry juice added back in afterward, giving it an impossible (yet natural) pink color. Incredibly fruity nose, a perfect complement to that incredible hue. Unlike the unflavored vodka, it has distinct apple notes underneath that big berry character. The body is immensely sweet (though there’s no added sugar), loaded with that raspberry — almost blackberry — character. Toss in some triple sec and you have an instant Cosmo, sans cranberry juice. 80 proof. B+ / $NA

Harvest Spirits Peach Jack – Not what you think. Fresh peaches are pitted and soaked in Cornelius Applejack, then the mix is strained and aged a second time in oak barrels. There’s a lot going on here, maybe too much. The peach is overwhelming in an old school peach brandy sort of way, and combined with the apples it all gets a bit cloying on the palate. The finish feels authentic, but rough to sip on even at a relatively modest 60 proof. I can see how some folks would be fans, though. C+ / $33

harvestspirits.com [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting the Liqueurs and C2 Cognac/Liqueur Blends of Merlet

Merlet C2 Citron 101x300 Tasting the Liqueurs and C2 Cognac/Liqueur Blends of MerletWe covered Merlet’s new Cognac a few weeks ago, but the company is arguably best known for its fruit liqueurs, which we’re finally getting around to covering them. All of them, actually. Thoughts on these high-end liqueurs and two unique Cognac/liqueur blends follow.

Merlet Triple Sec – Triple sec is perhaps the toughest liqueur there is to mess up, and Merlet’s, made with bitter orange, blood orange, and lemon, is perfectly solid and is at times a bit exotic with its melange of interrelated fruit flavors. A very pale yellow in color, the lemon is a touch more to the forefront than I’d like, lending this liqueur a slight sourness, but on the whole it’s a perfectly worthwhile and usable triple sec that I have no trouble recommending. 80 proof. A- / $30

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Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and Grappa

van brunt stillhouse whiskey 96x300 Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and GrappaVan Brunt Stillhouse is a craft distillery based in Brooklyn — arguably the epicenter of microdistillery activity in America, if not the world. (The company is named after Cornelius Van Brunt, one of the founding fathers of Brooklyn.)

The distillery produces whiskey, rum, and — unusually — grappa. We tasted all three spirits. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Van Brunt Stillhouse American Whiskey – Made from New York grains, “made primarily from malted barley and wheat, with a little bit of corn and a touch of rye.” No age statement, but it spends just five months in American oak barrels. Incredibly young on the nose, it’s loaded with grain, funky and skunky. The palate doesn’t really alter course. Here the grain has a more malty character, but the finish is lengthy with grain husks, bean sprouts, and lumberyard remnants. Not my bag, though the mashbill sounds intriguing. C- / $36 (375ml)  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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Review: Merlet Cognac Brothers Blend

merlet cognac Brothers Blend bottle 133x300 Review: Merlet Cognac Brothers BlendFormerly a private label distiller of Cognac for the major houses, Merlet (pronounced mer-lay) has launched its own label, under its own name. (The company also makes a variety of fruit liqueurs, which we’ll be reviewing soon.) The first product, launching now in the U.S., is called Merlet Brothers Blend, a marriage of eaux-de-vies ranging in age from four to 12 years old.

My first encounter with Brothers Blend was a little off-putting. I found it hot and young, typical of a pre-teen Cognac. On further tasting, after letting the bottle simmer down for a few weeks with a little air in the headspace, things have interestingly improved.

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Review: Belle de Brillet Poire Williams

belle de brillet poire 300x300 Review: Belle de Brillet Poire WilliamsI’ve had a mini of Belle de Brillet around for years. So it came as quite a surprise to find out that Kobrand would be “bringing” this brand (which launched in the 1980s) to the U.S. (The bottle I have was imported by Pasternak.)

I figured I’d crack it open and give it a spin. Assuming the recipe hasn’t changed — it takes Williams pears (Poires Williams) from the Alsace region of France and blends them with Brillet Cognac to create this liqueur — it’s an exotic and fruit-filled spirit. Extremely sweet, the authentic pear character on the nose can’t hold a candle to the massive amount of sugar that lies beneath it. Those nutty, somewhat earthy pears are just doused in syrup — a bit like a canned fruit cocktail. The finish lasts for days. Fine in small quantities.

60 proof.

B / $43 / kobrandwineandspirits.com

Pisco Disco Cocktails

Okay they’re really not disco-inspired cocktails, but it was tough to resist the whole rhyme scheme. Absolutely abysmal wordplay aside, Pisco is indeed a wonderful South American brandy that is sorely under-represented in the cocktail world. Here are a couple of recipes courtesy of our friends over at Portón that are worth checking out and warming up with during these frigid winter months.

Pink Passionimage001 Pisco Disco Cocktails

2 parts Portón pisco
1 part pomegranate juice
1 part tangerine juice
Sugar to taste
Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice.
Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

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Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

You’re full of meat and pie and perhaps meat pie. Now it’s time to think of your loved ones. Were they naughty? Nice? Do they deserve a fancy tipple when the giving season arrives?

For your most favored loved ones, Drinkhacker offers this collection of our favorite spirits from 2012, just a small sampling of the most worthy products on the market. Dig through the category of your choice for other ideas, and please chime in with your own gift ideas!

Also check out our 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Want our gift guide in glorious, full-color, printable-magazine style, complete with the original reviews for all of these products? YOU GOT IT!

four roses 2012 small batch limited edeition 192x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Four Roses Small Batch 2012 ($90) – This bad boy’s been topping “best of” lists all season, and for good reason. Perhaps the best Small Batch from 4R since the distillery re-entered the U.S. market, it’s a huge crowd pleaser. Can’t find it (don’t be surprised…), try Elijah Craig Single Barrel 20 Years Old ($130), Woodford Reserve’s unique Four Wood ($100), or Smooth Ambler Yearling ($62), straight outta West Virginia.

Scotch – The Balvenie DoubleWood 17 Year Old ($130) – I’d love to pick Glenfiddich 1974 or Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3 here, but both are long gone from the market and were absurdly expensive, to boot. You’ll have better luck with the new, older DoubleWood — which, by the way, is replacing the highly-beloved Balvenie Peated Cask on the market — which is in wide distribution now. More ideas? I love Arran Malt’s The Devil’s Punch Bowl ($130) and Ardbeg Galileo ($95). But my real connoisseur’s pick is a stealthy one: Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood Cote Rotie Finish 1991 ($80). Yes, it’s available, and yes, this is pretty much the only thing I want for Christmas.

greenhook gin 200x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasGinGreenhook Gin ($33) – No knockouts this year, unlike 2011. Greenhook’s elderflower kick makes it a lot of fun. Cardinal ($29) is also a creamy, delicious gin. Update: And due to a tragic oversight, I failed to note the quality of The Botanist ($33).

VodkaSquare One Vodka ($33) – Rock solid, though hardly new to the market. Other excellent choices: Belvedere Intense Unfiltered ($40) or Bully Boy Vodka ($28).

Rum – Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole 1997 ($130) – My pick for the most exciting rum of 2012 isn’t sold in the country, but this vintage agricole from Rhum J.M. makes an exquisite gift, too. Lots of great options out there for lower budgets, too, including Blackwell ($30), Ron Fortuna ($22), and Plantation 3 Stars ($24).

Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO 214x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBrandy – Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO Imperial ($130) – There’s never much new brandy coming out in any given year, and the good stuff costs a pretty penny. At the top of the list for 2012 is this Armagnac, with Camus’ Extra Elegance ($395) close behind. For more affordable selections, check out Camus’ Ile de Re series.

Tequila – t1 Tequila Blanco Ultra-Fino ($40) – In a year of top tequila and absurdly expensive bottlings, these two affordable blancos stood out. t1 looks a little snazzier, if you’re giving a gift. The amazingly balanced Z Tequila Blanco ($30) will save you 10 bucks. Many excellent choices out there this year, as usual.

Liqueur – Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao Ancienne Method ($25) - Turn the Grand Marnier fan in your household on to this, the best orange liqueur on the market and a pittance at just $25 a bottle. For a different fruit effect, check out Germain-Robin Pear de Pear ($24, 375ml), a spirit that will quickly make you forget about lackluster Poire Williams.

Need another custom gift idea? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Master of Malt a try!

Review: Germain-Robin Pear de Pear Liqueur

germain robin pear de pear 80x300 Review: Germain Robin Pear de Pear LiqueurThe pear gets minimal respect in the booze biz. Heck, even apples have high-end brandies dedicated to them — in multiple countries, no less. In comparison, pear brandies are normally unaged quickie spirits. Finding a pear spirit that’s spent time in oak is almost unheard of. Craft Distillers’ Joe Corley cares not for any of this: He’s put together this limited edition aged pear liqueur (not a straight brandy), and it’s a mighty success.

Inspired by the pear liqueur of the same name from the now defunct RMS Distillery in Napa (sold only at its tasting room, it was never released to the open market), Corley uses Lake County and Mendocino County Bartlett pears as the basis for this rich and exotic liqueur.

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Notes from Domaine Select Wine Estates Pop-Up Tour, October 2012

whistepig 111 300x224 Notes from Domaine Select Wine Estates Pop Up Tour, October 2012Our friends at Domaine Select Wine Estates (which handles a lot more than wine) are on the road, “popping up” in a half-dozen cities to let their producers show off their wares. I recently dropped in on the San Francisco installment to experience a few wines that were new to me (1982 Borgogno Barolo, yes please) and some spirits, including a line of Armagnacs from Castarede that are slowly making their way to the States, and WhistlePig’s new limited edition “111” Rye Whiskey. Notes follow!

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The Pisco of Chile: Control C and Espiritu de Elqui Reviewed

Chile celebrates its Independence Day on September 18, and this year the country took the opportunity to revive the battle its been locked in with Peru over who originated — or makes better — the South American spirit of Pisco.

Distilled from grapes, Pisco is essentially unaged (usually) brandy, though in Chile they are more apt to drop their Pisco in an oak barrel for a few months or years than they are in Pisco.

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Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012

Another sold-out show this year for WhiskyFest San Francisco, and yet it didn’t feel overly crowded. I missed out on some of the whispered highlights by arriving late, when the rarities were all gone. (John Hansell has some coverage, which I hope to catch up with in coming months.) Otherwise, good times all around. While the absence of a few standbys – Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, Compass Box – was grumbled about, I don’t think you can raise a complaint about the quality of spirits on tap.

Brief notes follow (made more difficult by the fact that my pen simply would not write on the glossy brochure provided this year). I made sure to sample some more widely available whiskeys I hadn’t tried in years (Elijah Craig 12, Balvenie 12), for comparative purposes.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012

Scotch

Gordon & MacPhail Glenburgie 21 Years Old / B+ / huge nose, lots of grain, chew finish
Gordon & MacPhail Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A / apple pie, with both the crust and cinnamon/spice notes
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Clynelish 1993 / A- / unique, lots of malt, big body
Gordon & MacPhail Benromach Organic / B+ / heavy on the grassiness
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Tormore 1996 15 Years Old / B+ / big banana notes, apple character
Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old / A- / tasted as a comparative to the new 17 year old DoubleWood; a perfect everyday Scotch
Oban 18 Years Old / A- / wonderful peat/sweet balance
Old Pulteney 17 Years Old / A- / drinking well, very rich
Old Pulteney 30 Years Old / B+ / showing more grain character, oddly
Chieftain’s Glenturret 21 Year Old Cask Strength / A / brisk
GlenDronach 18 Years Old Allardice / B+ / raisin notes
GlenDronach 21 Years Old Parliament / B+ / similar, with a toffee character; bitter edge
BenRiach 1995 Pedro Ximinez Cask #2045 / A- / lots of peat at work
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 / A / cherry, nougat, lots of depth; very different than other Black Art bottling
Samaroli Glenlivet 1977 / A / absolutely gorgeous, wood and nougat in balance
Samaroli Caol Ila 1980 / B+
Samaroli Linkwood 1983 / A / peat, sweet, great combo
Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / A-
Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / A / dusky earthiness
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / C / an ultra-young Scotch, lots of brash, cooked cereal notes
Glen Grant 16 Years Old / B / basic, simple

United States

St. George Spirits Barrel Strength Bourbon / A / 62.5 percent abv, distilled in 2005; burly and big, delicious
Lost Spirits Leviathan 1 Cast 7 / B+ / fire and brimstone
Lost Spirits Paradiso / A- / a brutally peated version of Leviathan, with a hint of absinthe in the finish; entire stock has been sold to Germany
Redemption Rye / A / lovely mix of spice and wood (3 years old)
Redemption Rye 14 Years Old (private barrel) / B+ / from private stock; the wood punches out the rye
Koval Organic 47th Ward / B / cereal finish
Koval Organic Raksi Dark Millet / B+ / smoldering and chewy
Hudson Baby Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, drinking well despite a corniness
Elijah Craig 12 Years Old Small Batch Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, but drinking nicely
Four Roses Yellow Label / B- / very hot and tight
Four Roses Single Barrel / A
Four Roses Small Batch / A-

Other World Whiskies

Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Single Cask / B- / aged in ex-Beam barrels; lots of heat, tight
Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Double Cask / B / lots of grain, big field notes
Canadian Club Sherry Cask / A- / very sweet, pretty
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / two offerings from Japan, coming soon to the U.S.; a vatted malt; quite sweet
Nikka Yoichi 15 Years Old / A / more smoke here, very rich, outstanding

Cognac

HINE Homage / B+ / a blend of 1984, 86, and 87 spirit; good balance
HINE H / B+ / traditional, lots of sugary notes
HINE Antique / A / lush, powerful, a great old Cognac
Frapin Cognac VS / B+
Frapin Cognac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A-
Frapin Cognac VIP XO / A
Frapin Cognac Extra / A-

Review: Courvoisier Gold Cognac Liqueur

Courvoisier is at the forefront of the taking Cognac into new markets, with brandy-and-wine blends like Courvoisier Rose. Now the company is back at it with Courvoisier Gold, a blend of Cognac and Moscato wine.

This actually sounds like a great idea — the brisk orange of the Moscato enhancing the citrus notes in the Cognac. In theory, anyway.

Alas, the theory didn’t really pan out this time. The nose of Gold is mild and innocuous, and the body brings out the constituent components of the concoction. Unfortunately, those components just don’t work together. The Moscato wine is understated and doesn’t offer much flavor, just a vague sense of something fruity that approaches apple juice, straight out of the juice box. This is spiked with a touch of Cognac — at just 18% alcohol, there’s really not much brandy in the mix — but it’s not enough to do much to the wine. A hint of vanilla is really all you get — and it turns out to be not very complementary to the Moscato in the end.

If you do try this product, be sure to have it chilled (as the company recommends). Served at room temperature, it’s tepid and raw. Chilled or with ice, at least you can have your apple juice the way God intended.

36 proof.

D+ / $25 / courvoisier.com

courvoisier gold Review: Courvoisier Gold Cognac Liqueur

Review: Camus Ile de Re Cognacs

Most (myself included) think of Cognac hailing from a small region in France just north of Bordeaux. But did you know that you can make Cognac (legally) on an island off the coast of France? To be fair, Ile de Re isn’t far offshore — it’s connected to the mainland via a bridge — but it’s unique enough to merit more than a little curiosity.

Camus is the first company to bring a Cognac produced from grapes grown on this little island to market, with three Ile de Re Cognac expressions launching now. All are classic Cognac expressions, but you’ll find them infused with a little unique island spirit, giving them a slightly salty spin, much in the way that Islay malt whiskys can only be from one place. Thoughts follow.

None of these expressions include age statements. All are bottled at 80 proof.

Camus Ile de Re Fine Island Cognac – A young and fresh brandy, this spirit is easygoing with a modest fruit core, but with surprisingly little of the funky burn that you get with most “affordable” Cognacs. Very light citrus and persimmon notes on the nose, and these follow through to the palate. A briny finish offers some savory balance. There’s a bit of heat in the otherwise muted body, but not enough to make you race for the water pitcher. While it isn’t going to wow you, on the whole it’s a surprisingly drinkable Cognac, particularly at this price level. B+ / $49

Camus Ile de Re Double Matured Cognac – Aged in two stages, first in a high-humidity cellar, then in “toasted barrels.” Similar in tone to the Fine Island version, but with a distinct orange character that laces the finish. Less heat here than the Fine Island, too, perhaps more an indication of age than the double barreling conceit, but probably worth the price upgrade. A- / $69

Camus Ile de Re Cliffside Cellar Cognac – Aged in part in a special cellar said to be 10 meters away from the Atlantic Ocean, here the orange character is up front rather than hidden away in the finish. Well-rounded, with some saltiness in the finish, which comes together with more of a dessert-like, salted caramel character. A- / $99

camus.fr

Hennessy Releases Limited Edition Artists’ Bottling

Why is there primary color squiggling all over your Hennessy? Because the company hired street artist “Futura” to graffiti up their label for a limited edition run of the Henny. You can check out both the bottle and the artist below. Just 200,000 bottles are being produced. Ahem.

Inside it’s still the same Hennessy, VS-class Cognac, 80 proof, and pure crowd-pleaser all the way. Initially brash with alcohol due to its youth (reportedly five years or less in barrel), the vapor burns off after some time in the glass, revealing a lighter body, caramel notes, then plenty of fruit: oranges, apples, and vanilla on the finish. Designed as a mixer, it is still plenty drinkable on its own if you temper expectations. B / $32

neverstopneversettle.com

Review: D’usse Cognac VSOP

This new Cognac is being launched by Bacardi and endorsed by Jay-Z. The package is one of the snazziest I’ve seen in a long time, and the name, pronounced “dew-say,” is exotic enough to pique anyone’s interest.

Produced by a 220-year-old Cognac house, Otard, D’usse is a premium-priced VSOP but is intended mainly as a mixer.

That’s a good idea, actually. There’s so much boozy alcohol on this that it takes quite a while to blow off. Once it does, D’usse’s VSOP leaves behind a relatively modest profile: Wood, raisins, orange, with a finish that recalls a few baking spices, particularly nutmeg.

That all sounds pretty tasty, but there’s just so much rawness in this spirit that the sweeter, more delicate notes have trouble muscling through. This is a brandy that needs much more time simmering down in cask to show its true promise. Until then, yeah, it’s a mixer.

80 proof.

C+ / $50 / dusse.com

dusse cognac Review: Dusse Cognac VSOP

Review: Los Artesanos del Cochiguaz Pisco Especial

los artesanos del cochiguaz pisco 35abv Review: Los Artesanos del Cochiguaz Pisco EspecialHere’s an oddball review: A bottle of pisco brought back from Chile (which disputes with Peru who originated this Latin spin on unaged brandy) called Los Artesanos del Cochiguaz.

Los Artesanos del Cochiguaz’s Pisco is available in a variety of proof levels (not to mention a variety of other spirits). This one is bottled at 70 proof. Lightly aged, it’s a very light, brassy yellow in color.

The nose is reminiscent of grappa, and not a bad one. Alcoholic and earthy, but not heavy, a benefit of the lighter proof level, I’m sure. On the tongue there is a surprising sweetness here, and I’d be surprised if this hasn’t been doctored in some way (however marginally). Wood aging helps, I’m sure, to temper some of pisco’s more notorious up-front brashness, giving this spirit a very mild character and lots of caramel notes.

Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot here. There’s some evergreen and some citrus character, but these are very mild next to the more sugary notes. Surprisingly sippable, just not a whole lot more to report beyond that.

B / $17 per 700ml bottle / artesanosdelcochiguaz.cl