Have you ever been to a Cognac tasting or event where the producer said, "All of our fruit is Grand Champagne quality"? I have. I hear that all the time as an accolade when referring to a certain producer.
What does that really mean, however: Grand Champagne?
It's the name of the most prestigious wine-making appellation in Cognac; the place where the soil is the most chalky, and the resulting fruit has the most finesse. That elegance translates over into the Cognac, of course.
It's one thing to have heard that Grand Champagne fruit makes for "better" Cognac, but it's an entirely different thing to actually know that through your own tasting experiences. If Grand Champagne is the best then why bother with anything else, right? But how do you know it's the best? Have you ever tasted Petit Champagne or Borderies expressions? When's the last time you even saw a Cognac from the Borderies at your local shop? And what about the other three satellite regions: the Bon Bois, Fins Bois, and Bois Ordinaires? Have you ever tasted anything from those inferior terrains to compare against the pre-ordained superiority of Grand Champagne Cognac?
Us neither. Until this past Spring, however, when we met with Francois Giboin and dug through his cellar in the Fin Bois region.
Giboin's estate is a classic Cognac millieu—gigantic country house, scattered papers and books, that smell that reminds you of your grandparents, and wooden antique furniture. It's the romantic ideal and a helluva place to go Cognac spelunking. The fact that we were so far outside the realm of "normal" Cognac producers sent an adventurous tingle through our spines.
And was there a difference in the flavor of Giboin's Fin Bois expressions? Absolutely. These Cognacs are nowhere near as refined as their Grand Champagne counterparts, but they have incredible merit nonetheless. The brandies are earthier, with more power and gusto. We found a lovely 1996 vintage expression that went down almost too easily. A simple, easy, to-the-point Cognac with lovely richness.
We were ready to expand our horizons.