Tasting With Charles Neal - Always A Pleasure!

Charles Neal has simply the greatest line-up of Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados.  He has little competition when it comes to the great spirits of France.  True, we have great deals available on our store shelves, but they're not on the level of the bottles that Charles imports.  He is a bonafide expert (you can see his book on Armagnac here) and is always the first person I turn to whenever I need something really great for a customer.  We've always carried the entry level spirits from his portfolio, but I thought it was time that we really step it up and show the world that we can play with the big boys, so I'm bringing in some of the top shelf items that still won't cause you to miss a mortgage payment.  Charles asked if he could stop by to taste me on them, and I, of course, was more than happy to oblige.  Here is what we had followed by my write up:

Domaine Boingnères Armagnac Reserve Speciale $89.99 - When discussing the components of a great brandy, the soil is just as important an indicator of quality as it is to a great wine.  Boingnères grows all their fruit in a majority of sand and limestore - the absolute best makeup for producing fantastic grapes.  Run by Martòn Lafite, of the esteemed Chateau Lafite family, the Domaine also owns their own still (rather than hiring someone to bring them a still like many producers do) so they have been familiar with the workings of their distillation for decades.  The aromas of the Reserve Speciale are full of new wood with rich fruit lying underneath it.  A blend of folle blanche and colombard, the spirit is less than 10 years old, but at 48% ABV has only been slighty reduced with water.  The palate has loads of creamy fruit with a finish of mocha and orange peel.  It is the definitive Armagnac for the true coinoisseur - being on the list of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in France.

1982 Chateau de Ravignan Bas-Armagnac $94.99 - Located close by to the prestigeous Domaine Boignères and its perfect mineral composition of soil, Ravignon has a very similar sand and limestone makeup in its terroir - the key to growing great grapes.  Composed of 80% Baco (the traditional grape of Armagnac), the spirit is tawny colored with plenty of new wood and vanilla aromas.  The entry is smooth and soft with more barrel spice and rich fruit, but the kick that many Armagnacs exhibit is polished and rounded off.  It finishes with a beautiful almond character.

Camut 12 year old Calvados Pay d'Auge $89.99 - I've always known that the Camut is considered the top producer in Calvados - the crème de la crème of apple spirits.  However, I had only tasted the 6 year, which, while impressive, was not the best I had ever tasted.  The Camut 12 year however blows everyone else out of the water - its quality is unreal.  The grand majority of the fruit, if not all of it, is apple (some other regions of Calvados use pears as well) and following Pay d' Auge tradition it is double distilled.  The second distillation tends to make the spirit more neutral in its youth, but more free of impurities which makes a big difference as it ages.  The nose is a heavenly blend of barrel-aged baking spice with gobs of pristine red apple.  The palate is soft with more baked apple coating the roof of the mouth, before finishing in perfect harmony with the barrel influence.  You must try this at least once before you die.

Camut 18 year old, Privilege Calvados Pay d'Auge $115.99 - The spirit opens onto the nose with baked apple aromas and then transitions into ripe red apples wiht some nutty notes from the extensive barrel aging.  The Camut line of Calvados always show better with age, as the double distillation, while making them more neutral in their youth, frees the spirit from impurities that show with age.  The palate is soft, rich, and oozing with baking spice and fresh fruit.  It is the top of the line for 15+ year old Calvados.  Simply the best.

1984 LeMorton Calvados Domfrontais $99.99 - The Lemorton's distill their cider after aging it for eleven months in oak barrels. Distillation takes place in their own alambic, a single-distillation unit that distills to about 140 proof. The clear spirit then goes into barrels which have an average age of 30 years. The Lemortons sell some excellent young blends, including a five and 10-year-old. The jewels of the family crown, however, are the vintages like this amazing spirit.  The palate is supple and easy going with a full and textural mouthfeel.  The spirit is actually 60-80% pear which creates a more vibrant fruit flavor.  The baking spice on the finish gives it a kick as it washes down.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll