France Day 9: Final Tastes & Thoughts

As you can tell from David OG's post below, we're now home safe and sound with much on our minds.  The trip was a huge success on many fronts - it boosted our own knowledge of France's great spirits, we met directly with small producers who will be bottling exclusive brandies for us, and we got to show our customers why we take the time to do business the way we do.  Our final morning in France, before making the drive to Paris, was spent with Mr. Giard, a cider producer that Charles imports and a distiller of fine Calvados as well.  After Camut, it was going to be tough for anyone to impress us, but we were quite taken with the Giard spirits.  His orchards are beautiful and he has a quiet, humble manner that I quite appreciate from producers.

When I wrote earlier this week that Calvados producers are using gigantic barrels, I wasn't kidding.  Giard uses the biggest barrels in Normandie as you can see from the above photo.  His orchards are all haute-tige and he makes certain that his fruit is ripe before making the cider.  His bottled ciders were impeccible, so we would only assume that his spirits would be as well.  Because he's so concerned about minimal wood contact, Giard is using the largest casks he can find.

While he has since updated to a more modern still, all of the Calvados we were able to taste from Giard came from this tiny alambic still in his barn.  His spirits have a very fine, delicate flavor that he attributes to it.

Sitting down to taste was a real treat.  Giard had lined up numerous single vintage selections to taste and we plowed through them with glee.  Despite his usage of large barrels, we found some of the older Calvados to be quite woody and dry.  His 15-20 year selections were fantastic, however, and we really went bananas for a 1984 vintage that smelled of tart apples and nutty almonds, with a lean, almost single malt-like sweetness on the palate. 

So what should you expect to see in a few months time?  We haven't made our final selections yet, but here's what I have on my shortlist at the moment:

1973 Pellehaut Tenereze Armagnac - Bourbon-esque aromas of vanilla and new wood, loads of fruit and caramel on the palate with prunes, toasted almonds, and barrel spice.  Earthy finish with big time length.  A real winner.

1987 Pellehaut Tenereze Armagnac - Rich and supple fruit right off the bat, subtle sweetness, glides across the palate with perfect balance of fruit and an almond skin flavor, very accessible and sure to be a big hit.

1985 Baraillon Bas-Armagnac - Wow! Amazing aromatics - stewed fruits, sandlewood, port-like richness with toffee and nuts on the palate, a long, warming wave right over the tongue with an exotic, lengthy finish.  One of the best Armagnacs we've tasted.  Think Glenrothes from the same vintage.

1900 Baraillon Bas-Armagnac - This won't be cheap (think $1000 a bottle) but man is it good.  Loads of rich, spicy wood, tons of fruit and spice, and absolutely delicious.  Anyone who wants to shell out will not be disappointed.  This is just an old demijohn from 112 years ago sitting in some rural farmer's barn!

1989 Domaine de Lassaubatju Bas-Armagnac - Very whiskey-like, with a warming richness of wood and fruit and a concentrated blast of almonds on the back.  The finish is lean and spicy with pencil wood and a Bourbon like finish.  Hints of Buffalo Trace Single Oak stuff. 

1988 Domaine de Lassaubatju Bas-Armagnac - Dried apricot aromas with vanilla and new oak, more rounded in its flavor profile, beautiful nutty finish.  A no brainer.

2000 Domaine d'Ognoas Bas-Armagnac - nose is pencil wood, graphite, and marzipan with cocoa on the palate and long, dry, spicy finish.  What a deal!  This should come in at less than $60.

Raymond Ragnaud Reserve Rare Grand Champagne Cognac - gentle richness on the entry, but concentrated flavors of toasted nuts, stonefruit and bits of caramel.  Wonderfully elegant, yet potent.  Something fun and new for our Cognac selection.

1988 Raymond Ragnaud Vintage Grand Champagne Cognac - maple syrup on the nose with a soft, but warming palate that moves slowly with deep concentrated richness.  A long and beautiful finish.

Esteve XO Petit Champagne Cognac (1979 single barrel cask strength) - the nose has pencil wood and baking spices, with an unreal palate of dark chocolate, almonds, and damp earth.  The finish is big, explosive, and woody with hints of candied citrus peel.  WOW!  Wow.  Give us the whole barrel!

Esteve Coup de Coeur Petit Champagne Cognac - a blend of 79 and 81.  Soft citrus on the nose, good complex character of wood and fruit, with more than just richness.  Fine and elegant finish with nutty flavors.  A real bargain.

Adrien Camut 15 year Pays d'Auge Calvados (K&L exclusive) - there is no 15 year release from Camut so this would be a first.  Smooth, juicy apple flavors, an ungodly balance of wood to add richness, and a haunting finish.  There's no amount of this I can't sell. 

1984 Domaine de Giard Pays d'Auge Calvados - lovely tart apple fruit with nutty almonds and fantastic length.  Almost single malt like at times with a somewhat grainy sweetness.  Very good.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll