Whiskey Lover's Cognac
A customer recently asked me in an email whether we had what I might refer to as a "whisky lover's Cognac". His goal was simple: he likes whiskey, he wants to try Cognac; which Cognac would be the best fit for a whiskey drinker?
What I ended up writing back was a prescription to try one of our new Armagnacs, explaining that the spice and the intensity of the Gascogne brandies are far more tailored to today's single malt or Bourbon fan. Cognac is often a spirit more suited for today's, well...Cognac consumer. They're blended to be smooth, soft, and seamless, rather than expressive and explosive. Most whiskey drinkers are searching for originality and individuality. They want to understand what makes each whiskey unique, so they look for different flavors and explanations as to why they exist. With Cognac, it's often about airbrushing away anything out of the ordinary in favor of the mainstream desire. It's about absolute harmony rather than artistic integrity. Not that one can't enjoy both sides of the spectrum (because I most definitely do), but rather that a Cognac bottle wouldn't be the first thing I reached for to put into the hands of a self-described Bourbon or single malt drinker. But then I walked by the shelf today and I saw the 1996 Giboin Fins Bois Cognac that we just recently reloaded on. Actually....
Francois Giboin is an interesting guy. He's definitely not looking for uniformity and equality in his Cognacs (but I think he does sympathize with communism, so go figure). Unlike all other producers we deal with directly, Giboin is not located in the Grand Champagne or Petit Champagne; but rather in the Fins Bois—a region not known for producing a particularly fine spirit. But it was exactly because of that pre-conceived belief (that all the best Cognacs come from Grand Champagne) that we wanted to meet someone in the outer reaches of the Charentes who was actually bottling their own stuff. If Fins Bois was considered to be automatically inferior to the Champagne districts of Cognac, we wanted to at least know it for ourselves.
What I love about Giboin is that he's proud of his locale, so much so that he tells you all about it on the back label. There's a map of the six main crus, a sign that shows you his position, and an description of the property complete with family history. We liked him right off the bat. He definitely understood what we were looking for: a unique expression of flavor and place.
So we dug around Giboin's cellar and discovered the lovely little 1996 vintage, from which this most-recent batch was bottled in April of 2015. Still an 18 year old spirit, the earthy and leathery flavors, intermixed with the caramel and richness from the oak, make it one of the most rustic Cognacs I've ever tasted. Whereas almost all other Cognacs I've tasted showcase fruit and/or sweetness, you get neither on display in the Giboin. The nose is all caramel and vanilla, but it all instantly fades on the palate which brings forth a heavy dose of leather, savory spices, earth. It's a Cognac that is decidedly un-Cognac-like.
Whether it's for whiskey drinkers, I don't know. But if I had to pick one Cognac to put in a whiskey lover's hands, this is the one I'd pick.