Posts Tagged Paul Giraud

Hidden Gems Of Cognac

8 February 2012

I’ve written a bit about the big guns of Cognac — Hennessy, Rémy Martin and Courvoisier — but I would be remiss in my duties as Odd Bacchus if I didn’t devote at least one post to some of the lesser-known, small-production Cognacs. I can’t think of one brand I tasted that I didn’t enjoy, so it’s worth taking a risk on an unknown name if you see a good deal.

And why take a risk at all? Cognac simply tastes delicious, with complex flavors and often a touch of sweetness. If you like Bourbon, you’ll like Cognac. It’s not heavy, as many people I’ve spoken with fear. VS and VSOP Cognacs tend to feel very fresh, and even the older XOs usually have plenty of vivacious life.

At a grand tasting event in the Museum of the Arts of Cognac, I sampled no fewer than 25 different Cognacs, and although I enjoyed some more than others, there wasn’t a single one that tasted in the least bit unpleasant. Some, like Baron Otard and Prince Hubert de Polignac, have not yet made it to store shelves in the U.S., which is a great misfortune. I’ll therefore confine myself to Cognacs you have a fighting chance of finding:

PAUL GIRAUD (I wrote briefly about the charming Mr. Giraud in this post. All his vineyards are in the Grande Champagne region, the most prestigious part of Cognac.)

  • VSOP: Aged a minimum of eight years, this Cognac smelled of caramel and marzipan, and exhibited an elegantly restrained power.
  • XO: Mr. Giraud, referencing the theme of the Cognac Summit, shared his opinion that “this is the one for the ladies — it’s sweet and smooth.” Indeed it was, with concentrated aromas and rich but lively flavors. It paired beautifully with chocolate.
  • Tres Rare: This 40-year-old Cognac had a luxurious nose, and it really took me on a journey, developing and changing on my palate with a very long finish. Delicious.

FRANCOIS VOYER (The cellarmaster may be young, but he makes some pretty darn impressive Cognacs.)

  • VS: Surprisingly complex for a VS, and very spicy.
  • VSOP: It started slow and smooth, before building to a big finish.
  • XO: An enticing dark amber color. The nose was redolent of caramel, dried fruit and cake. Sweetness gave way to a long, spicy finish.
  • Hors d’Age: Served from a beautiful crystal decanter, this old Cognac smelled like caramel luxury. It had such elegance on the tongue, with deep caramel flavors supplemented by some herbal and spicy notes, and impressive, righteous power. Wow.

LOUIS ROYER (In addition to the Cognacs described below, watch for the “Distilleries Collection,” a range made exclusively from one region, i.e. Bon Bois, Fins Bois, Petit Champagne, etc. The distillery for each Cognac is located in the region as well, for maximum terroir effect.)

  • VSOP: Zippy and very spicy, made mostly with fruit from the Fins Bois region.
  • XO: A deep amber, this minimum 15- to 30-year-old Cognac starts very smooth and velvety and builds to a big, spicy finish.


Regarding French Snobbery

29 January 2012

A few weeks ago, while batting around blog post ideas for a travel website to which I contribute, I told my editor I planned on writing a piece or two about Cognac. “It’s strange, isn’t it,” I remarked, “that people go to Scotland for the whisky trail, but few travelers seem to think of going to Cognac to visit Cognac houses.”

“Oh, well, people expect — and with good reason, I might add — that they won’t be especially welcome in most of the Cognac houses,” he replied. “You know, they expect to encounter quite a bit of snobbery. It’s the same reason people don’t go chateau-hopping in Bordeaux.”

I have visited much of France, and I have yet to encounter the proverbial French Snob. It’s not because I speak beautiful French — the average 18-month-old Parisian speaks better than I do. But maybe in Cognac, home of France’s most exclusive liquor, it would be different.

The Charming Paul Giraud

It came as no surprise to me that it was not. On our very first visit of a Cognac house, I was charmed by Paul Giraud, (right) whose family has been making Cognac for 200 years. Wearing an understated navy sportcoat, he showed us his atmospheric aging facility, where clumpy black mold caked the cobweb-draped rafters above sweet-smelling oak barrels. Concluding his remarks, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m just a farmer who makes Cognac.” Of course, it’s an entirely different experience visiting, say, the grand quarters of Courvoisier in Jarnac, but the friendliness and passion for the product were constants throughout the trip, wherever we went.

I met a number of French sommeliers during the trip as well, and none proved to be a wine snob. Quite the reverse, in fact. As we headed back to Bordeaux after the conference, I had a long chat with noted sommelier Dominique Laporte. He had no patience for people who claimed to know all there is to know about wine. “How can you ever really know wine?” he asked. He later argued that there were actually very few “bad” wines out there. I said something disparaging about Yellow Tail, to which he quickly responded, “That wine though, was made to appeal to people who drink soda. You know, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s sweet, it’s simple, it’s cheap. There’s nothing wrong with that.” It turned out I was more of a wine snob than Monsieur Laporte!