For the second malternative we are covering on More Drams, we stay around the Bordeaux region, but this time we are going north of Bordeaux, to the Cognac region. Let’s quickly introduce this type of brandy then we’ll review the Navarre Souvenir Impérial cognac.
Cognac in a Nutshell
We’re keeping it short for now as those daily reviews do not let me time to do a proper piece about this, but what’s Cognac?
Cognac, as Armagnac, is a wine eau-de-vie. The wine is made from grapes that came from the Cognac region, at the north of Bordeaux. Several types of grapes can be used, but it’s mostly Ugni Blanc, but some other varieties might be used. Ugni Blanc grapes are the ones produced on 90% of the territory. Cognac is distilled twice in pot stills, but they have a different shape than the ones used in whisky production for instance. Those pot stills have to be heated using naked flame, there is no usage of steam coils. The condensers are also different as the ones in whisky production, as for cognac it is the spirit vapours that go through the coils, surrounded by cold water. The maturation can be shorter than whisky as it must be of a minimum of two years in oak casks. First, new oak is used for the first six to nine months of maturation, then the spirit will be recasked into used casks that must have contained an alcohol made from grapes (wine or cognac).
You might have seen the mentions VS, VSOP or XO. VS (Very Special) means the spirit spent at least two years in oak casks. VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) means it matured for a minimum of four years. XO (eXtra Old) meant for a long time a maturation of six years or more, but it was raised to ten years since April 2018. You might also see cognacs without age statement. Vintages and numbered ages are rarely seen in cognac as regulations require close control that is rarely done. Yes, here it’s when the grapes were harvested and not when the spirit was distilled. It must also be at least ten years of age.
The Cognac region is subdivided in different crus (let’s say terroirs to simplify), and the most famous are Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderies. Fine Champagne is a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne (with the Grande one being at least 51% of the mix), and there are also Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires.
Navarre Souvenir Impérial Review
The Cognac Grande Fine Champagne Navarre “Très Vieille Réserve Hors d’Âge” from Domaine du Renclos is a cognac made from 100% Ugni blanc grapes. Grande Fine Champagne is the same as Grande Champagne (why keep things simple?) It is bottled at 40% alcohol by volume, which is not reduced but its natural strength. This cognac is still widely available in France for about €170-180.
Mahogany. Large beads change to wide legs but very slowly descending the glass sides.
Very fruity aromas, with dominant notes of tropical fruits such as mango, guava, and pineapple. The rancio and wood notes are present in the right amounts, adding complexity and depth without becoming overpowering. The minerality, with chalk, is also apparent, giving it a chiselled, refined character.
On the palate, the exotic fruit notes of pineapple, mango, and others are again prominent, giving this cognac a lush and tropical character. The cigar box and walnut notes add depth and typical cognac markers whilst a touch of eucalyptus gives it a refreshing, mentholated note. The mouthfeel is pleasantly velvety, despite the initial expectation of a thin texture because of the low ABV. The palate is also marked by spicy notes of cinnamon, honey, and nutmeg, which give it a warm and inviting feeling.
The finish of this cognac is long and flavourful, with dominant notes of exotic fruits, nutmeg, cinnamon, and walnuts. These flavours linger on the palate for some time, and the balance of flavors on the finish is excellent, with each note contributing in harmony.
I am not a big cognac drinker (yet), and I must admit I was not expecting this. Most of the cognacs I’ve tried so far mostly had rancio aromas and not bright fruits, and have been quite surprised by the strong and leading exotic fruits notes. Everything was balanced, both the nose and the palate were showing a high complexity, and the low ABV did not make the mouthfeel to be too thin. A fifty-year-old spirit this good for this ‘cheap’, it’s a no-brainer. Brilliant.