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Cognac

Wine Notes

Recent wines I’ve enjoyed:

  • Weiβburgunder, pur mineral, Trocken Franken, Fürst, 2006 - Pur mineral indeed.  This is a razor blade of wine with electric acidity and flavors that slap your taste buds awake. Served with fresh Dungeness crab it was an amazing match. It took me three days to finish this bottle and it never changed a bit.
  • Riesling, Winninger Uhlen Kabinett, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Freiherr von Heddesdorff, 2005 - Bright and refreshing and a wonderful aperitif. Clean apricot with just a hint of petrol, I enjoyed the first two glasses as an aperitif on two days after work and finished the bottle with some Thai carryout. I think it is better to drink this younger rather than cellaring it as it seems all about the fruit.
  • Pinot Noir, Littorai, Sonoma Coast, 2005 - One of the best California pinot noir wines I’ve tasted. Great balance, weight and structure. One of those pinots that deftly blends both bright fruit and funk into a wine of unending interest. The finish lasts longer than you can wait to take another sip.
  • Pinot Noir, Walter Hansel, Hansel Family Vineyards, Cahill Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2005 - An excellent pinot noir that had the unfortunate luck of being served next to the Littorai. However, this is an very good pinot noir that exhibits what could be called the best characteristics of a balanced California style. Rich without being jammy with an lush balance and a lingering finish.
  • Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Michel-Schlumberger, 2005 - Appropriately big, but not over the top.  You won’t confuse this syrah with grape concentrate. Meaty and oaky with a firm structure and more than enough fruit to carry the alcohol. I liked this wine quite a bit as it’s so hard to find a California wine that knows how to be big with dignity.
  • Nebbiolo Langhe, Serralunga d’Alba, Germano Ettore, 2005 - A real classic angular nebbiolo with tannin to spare. So many nebbiolo wines these days seem to try do disguise themselves as zinfandels these days, it’s wonderful to taste a wine like this that lets the true character of its variety sing its own song. This wine will be much, much better in two or three years, but I drank my three bottles anyway. Note to self: buy more ASAP.
  • Rioja Riserva, Muga, 2003 - What’s the deal with Rioja? The overt oaky character that I would hate in most wines just seem to work in Rioja. Muga is one of the premier estates in Rioja and this wine does not disappoint. Fragrant and elegant with a sweet oaky character that slides silkily across the palate with an underlying acidity that lifts and brightens the rich oaky fruit.
  • Brandy, Germain Robin, Anno Domini 2000 - I’m a long time fan of the California brandies produced by Germain Robin, but I had not heard of their 2000 Anno Domini when a bartender friend recommended I give it a try. I was stunned at the quality of this brandy, which literally blows all the big commercial Cognac houses out of the water when it comes to quality. The depth and complexity displayed by this spirit cannot be overstated. Except for a few producers, buying Cognac is a waste of money these days when there are spirits like this outstanding brandy.

I Remember When...

clicquot-loveseat-1_12 I remember when it was easy to buy two of my favorite beverages, Champagne and Cognac.  A few decades ago you could hardly go wrong with either no matter the brand available. They were the perfect start and finish to any evening. The big brands were the best brands and wines like Veuve Clicquot Brut and spirits like Remy Martin were liquids to be contemplated, not just quaffed. Today these labels are more suitable for cocktails than snifters or flutes and are both brands to be avoided as bad values.

I always like to have bubbly in the fridge and enjoying an effervescent glass while cooking is a nightly preference. Lately, in addition to Venegazzu Prosecco, I’ve been buying the Spanish Cava brand Cristalino in both its Brut and Brut Rose versions at $7 a bottle and in all honesty prefer them both to Veuve Clicquot Brut. Many nights I also have a weakness for adding a dollop of Campari to my nightly bubbly aperitif and the Cristalino Brut is both financially and spiritually open to this experience. While the Clicquot is equally refreshing and enjoyable with Campari, the fact that it is five times the price makes the experience at least ten times less enjoyable. Buying Clicquot is getting way up there on the list of wines to buy only if you don’t know what you’re doing.

At the end of a rich dinner, few things are more necessary than a spirit to spur the digestion. That’s as good of a rationalization as any for letting yourself enjoy the warmth and good feelings brought to you by a fine brandy. It used to be that Remy Martin V.S.O.P was the most reliable Cognac around as it was widely available, reasonably priced and of excellent quality. Unfortunately, somewhere over the last twenty years Remy V.S.O.P. devolved into a warm caramel syrup. Today there are few large Cognac producers worth their weight in the caramelized sugar product known these days as Cognac.  While there are some wonderful small producers in Cognac, there is only one direction to turn for fine French brandy: Armagnac. For some reason this region has never become cool enough to push prices out of range, while simultaneously pushing down quality. Over the holidays I picked up a bottle of the 1974 Bas Armagnac, Domaine Le Basque an exceptional estate bottled spirit from Christiane & Michel Lamothe for a bit more than Remy V.S.O.P. and a bit less than the Remy X.O. and in comparison this earthy, fragrant spirit makes Remy look like industrial brandy from California.

Drinking Remy  and Clicquot used to make me feel stupid if I drank too much. Now they make me feel stupid to buy them at all.