Armagnac VSOP Round 1 – Saint-Vivant VS Tariquet

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Round 1 of VSOP Armagnac. Why? Well, checking my inventory I noticed that I have 3 different bottles of VSOPs so why not? They’re similarly priced and of the same style and age, so let’s get to it! (I reviewed Saint-Vivant by itself earlier this week here.)

1) Saint Vivant VSOP – 40% ABV – 750ml, (Condom, Gers, France), $60 CAD @ BC Liquor Stores

  • first distilled in 1559 by nobleman Saint Vivant de la Salle.
  • (I think) it’s in the Armagnac-Ténarèze terrior, one of three terriors in which Armagnac may only be produced.
  • aged at least 5 years (VSOP designation, wiki)

VS

2) Tariquet – 40% ABV – 750ml, (Eauze, Gers, France), $52 CAD @ Aristocrat Liq 82nd (Edm)

  • Château du Tariquet, since 1683 (according to the box)
  • distilled from 60% Ugni Blanc, 40% Baco grapes, in the Bas-Armagnac terrior.
  • aged for at least 7 YEARS

Criteria:

Nose: Saint-Vivant is half alcohol, and half flavour aromas consisting of vanilla, oak, caramel, and a bit of toast. Tariquet is much, MUCH gentler on the nose, with about 1/3 less alcohol nasal burn. Its profile consists of more caramel than vanilla, and lemon curd. Hands down the winner is Tariquet.

Taste & Texture: Having reviewed St-Vivant earlier, I was really looking forward to trying Tariquet. Tasting St-Vivant again brought back the overwhelming alcohol detection up front, bold in-your-face aggressive vanilla-caramel, and licorice-warm long finish with spice and burn. Tariquet, you are so much smoother. You taste floral up front, like chamomile and lemon, with gingerbread-caramel-vanilla-oak dominating the mids, finishing with spiced numbness. The choice is an easy one, Tariquet you win.

Final Notes:

  • Tariquet exhibits a slightly darker golden brown hue than Saint-Vivant
  • Saint-Vivant may have bolder flavours, but it gets muddled up by the overwhelming alcohol jaggedness also in there.
  • Tariquet comes in a (giftable) box. Otherwise it’s just another thing to recycle.
  • Bottom line: Saint-Vivant is a notch BELOW my enjoyability threshold, whereas TARIQUET is just ABOVE my enjoyability threshold. I’m curious to try an XO Armagnac next.

WINNER = Tariquet VSOP (Round 1 Champ)

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Saint Vivant VSOP Armagnac (France)

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  • My Rating: C-

Saint Vivant VSOP Armagnac, 40% ABV, 750ml, (Condom, Gers, France)

Some things I learned about Armagnac via the internets:

  • 1x distilled, traditionally to 52% ABV and then Monlezun Black Oak barrel aged for years. Typically not diluted with water. (VS Cognac which is 2x distilled)
  • VS = 2 years, VSOP = 5 years, XO/Napoleon = 6 years, Hors d’Age = 10+ years
  • Nosing should be done progressively from chest height, chin, lips, and finally nose. Allow time for alcohol to evaporate because initial nosing can be harsh
  • ditch the brandy snifter for this “rounded belly and tapered chimney” glass

Armagnac Glassware

  • Style: (VSOP) Armagnac
  • Taste Profile: sweet caramel -> vanilla/oak/licorice -> plum/grape
  • Where I got it : BC Liquor Stores
  • How much: $60 – 750ml, sometime in 2011
  • Do I love this enough to drink it again: no
  • Would I recommend this to brandy aficionados: no

Visual: Unique shaped bottle with a dimple allows for an ergonomic grip (A+). Pours light-medium (5)-dark brown.

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Nose: (after 20 minutes) direct inhalation is still extremely harsh. (Lip-height) vanilla, oak, caramel.

  • Nosing = D+

Attack: sweet, sweet caramel, (9)-nasal burn as you sip

Mid-palate: (MAIN) (8)-vanilla, (5)-oak, (8)-licorice

Finish: (3)-plum/raisin, (4)-concord grape

  • Flavour = C+

Summary: Nosing is way too harsh. Flavours are decent but you must have patience with this one. Body is underwhelming. Unbalanced (licorice and alcohol overbearing). Overall not recommended; Spend more money on a higher quality Armagnac. (Note: all numbers above are on a 10-point scale, with 1 being weak and 10 being the strongest)

D’eaubonne VSOP (French brandy bottled in Canada)

D’eaubonne VSOP, 40% ABV – 375ml, (bottled in Toronto, ON, Canada)

on the front label:

“A Fine Blend of Imported French V.S.O.P. and Napoleon Brandies.”

  • Style: VSOP French Brandy (5+ years)
  • My Rating: C-
  • Taste Profile: High alcohol/numbness -> caramel/banana/wood -> rough alcohol/warmth
  • Where I got it: BC Liquor Stores
  • How much: $12, 2010
  • Do I love this enough to drink it again: no
  • Would I recommend this to brandy aficionados: no way

Tasting notes: pours on the watery side for brandy, light orange. Massive amounts of alcohol and nasal burn on the nose, with caramel. Drinks with high tingliness and anticipation of nasal burn, numbness, and alcohol up front, background is highly numbing, minty, caramel, 7/10-sweetness, banana, medium warmth, and quite a rough alcoholic finish. Medium complexity, medium depth, not good transitions, okay carry, borderline drinkability. Flavour is there but the jaggedness makes it hard to sip.

Rémy Martin Petite Champagne Cognac VS, 40% ABV, (France)

  • double distilled in copper pot stills
  • aged for a minimum of 2 years in French oak barrels

My Notes:

  • My Rating: C+
  • Why I like it: pleasantly sweet with hints of peach
  • Where I got it: BC Liquor Stores
  • How much: $60, 750ml
  • Do I love this enough to drink it again: No, not rich enough
  • Would I recommend this to cognac afficianados: No

Tasting Notes (straight, 15+ min airing): pours golden brown, barely thicker than water. Oak, vanilla, and Persian lime on the nose. 7/10 sweetntess, tastes of lime, peach, vanilla (all as advertised on their website) and caramel. Somewhat thin viscosity for my liking. Medium warmth, tingly light-medium alcohol burn in the nose, slight numbness on tongue.

X.O. Beer, 5.5% ABV, France

-Biere aromatisee au Cognac X.O. (Beer: 97%, Cognac: 2% @40%ABV

On the back label:

“Created from a harmonious blend with beer and Cognac, X.O. BEER reveals a variety of genuine and elegant sensations. Under certain conditions, this beer may present a natural cloudiness, which is harmless and does not affect its quality.”

  • My Rating: C
  • Why I might like it: N/A
  • Who I recommend it to: N/A
  • Where I got it: Firefly
  • How much: <$5, Summer 2011

Tasting Notes: pours reddish brown, slightly cloudy, small head that dissipates, very little CO2 head retention, slippery lacing. A bit of cinnamon spice on the nose but not much. Burst of date/cherry/plum 5/10 sweetness up front, a bit of raisin, and then a mild bitter caramel finish. The body and end is quite thin and ends abruptly lacking a necessary follow-through. A bit of metallic aftertaste (steel). Medium complexity, short-med length, medium depth. One bottle is enough.

Cognac de Collection Jean Grosperrin (1980), 51.5% ABV, 70cl (Chermignac, France)

from www.cognacguide.de:

“Grande Champagne 1980 (available in February 2005)

We acquired this cognac in December 2004. This cognac comes from a Parisian widow whose husband – a highly successful magistrate – had invested in cognac for tax reasons. When he died, she discovered she was now the owner of dozens of barrels of cognac, some of which had been stored in government-controlled (ORECO) cellars for over thirty years. We bought all of them: Grande Champagne 1980, 1971, and 1970

Today this cognac is in ours (sic) cellars, and each barrel was sealed by a bailiff. We are actually reducing it with demineralised water. We will propose it at 51%. It is a beautiful cognac, which is a both light and fruity. It is very well balanced.”

How Jean Grosperrin obtains his cognacs for his company, La Gabare:

  • old small cognac producing families often store away barrels of cognac to “pass along” to future generations. Another source is from state-controlled cognac warehouses, but mainly for younger cognacs (distilled after 1975)
  • Jean Grosperrin (now his son Guilhem) acts as a broker and purchases the barrels – check official distillation date, taste, and carbon date.
  • dilute if necessary, but avoided if possible; keeping the flavourful oils
  • Motto is barrel to bottle, unblended.
  • every bottle is corked & sealed in the presence of a bailiff

Other notes:

  • cete bouteille porte le  NO: 000424, limite a 431 litres, verification le 25 Novembre 2005
  • packaged in textured corrugated cardboard, heavy based glass bottle
  • Where I got it: Chateau Louis
  • How much: $171 (after 5%), $11 per shot
  • Drinkability: Medium-Hard

Tasting Notes (Nov 17/2011)

The first cognac review and it’s a hard one to get into. 51.5% is nothing to scoff at; I can only do a mini-sip every few minutes. It pours a lighter colour than sherry-casked scotch, very “oily”, and very alcohol forward on the nose. You get mainly apricot and massive BURN on the nose. Lots of sweetness up front, and then apricot, cinnamon spice, vanilla and then an dry spicy fruit finish. Lots of tingling on the tongue, numbing on the sides of the cheeks and only minimal warmth down the throat. After about 10 sips, my mouth feels rough.

Rating as something I would often drink: D+ (messes up my mouth – 51.5% ABV!!!)

Rating as an exciting cognac: C+