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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Not your Father's Cognac: Belle De Brillet, Poire Williams Au Cognac and Cigars

Time to hop into the wine-wagon once more, this time our travels will take us over to the wonderful region of France, called Cognac.

Let's face it, when it comes to the vine and wine-making, the French stand alone. No other country has the breadth of history, nor can they beat France in terms of its quality or the sheer volume of diversity in the types and styles of wine.

France is the template and the standard bearer in the wine-making world. I know some may want to argue this point, feel free to do so, but don't miss out on this wonderful introduction to possibly adding Cognac to your bars line-up.

While many of its regions like, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are the most obvious and well known, for producing rare and highly sought-after wines, nearly as expensive as the rising price of gold. Places like Cognac can be overlooked by the casual drive-by wine drinker, so don't miss the forest for the trees. Today's Cognac is much more than just a lush spirit to be sipped after dining out at your favorite restaurant, it's a experience waiting to happen.

If you step out of the wine-wagon for just a moment to take a look around France's wine-strewn landscape there are just as many obscurities as there are outstanding values to be had from little known appellations throughout the country and this is one of those gems, I will being sharing with you today in this review of Belle De Brillet, Poire Williams Au CognacEven though the CCWB is predominantly a "wine-review" blog, it's not much of a stretch for a review of this wondrously pleasing libation.

Mix it up: Maybe you got a bottle of Cognac as a gift, you're thinking "I really don't want to drink it neat, I'd like to mix it up" so what's the answer? In today's technosavvy world comes the familiar refrain "there's an app for that" and the folks at the Cognac Summit would love to help you mix it up, with their IPhone app. Which provides the everyday cork-dork with the most contemporary and classic mixed Cognac recipes drawn from critically-acclaimed sources spanning two centuries. Sounds like a great app, I'd give it a swirl.

Not your father's Cognac: It's time to say good-bye to its stodgy old image, by shedding its snobby smoking-jacket  image [think Captain Nemo] as a country-club spirit and tossing aside the idea that it's only a rich-man's drink. Oddly enough it's finding itself mentioned in rap songs and being mixed in a new wave of innovative cocktails by mixologists [aka bartenders] coast to coast [hello Sidecars].

Sweet Side of Cognac: While this particular Cognac I'm reviewing today is a little different the the average Cognac you may have encountered. Because one, it comes in a pear shaped bottle, which lends itself to the second part, this cognac is infused with about 20lbs [on average] of Poire Williams pears per 750ml bottle. I have had the chance to sample other well known cognacs, which were more on the leaner, more rustic-side of the equation, as Belle De Brillet, Poire Williams Cognac is just a touch on the sweet-side, a nice step-up from Port.

Cognac Today: The region consists of six cru appellations, when tallied up equal about 185,000 acres where cognac is produced from the regions distinctive, chalky limestone soils, translated wonderfully in each sip. Today's top Crus in order of quality are Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois Bon Bois and Bois Ordinares and as with table wines each region is designated on the bottle's label. The grapes are still traditionally harvested in October, where they under-go two distinct distillations.

The first being called brouillis [slightly cloudy liquid] and during the 2nd distillation a master-distiller separates alcohol vapors, where a clear spirit emerges.

When the 2nd distillation is complete the white-wine, [which the French call "eau de vie" or the water of life] the cognac is transferred to oak casks made of 100 year old Sap and Heartwood trees, where it will stay for 2 years. This old-wood is what transforms this clear liquid into wondrous amber/golden yellow color we have come to know and love. Of course if it's allowed to more time to barrel-age, [unlike table wine, Cognac does not age in the bottle] you'll see a lot more amber than gold.

After the cognac is summoned from its slumber, the master-blender will determine the blend and bottle a "consumer-ready" cognac of with a minimum ABV of 40%.  Since Poire Williams Au Cognac is not a pure varietal version of Cognac, it does not have to meet this ABV requirement as it weighs in a bit south of that number.

Blending: Each Cognac blend will comprise 100 or more different lots of eau de vie [water of life]. Now this is where an important distinction lies in this process I've described above, in order for Cognac to be labeled "Cognac" that process must be completed by the end of March or it will be labeled a brandy [a poor mans cognac], because while all cognac is brandy, not all brandy is cognac.

Spirt in Review: Belle De Brillet, Poire Williams Au Cognac

Swirly-Swish: In the glass it goes, but just a couple ounces this a something to savor; beautiful golden amber colored core and a light yellow rim and a viscous glass clinging legs, which slow stream down the sides of the bowl.

Sniffy-Sniff: Okay folks this is the very best part, if someone could put this smell into an aerosol can, folks would buy it by the truck-load. Leaping from the glass are some wonderfully seducing aromas of pear, smoke. Well integrated oak-ageing imbued flavors lapping at my palate, such as vanilla, fruits and floral, toast with a definite nose-full of alcoholic vapors, which can be alarming to newcomers and a delight to veterans. Long after this delightful libation has left the glass, the aromas linger on and on.

Sip and Slurp: Wow the very first time I had this was at the Wine Vault and Bistro here in San Diego who gave me a complimentary sample glass. It was mouth-filling and rich, but also delicate and fresh. I was totally blown away by how smooth it was, coating my palate with lush highly refined notes of yumminess [apt descriptor]. I was expecting it to be somewhat "hot" like the nose, but nope just what I would call "refined elegance" and penetrating deep into my palate. I definitely got the notes of ripe pears, caramel and Creme Brulee.

The Grapes: Many folks wonder if Cognac is this wine or spirit, the answer really is yes, it is both. Made from grapes very unfamiliar to the casual wine-drinker, but still part of the vitis-vinifera family. The grapes of Cognac are not your everyday household names, nope it's the Ugni Blanc [most widely planted], Folle Banche and Colombard and in the case of Poire Williams au Cognac, about twenty pounds of Poire Williams pears are macerated and thrown into each bottle.

Brillet Distillery: The "Bouilleur de Cru" distillery reserved exclusively for the production from Brillet's own vineyards. From December to March the casual observer can see the delicate traditional operation of Distillation Charentaise (2 times) in the Traditional Charentais Pot Still made from pure copper in a ritual unchanged since the 17th century. The Brillet cellars assure the slow metamorphosis of the pure Eau de Vie de Cognac but not without the heavy tribute in evaporation called "La past des Agnes". In order to guarantee the best original quality of the two Premiers Grand Crus of Cognac, the Brillet cognacs are produced, aged in oak barrels and bottled separately "unblended".

Price and Where to Buy:  I found it at the Wine Vault and Bistro here in San Diego, but there a number of places online where you can purchase this very tasty libation. It's selling anywhere between $35 and $50 and comes in a 750ml size, very reasonable price for something that will last you 6 months to a year. Just as reminder many wine stores will not carry this simply because they don't have the license necessary to sell spirits, good to know before you go. Even if your favorite retailer has it stock, most likely it's not an item that will have a lot of depth in their inventory.

Recommendation: This is a fantastic libation to have around the house at all times, since it's something you will be sipping over a period of months and not days. It makes for a great after dinner drink to sit back and enjoy with friends and some cigars or just to sip on its own. Makes for a wonderful any-time quaff, neat, chilled or on the rocks and can easily be stored in the pantry without worrying about spoilage.

What's the Score: Hey point seekers here's my score if your interested, I scored this cognac 95 points on the CCWB 100 point scale, it is a rock solid well made product, that will not disappoint.

Other Voices: This is the spot where, I like to let an echo of sorts confirm my enthusiasm. So I dug up this reference from the folks over at Wine Enthusiast who to my amazement, concurred with my thoughts about the Poire Williams Au Cognac, who put this wondrous-elixir in the score neighborhood of 96-100 points, proving that even the folks over at WE can occasionally recognize a wonderful libation, when they taste one.

Pairing Cognac and Cigars: This is one of my favorite pairings and of course not in the traditional sense, thinking about the word pairing [matching food and wine]. That said, Cigars and Cognac are as old a combination as Napoleon and Josephine. Which begs the question; which cigar and which Cognac? According to Cigar Aficionado, "A light panetela would be as inappropriate with 30-year-old XO Cognac as a Muscadet is with a saddle of venison." well said and I would have to say I completely agree with the sentiment, thus choosing correctly is paramount to maximize your experience.

Max Cointreau, chairman of Cognac Pierre Frapin had this comment on the subject of pairing cigars and Cognac, "There are a range of Cognacs for cigars, such as a lighter VSOP with milder cigars, but any Grande Champagne Cognac can be good with a cigar". Similarly, master blender Jean-Marc Olivier recommends Courvoisier Napoleon as an excellent choice for all cigars.I find that I tend to agree with both of those recommendation, but in my experience the Poire William Au Cognac also makes for a "spot-on" companion to a majority of cigars, but my favorite is the Monte Cristo number four. Just like the wine treasures you take the time to collect, great cigars need a place to call home, stored properly and a well made Cigar Humidors will definitley you get you there.

The Belle De Brillet, Poire Williams Au Cognac, is one of France's most classic and great liqueurs, it's the original blend of Brillet Cognac and the essence of Pears Williams [Poires Williams]. The perfectly matured pears are carefully selected and picked at the peak of ripeness, where they are then macerated, then blended with Fine Brillet Cognac where it becomes a silky, fragrant nectar to imbibe upon So until next time sip-long and prosper, cheers!
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1 comment:

Andrea said...

Hello there,

We've selected you as our Foodista Wine Blog of the Day for this June 9th! This blog post, featuring cognac, will be featured on the Foodista homepage for 24 hours. This is a new feature that we recently launched and are thrilled to post your blog. Besides posting your link on the homepage, we will also post a couple shout outs on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Since you are now a part of the Foodista Featured Wine Blogger of The Day Community, we've created a special badge for you to display proudly on your blog sidebar. I couldn't find your email on your blog to send you the access code for the special badge, but I want to make sure you get it if you are interested. Please send me an email and I'll send it right away.

We are really enjoying your blog and look forward to seeing your recipes, tips and techniques on Foodista! If you would not like to be recognized on Foodista please let me know and I will remove your blog from our queue.

Cheers,
Andrea Mitchell
amitchell@foodista.com
Foodista.com

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