Thursday, November 3, 2011

Brandy Friday: Nicolas Palazzi's Cognac Mission

I've done a number of Brandy Friday posts over the years, but I haven't stuck to brandy the way I have to whiskey. Part of the problem is the state of Cognac, the premiere brandy. Too much of the Cognac from the big houses is syrupy sweet, and even the best Cognacs have a certain simplicity to them. Added caramel is a given with most Cognac, added sugar is common and very few are released above 40% abv. After my first series of Cognac tastings on the blog, I opined that Cognac was behind the curve compared to whiskey with regard to additives and abv.

But Nicolas Palazzi aims to change all of that. Palazzi is a brandy importer and independent bottler. Born into a wine making family and raised in Bordeaux, he operates PM Spirits in New York, making regular trips back to France to hunt for Cognacs from small producers which he bottles under his Paul-Marie & Fils label. Through buying his own casks, Palazzi is able to release them the way he wants to: single barrel, cask strength and unfiltered. And he doesn't use added sugar, caramel or wood additives (boise) which are common in Cognac production; says Palazzi, "I despise those things."

Suddenly, Cognac is catching up to where whiskey has been for years. Palazzi's first special release for K&L Wines, one of the retailers he works with regularly, was a 58 year old vintage 1951 Cognac that weighed in at $600. Impressive sounding, but at a price that most of us can't afford. Luckily, there were more reasonably priced options to come. Palazzi's latest Cognac for K&L is $130, still expensive, but not outrageous.

There are 200 bottles of this new K&L exclusive. It comes from from the Borderies zone of Cognac, and while there is no age statement, K&L says that it is an XO (XO indicates at least six years old - but I'd guess this is significantly older).

Paul-Marie & Fils Cognac, Faultline Spirits (K&L Wine), 200 bottles, 61% abv ($130 exclusively at K&L)

The nose on this is bursting with fruit, but not just traditional grape/wine notes; there are apples and pears as well and some nice spice in the background. The palate is even more lush with mulling spices, cloves, even some sweet orange, all painted on a canvass of bourbony oak with some pine and fir to boot. Gone is the syrupy sweetness that many Cognacs push to the fore. Instead, there are complex notes of spice and herb. This is a whiskey lover's Cognac if ever there was one, and while it's cask strength, it goes down very easy. A drop of water, as is often the case, brings out the sugar, but makes it lose some of the balance. Drink it neat! The finish is well balanced with sweet wine and oak and then a slight vegetal note, maybe tobacco.

This is a pretty extraordinary Cognac and if you like whiskey, and bourbon in particular, you should give it a try.

I had largely given up on Cognac as anything other than a pleasant but simplistic night cap. Now my interest is piqued. Cognac may finally be getting it.


NP said...

The fact that you liked/understood this bottling is very cool. The goal is to - modestly - taking cognac out of its boring/sleepy phase by offering things that are different.
Thx for the support!

David D said...

You're right. It's 19 years old. So happy you like it!

Anonymous said...

Cognac has benefited enormously from the marketing strength of the big houses (Hennessy, Martel, Remy Martin, Courvoisier). But the product has also suffered from the stodginess of these same houses. Cognac must be blended and sold at 40%, the big houses have long preached. Just as Irish whiskey producers long claimed that Irish whiskey must be triple distilled, unpeated, and sold at 40%. Hopefully, new market forces in cognac will force a recognition that small grower-distillers of cognac (from whom the big houses buy) often produce distinctive brandies that can be enjoyed unblended and at higher than 40%. I hope we will see more and more of these products on the U.S. market. They have been widely available in France for some time.

Tom Troland

sku said...

Thanks for your comments Tom. I didn't know they were doing better sutff in France, but I guess that makes sense.

The Cognac market, as you describe it, seems analogous to Scotch whisky market when it was dominated by blends and most good malt went straight into the big blends, with very little coming out on its own. Hopefully, Cognac will move in the same direction that Scotch has with regard to smaller distillers releasing their spirit to the public.