On Monday night I attended a stunning Cognac tasting hosted by K&L at the La Descarga rum bar, featuring Cognac bottler Nicolas Palazzi. As you may recall, Palazzi is a Cognac bottler who seeks out small growers and bottles cask strength, unfiltered Cognacs with no additives. He is truly a pioneer in the Cognac world who is trying single handedly to move it away from the sticky, sweet brandies that most of us associate with Cognac.
We started the night with a sazerac cocktail made from Paul Beau VSOP Cognac (while the sazerac now usually features rye, the original recipe used Cognac). I'm a big fan of sazeracs so no complaints here, but in a tasting I would usually save a cocktail until later, especially one which includes Absinthe, which can deaden the taste buds.
To demonstrate the difference made by filtration, we moved on to a Paul Beau Hors D’Age, which is distilled "off the lees," meaning it is filtered to remove residual dead yeast. We tasted this side by side with a Guillon Painturaud Hors d’Age which is distilled "on the lees" or unfiltered. Lees contact is said to add richness, body, and flavor to the spirit. I did find that the unfiltered Cognac had more going on flavor wise, including a spicy character, but the filtered Cognac was more delicate and subtle.
We ended with a trio of Nicolas' cask strength, single barrel Cognacs under his Paul Marie & Fils label, beginning with the recent K&L exclusive which I reviewed here. We then moved on to his 58 year old Devant La Porte (51% abv) and finally, the L'Artisan, which was distilled in 1923 (41.6% abv). These three were utterly fantastic Cognacs.
One advantage that Cognac has over whiskey is that there seem to be more really old barrels out there. The 1923 was moved out of barrel last year, so this was in wood for 87 years (the oldest whiskey that has been released is 70 years old). Remarkably for having spent a human lifetime in wood, the Cognac was incredibly fruity with very distinct grape notes. In fact, the dominance of the fruit was such that it came off as lacking in complexity, but it was not over oaked.
My favorite of the night was the 58 year old. Distilled in 1951, the Devant La Porte was released last year and goes for around $600. It was fruity but had some wood and complex, caramel notes; it was probably the most whiskey-like of the Cognacs.
The problem with many spirits tastings is that they cover only widely available, basic spirits lines. It is difficult to find tastings featuring very rare spirits. For the $70 cost of this tasting, we got a chance to try some truly rare and remarkable Cognacs. Nicolas Palazzi and K&L Spirit Buyer David Girard really pulled out all the stops. Let's hope we see more of these types of tastings in LA.