Friday, March 12, 2010

Cognac Pierre Ferrand---The 1er Cru du Cognac (Part I)

When the etheric grapevine started humming with the news that Cognac Pierre Ferrand would be hosting a tasting of its portfolio of exceptional cognacs at the Blue Hour/l'heure bleu in Portland, I saved the date, both digitally and with a firm-handed notation on the old-fashioned paper calendar, because I did not want to miss this.

Cognac Pierre Ferrand is one of my all time favorite cognacs---which is in a way remarkable, because it is also one of the newest of my favorites. The Ferrand company has been around only since the late 1900s, after all...although the foundations of the company, the property in the Grande Champagne, and the production of cognacs has been existent for a long, long time.

Although time passed slowly and my anticipation was barely bridled, the designated day finally came around and I hustled down to the Blue Hour so as to be prompt (early) to grab a front row seat. The personable, poised and informative Guillaume Lamy, well-spoken spokesperson and Vice President of Cognac Ferrand USA, was our host.

Guillaume gave a brief but thorough background on both the Cognac region and how Cognac Ferrand is made, then proceeded to the tasting we were by now eagerly anticipating.

Guillaume began the tasting, though, not with the finished Cognac...but with samples of Cognac-in-process! He had most thoughtfully brought with him sample vials of a first-distillation cognac alongside another sample of a higher-proof second distillation cognac. The differences were quite impressive; both showed the distinctive grapiness and raw alcohol, but the first clearly had more of the oils, acids, esters, and congeners intact, whereas the second showed much more concentration and refinement.

Then, a second comparison sampling was posed for us, with two vials of non-matured cognac side by side. One was an example of cognac distilled on the lees; the second was cognac distilled without lees. Again, there was a clearly discernible difference between the two, with the cognac on the lees being much more effusive, much more complex, and showing far more profound elements of aromatic complexity and full body. Cognac Ferrand, it turns out, goes the extra step of distilling on the lees.

Then it was time for the finished product, and Guillaume poured around from a bottle of Ferrand Ambre.

Aaaaand, here’s where Cognac Ferrand started earning that designation they claim on their prestige bottles to be the “1er Cru du Cognac”.

Ambre bears the designation of Grande Champagne Cognac, which requires a minimum of two years in oak casks before blending and bottling. Even the highest granted designation of Cognac, XO or Napoleon, currently requires only 6 years maturation.

But here it's about the house style rather than a declaration of age. This is the standard bearer of the house of Pierre Ferrand.

Though it's not stated, Ambre is a 10 Year Cognac. And it is totally unlike all those “entry level” Cognacs you’ve had before. This is mellow, rounded, richly aromatic, redolent of prunes and apricots and peaches…and surprisingly little wood, for the wood here is transmuted into light spicy cinnamon and vanillin, and fully integrated into the flavor profile. As the aromas develop, there’s a distinct floral note that emerges---for me it was the faint scent of roses. At the next heady whiff I thought of fresh fruit pastries baking, with a wisp of almond paste or marzipan.

Unlike lesser cognacs, there’s no hot scalding burn of alcohol intruding, no rough edges, and no harshness---just gentle, mellow aroma and flavor that seems to go on forever, with each sip yielding more nuance as it trickles slowly down the throat.

This is superb Cognac. Simply superb. Every good bar should have this.

For more information on Cognac Pierre Ferrand, I refer you to their website at

But wait...there's more! Coming up next, the Cognac Pierre Ferrand special bottlings: Reserve, Selection des Anges, and Ancestrale. And a special surprise, courtesy of M. Lamy.

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