Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cognac Pierre Ferrand--The 1er Cru du Cognac, Part III--Selection des Anges 30 Year old

Selection des Anges is a 30 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac.

It is also a Cognac in a class by itself.

This blog is all about believing in magic, the magic of the fabled elixir vitae, the vital essence of life.

I believe in the old alchemical idea of magic through science, the magic of the alembic to transmute one form or element into another, and by doing so create ardent spirits. Creating something that was not there before.

Nowhere does the magic of the alembic hold truer than in Cognac. Nowhere is it embodied better than in the fabled Grande Champagne, the center and heart of Cognac firmly rooted in chalk soil. And one of the best representatives of that magic is the Cognac of Pierre Ferrand, for here there are three different magics at work: the magic of alchemical distillation in the classic pot stills; the magic of the transmutation of age and maturation; and the magic of the blender’s art.

All three magics are on full display with Pierre Ferrand Selection des Anges. This 30 Year Old Cognac expression comes from the most carefully selected barrels of reserved stock from the Grande Champagne vineyards, distilled in the smallest allowed copper alembic stills, and then allowed to age in the cellars.

The oak barrels from the Limousin forests are used to contain the young cognacs and slowly influence them as they mature. Some barrels are placed in dry cellars; some are in more humid cellars---all to generate differing expressions of the same cognacs as the eaux-de-vie slowly alter and mutate into a different form, each barrel a unique expression of aroma and flavor. (And, mind you, each barrel may surrender 50% or more of its liquid to evaporation---hence the name, alluding to the angel’s share.)

Then the Master Blender exerts his magic by carefully sampling all the different barrels and selecting those with the proper age and proper style to add a particular facet to the eventual blend. And through this blend, the Master has created something that had not existed before, and which will likely never exist in quite the same way again, for each blend is as particular and precise as a fingerprint or a snowflake or a spiral helix of DNA.

We’ve progressed now to the third of Pierre Ferrand’s Cognac iterations. The Ambre was pure warm comfort. The Réserve was deep and dense. The Selection des Anges enters into an entirely different territory. Here the essential basic aromas, nuances of bouquet and flavors have transformed into different elements of age, maturation and the magic of the blender’s art.

The fresh citrus that characterized the Ambre is now crystallized fruit. The dried roses of the Réserve have compacted and intensified into jasmine and violet. The soft cinnamon has become spicy-warm ginger, laced with nutmeg. There’s floral honey, and toasted nuts, and soft vanilla. A fragrant suffusion of dried herbs has appeared, mingling with a distinct note of…curry! And at the finish there is a cedar/menthol tang. The density of the Reserve has transmuted into an ethereal and beguiling brew, as if the liquid is on the verge of shifting itself into a gaseous state once again.

Enjoying the Selection des Anges is something of a balancing act for a moment, since the mélange of aromas is so compelling, so irresistible, that I fiddle and fuss with the glass, trying to find exactly the right position and angle from my nose to maximize the uninterrupted flow from glass to nostrils, and thus directly into that voracious olfactory bulb in my brain. Sounds silly, I know; but it seemed serious at the time.

But thankfully, the liquid is still there, and has not resolved totally into aromatic vapors. Only the most delicate of sips will do here---there is an instinct from the beginning not to overdo, to eke out, to make this Cognac and its pleasures last as long as possible. You do not drink the Selection des Anges so much as you slowly perceive all its elements, with all your senses, and you take all the time you need.

And unlike some things that seem too good to be true, and are, the Selection des Anges delivers on all its promises, for the liquid softly sends its aromatic enticements up to the nose and down the throat to warm you from within. And the finish just seems to linger forever and ever and ever…

And there, finally, is the triune magic of the Selection des Anges, where the alembic, the blender, and time have conspired to create the culmination of something that was not there before.

This is a profound Cognac, more an experience than a beverage. And try as I might, I don’t think I can ever satisfactorily describe it to you. All I can do, honestly, is urge you to try it yourself, for it is something you have to experience yourself to understand and appreciate.

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