But first, Guillaume Lamy, VP-USA of Cognac Ferrand, shows that his class is equal to the quality of his Cognac, by revealing the two surprises he has in store.
Look to the left and you'll see a small vial of golden mahogany fluid, and behind the row of three Cognacs a tissue wrapped bottle. Those are the pleasant surprises, the lagniappe of the tasting.
The first, in the small vial, is a hand-carried sample of a Cask Strength Selection des Anges 30 Year Old. It is fascinating to have this opportunity to compare the finished version of the Selection des Anges against a Cask Strength---with the only difference being the amount of alcohol. Yet that amount of alcohol makes a tremendous difference---and speaks eloquently to the practice of reducing the alcohol strength to allow the delicacies of aroma and flavor to emerge. The Cask Strength has many of the characteristics of the finished Selection des Anges, but has a greater density, a hotter burn, and is more impenetrable. There's less of the floral and fruit (the "lighter" elements) and much more of the caramel and chocolate (the "heavier" elements). The same components are there, but the emphasis is entirely different. The finished version shows much more elegance, balance and harmony, where the Cask Strength is force majeure.
The Ancestrale, however, is an entirely different creature from what has come before. Keep in mind we have jumped from 30 years of age to 70 years! And the proof is before us, without doubt.
Contrary to what most 'casual' drinkers have been led to believe, most whiskies and brandies---and that type of brandy called Cognac included---do not benefit particularly from vastly extending the time in barrel. The flavor impacts of the wood reach their limits within a few years, and the evaporation and oxidation increase significantly; in the case of the Ancestrale, the evaporation factor is up to a staggering 89%!
Most Cognacs, quite frankly, can't handle this. That is why this Ancestrale and others of its ilk are exceedingly rare. And why only 300 bottles of Ancestral are released in a given year.
The Ancestrale is based primarily on the 1928 Vintage, with judicious mingling of other very carefully selected years to 'round out' the final version.
And the Ancestrale, because of both age and ancestry, is a very different style of Cognac. We've entered into another realm here, for the Ancestrale seems almost to be hearkening back to its origins, revealing a deeper, more wine-like character. There is a distinct (to me) reverberation of a Pineau des Charentes, that intriguing and fruity/grapey regional blend of (usually) inexpensive wine laced with inexpensive basic Cognac.
On the other hand, there's an amazing density of tertiary aromas and flavors here---with the emphasis on tertiary. While the dried flowers and crystallized fruits are there, the dominant elements are the tobacco, walnuts, caramel, and chocolate; while the spice elements---cinnamon, clove and mingled curry spices---are quieter, more peripheral or subdued. And then there is the delightful and evocative impression of Madeira at the finish---the ultimate, I think, of the rancio effect that Cognac is known for in its more aged and elaborated versions.
With Ancestrale, you are constantly aware of consuming a well-aged Cognac, and that this is as different from the "basic" Cognac as....well, as different as Cognac is from its wine base, I suppose.
And there is a moment---I think for all of us there---where we quietly pay reverence to this transformation (I prefer transmutation, of course) to something unique, an undefinable something that did not exist before, and is the result of the changes brought about by maturation alone.
And we should all be so lucky as to look this good when we're 70 years old!
My thanks again to the folks from Cognac Pierre Ferrand for offering and conducting this tasting, and to the great people at the Oregon Bartender's Guild and the Blue Hour Restaurant for assisting to make it happen.