Our personal choice for a VSOP Cognac – head and shoulders above the competition.
Notes: Founded in 1853 and on the Charente River, Louis Royer is one of those cognac houses that everyone else in the world seems to know but are relatively unknown and unrecognized in the U.S. In order to remedy this (for ourselves and our readers) we went on a tour of their Cognac House (distillery and aging warehouses) in Jarnac, France last year. A link to all our photos can be found here. The cognacs they currently offer in the United States are this one, Force 53º V.S.O.P. (a 106 proof expression designed for the US market and for mixing) , and a XO. They also produce a number of Kosher expressions ( not reviewed here yet).There are other expressions such as their single region or single cru bottlings – but sadly they are not imported to the US – at least not yet.
Double distilled in copper pot cognac/charentais alembic stills from a base wine with lees it is then carefully aged in a specially selected series of French Limousin Oak casks until ready to be blended. Designated a Fine Champagne using Fine Champagne, Fins Bois and Bons Bois crus. These area yields some very nice eau de vies (unaged grape brandy which are aged to produce cognacs).
The Grand Champagne is the most delicate and requires the most aging to tease out it’s potential while the Petite Champagne cru/growth area eau de vies, not as delicate as the Grand Champagne, have a lot of backbone and nice fruit to them and age more rapidly. This means they may not be as delicate as a Grand Champagne growth but that also means a broader and wider range of taste and depth. VSOP means Very Special Old Pale and all VSOP or any of the blend must be at least 4 years old and usually a good bit older depending on the brand.
Appearance: Attractive patinated copper/gold color, leaves thin coat on swirling. On swirling it starts with a scalloped edgeline then forms very thin legs or tears.
First Impression: Much more open at the very start compared to the Force 53º, with the dried fruits, fruits like plums, apricots, peaches, with lighter touches nice oak, and glove leather and Virginia tobacco. It also has as they say, a lovely rancio. Adding a little water opens it up nicely and yields even more of the above scents
Taste: Slightly sweet then drying entry with a melange of tastes, mostly dark dried fruits, almost jam like but dry, with oak and tobacco counterpointing and defining the fruit. Rich, soft and luscious lovely warm lingering finish.
Drinks: Worked well in a Black Pagoda (basically a brandy Manhattan – see Gary Regain’s Bartenders Bible) and everything else we tried. In terms of mixing think of it as a nicely aged other brown spirit swap in (substitute it for a rum, bourbon, Speyside or Highland Scotch) but with softer edges and dried fruit aspects. Also very nice on it’s own and eminently drinkable – a nice change from the usual – whether that be a other cognac or another aged spirit , and no you don’t need a brandy snifter – just a decent glass (such as aRiedel Stemmed Cognac glass) to enjoy it.
Bottle: A clear glass bottle with a fluted neck, tastefully executed deep blue with gold print rectangular shaped label and a blue banded with bronze gold foil neckwrap with a topped natural cork closure. Trademark emblem of a bee is executed in gold on a deep blue field and affixed to the front on the pontil area.
Other: Their trademark/seal/crest is a bee whet meaning of which they state is : “diligence, an efficient and lively organization, and regional and craftsman work.” Nicely said.
Final Thoughts: A nicely done, smooth, balanced cognac with some real backbone and punch to it (in a nice way). Value is excellent especially compared to the usual VSOP’s, head and shoulders above the competition.
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