By: David Othenin-Girard
K&L Staff Member
We've spent the last decade trying to ferret out barrels from the great cellars of cognac. These old chais are home to some absolutely treasures, but the dream of finding amazing single barrel cognac is just that, a dream. The style doesn't truly exist in the region in the same way that we'd be able to pick out a barrel of whisky. Partly that has to do with how it's aged, rarely are single barrels left to age statically and often blending begins very young. Many of the products that are sold as "single barrel" cognac, are in fact blended many times before the barrel is bottled and while the contents the run did indeed come from one single barrel, that brandy is not as unique as the single moniker would imply. There maybe 5 or 10 barrels with the exact same liquid in the barrels surrounding it. In addition, cognac seems to need this process of blending to achieve the complexity that we'd expect from the venerated category or the unwanted dosage that's also become ubiquitous. Done properly the use of additives is NOT necessarily a bad thing in cognac. It's often the additives themselves, cultivated from ultra-old cognacs that have fallen under proof, that give a house it's style and often add significantly to the quality. Done on an industrial scale, it's less romantic. But part of the dream of selecting a single cask, is the honesty created by bottling without further processing. Which means that a house giving us a single cask, won't really have the character of the house in the bottling because that's so reliant on what they do during blending to achieve. So we've been less able to bottle single barrel cognac as we would Armagnac over the years and have instead focused on bringing unique expressions from various houses as exclusives rather than focusing on trying to bottle an entire cask as we do in Scotland. But every once in a while, we uncover something truly stunning. It is only fitting that we did so this year at Dudognon. The only cognac house I can guarantee doesn't use any additives. They once said frankly, "we don't use them because we don't know how. Not that we would need them." It's the most honest answer about additives I've ever heard. But for those who don't know why Dudognon is special a quick review. This tiny family owned domaine in the heart of the best terroir in Grand Champagne is run by a husband and wife team. They do everything themselves, with some help from their son during harvest. They simply follow the same steps as their parents and grandparents before them and put one of the most honest and authentic products into the bottle in any category. We sat over dinner in their tiny distillery when the cask sample of this old Montils was presented. It's an eau-de-vie we know well, having used it in our blends with them previously, but I hadn't tasted it raw in many years. What I found was profound. I couldn't believe we'd been using this to create a blend, it was so perfect and singular I knew we had to bottle. And we'd considered leaving it in barrel for longer and while we might have achieved some for complexity 10 or 20 years down the road, I feared we'd have lost the absolutely unique character that this rare varietal imparts. It is the first true single cask cognac we've ever bottled I believe and it's easily my favorite K&L exclusive today. 21 years old and bottled at a barrel strength 47%, let's have a taste. The color is a gorgeous auburn. The nose is pungent with complexity well beyond its age. IN terms of Grande Champagne, this is just at the beginning of where ugni and colombard might start to show true maturity, but the Montils is a different beast. The nose is backed full of fresh baking spices, muscovado sugar, dried fruit - mostly apricots, but also mirabelle and quince. On the palate and impeccable freshness up front and coalesce in the mid-palate to move toward an almost tropical rancio character. Of course, we're way drier than most modern adulterated cognac, but the high proof is almost imperceptible and the fruit is so pungent and fine that no astringency or bitterness seems evident. The finish is persistent but not as cloying as some Cognac drinkers might be used to, moving away from the fruit back toward the dark spice and burnt sugar flavors. The experience of a true cask strength single barrel is so unusual, the moniker "Tres Rare" is perfectly fitting. The brandy itself is in this perfectly balanced state of maturity: on its surface its youthful and fresh, but you'll dive in to find its soul is a legend experience well beyond it's years. Very proud to have found this cask after nearly a decade of searching the region for something worthy and “affordable”. Hopefully we'll continue to unearth exceptional brandies in the cellar of this very special small producer.