Up for exploration this month is a wide variety of Cognacs from A. de Fussigny, a producer based in the town of Cognac alongside the banks of the Charente River. A glance at Fussigny’s website reveals that their production consists of four ranges: Creation, Collection, Millesime, and Heritage. In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll be smelling, swirling, tasting, and reflecting on eight different Cognacs that primarily make up the Creation and Collection ranges.
I admit that I do not have any experience with Cognacs from this producer, nor have I read much about them. Sure, I’ll occasionally see an image or two appear on social media, and I’ve read other blog entries about them, but it does seem to be a producer that is relatively off the radar. And we all know that off the radar is in no way a bad thing, for me at least. There’s intrigue in discovery.
The specialty of A. de Fussigny definitely seems to be Fine Champagne Cognacs. Recall that Fine Champagne, while not a cru itself, is a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne eaux-de-vie, with the portion from the Grande Champagne making up at least 50% of the blend. Even while tasting through a few of these Fussigny Cognacs, I could not help but think that they’d be stellar substitutes for Remy Martin. Fans of the Remy Martin style, take note.
Additionally, I find the different ranges offered by Fussigny to be smart. The Creation range consists of all the Cognacs one would find in a producer’s standard range: VS, VSOP/Napoleon, XO, Extra. The naming employed deviates slightly from the norm, however. For example, the VS is labeled as Selection, and the VSOP/Napoleon is replaced with the Superieur Fine Champagne. Why? I can only hypothesize that this naming is used since the entirety of the Collection range is already devoted to VSOP level Cognacs. To prevent overlap, Fussigny smartly altered the names of the Cognacs in the Creation range. The risk is that the taster can be met with some confusion about what he or she is tasting, but it’s fairly easy to infer where each product is positioned relative to the others.
Lastly, the Collection range consists of five Cognacs, all at the VSOP level. These Cognacs are intended to highlight the differences amongst the core crus (Fins Bois, Borderies, Petite Champagne, and Grande Champagne), and one Organic Cognac rounds off the series. For a variety of reasons, I commend Fussigny on releasing these Cognacs at the VSOP level, and I commend them for offering all five Cognacs in a specially designed discovery pack. Putting these bottles out there at the VSOP level keeps the price reasonable, since the success of this cru-focused series depends on buyers being able to purchase all of the Cognacs within the range to taste alongside one another. Moreover, bottling youthful Cognacs should theoretically highlight the cru differences nicely since the eaux-de-vie will not have spent too many years in oak. The goal with such a series should be to showcase the eaux-de-vie from the crus, not the strong aromas and flavors of maturity and rancio after extended aging. Like them or not, younger Cognacs are closer to the pot still and can be more apt for side-by-side comparative tastings. So what do these products look like?
The packaging of the Fussigny Cognacs evoke a strong sense of modernity. There is a font (similar to Banker Square font) appearing on all labels that is a far departure from the typical calligraphy-style that oozes elegance and that is found on so many other Cognacs. It’s bold. It’s young. It’s modern, veering towards futuristic. The font feels very techy and could seem out of place on a Cognac label, but there is no denying that it dares to be different and seeks to stand out. It does – love or hate it. The color choice for the Collection VSOP label text is quite interesting too: deep purple. Lastly, the background color of the labels on the VSOP’s is a light silver with an easily visible metallic sheen. All of these aforementioned stylistic choices are paired with an interesting lion logo at the top. It’s all so busy, bordering on destabilizing, but I must say that it’s intriguing.
The images throughout this text will depict what I’m trying to convey in words. The font style, the font color, and the label color make the bottles stand out. Many folks will not be comfortable with such a vast departure from the norm, but again it must be said that Fussigny is clearly seeking to stand out with authority. And if that is the goal, they’ve succeeded. One will love or hate these labels; I don’t see much middle ground here.
Furthermore, the Collection VSOP series bottles all contain labels that state the cru and a brief tasting note from the master blender. Instead of an actual signature from the master blender himself or herself, the label is signed by Master Blender. It would be so much more unique to actually have the individual’s signature on the label – like a personal stamp of approval. I’m fine with having a tasting note on the label as it gives some point of reference for the taster. However, why not also include some information about the cru itself? And what about some more precise info about how that specific Cognac was produced? I’ll begin to sound like a broken record with this, but it’s time Cognac producers include more details about their production on labels. A small back label could do the job perfectly. Sure, for higher level luxury bottlings and fancy decanters, it would be nonsensical to blemish the presentation with a clunky back label with production details, but at least make that information available online. The modern day spirits consumer wants to know more and more about what’s in the glass. Go for it!
Before getting to the tasting notes, I feel it would be appropriate to mention a few words about the tasting conditions I adhered to for the various tasting sessions.
The Cognacs were tasted repeatedly over a period of eight days. Only the Selection and the XO Fine Champagne were tasted over two days due to quantity constraints.
Six of the eight days I tasted in the late morning hours. Two of the days I tasted at night.
Tastings usually ran one hour to allow for the Cognacs to develop in the glass, or not.
The same glass was used for each tasting: Lehmann Eau de Vie 15.
The Cognacs were tasted in two flights to allow me to properly focus on what’s in the glass and write what I felt to be the right note for my nose and palate.
Flight 1: Selection, VSOP Organic, Superieur Fine Champagne, XO Fine Champagne
Flight 2: VSOP Fins Bois, VSOP Borderies, VSOP Petite Champagne, VSOP Grande Champagne
On one occasion I tasted two Cognacs side-by-side from different flights (VSOP Fins Bois and VSOP Organic) since I felt there were striking similarities between the two.
To keep the tasting notes my own, I do not read any other reviews of the products, except of course the tasting notes that already are featured on the labels of the VSOP’s.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I had a printed copy of the Cognac Aroma Wheel in front of me while tasting the Cognacs. I always add a few of my own aromas and flavors to this wheel, but it cannot be understated how valuable it is to have a list of what aromas and flavors are possible. Be careful to not misinterpret this: I consult a list of all the possible Cognac aromas and flavors, not a tasting note of the product in my glass. As soon as one smells or sips a Cognac, waves and waves of familiar and unfamiliar aromas and flavors rush into the senses. It is unreasonable to expect one to be able to put a word on everything the nose and mouth is experiencing. Too often we know exactly what we are tasting but the word escapes us; it’s at the tip of our tongue, but we just need some way to put a word to the note. This customized Cognac Aroma Wheel gives my mind the gentle word reminder about what my nose and mouth are picking up. Give it a shot. It helps me be more systematic and keep my thoughts clear.
So now let’s taste some Cognac. Product pages for each of the Cognacs below can be found by clicking the bolded Cognac names.
Selection (40% abv)
Eye: The color is situated between a flat yellow and gold, like a ripe white wine.
Nose: Simple. Fresh and clean as a whistle. Acacia honey and a faint note of almonds. A spirit nip is present initially but tames down over time. Nice but subdued. Recall that this Selection is a VS level Cognac.
Palate: Sugary sweetness on the entry – quite surprising. There are white fleshed fruits like apples and pears, ginger spice, and acacia honey. The texture is similar to that of a runny honey. The noticeable sweetness rounds off all edges, and keeps all action concentrated at the front of the mouth. This is fine to sip, but I reckon this would be a winner in creative cocktails and other long drinks.
Supérieur Cognac Fine Champagne (40% abv)
Eye: Classic amber color.
Nose: Darker and deeper. Milk chocolate, vanilla, candied peach, caramelized pear, dry sweetness like from date, speculoos biscuits. There is a sense of youthfulness here also but the richer and heavier aromas tone down whatever edge there may be. The nose is really quite classic and suggests a Cognac firmly situated between VSOP and XO. There are traces of maturity paired with traces of youth.
Palate: No surprises. The richness and heft from the nose carry over to the palate. Milk chocolate, speculoos, vanilla, date jam (if such a thing exists) caramelized apples and pears, brown sugar. Again, the upfront sweet streak is noticeable. It’s round and rich yet counterbalanced by the youth of the spirit. This is a Cognac that is easy to understand and easy to appreciate. Could be a good first Cognac for any newcomers out there.
XO Fine Champagne (40% abv)
Eye: Deep amber color with more prominent copper reflections. Suggests a Cognac of greater maturity.
Nose: Initially very shy. Took a good twenty minutes to reveal itself. After air time, imagine many of the same aromas from the Superieur Fine Champagne above but up one or two notches in refinement. The chocolate, vanilla, candied fruit, and brown sugar notes are crisper, more defined, and more elevated. This results in a nose of more elegance, more maturity, and more integration.
Palate: Yes. Definitely a few notches up in refinement. Deeper and darker indeed. The youthful freshness of the Superieur Fine Champagne is replaced by freshness from a much more prominent baking spice mix that engages the palate on the finish. The oak integration here is very nice and a solid level up in quality. The same flavor notes from the Superieur apply, but now with the tingly spices and the increased elegance. Bravo to Fussigny for making each product behave correctly relative to its position in the range. No overlap here.
Organic VSOP (40% abv)
Eye: Deep yellow and gold color. Excluding the Selection, this is much lighter than the other Cognacs.
Nose: Golden raisins for days. Other syrupy yellow fruits like mirabelle plums. Candied lime or sweetened lime juice. Ginger. It noses very bright and fresh with a pronounced earthiness. This nose definitely leaps more from the glass. It is not as obvious a nose as the Superieur and the XO. It may be more polarizing as it’s not the cleanest nose one can find, but there are definitely major points of interest with these smells.
Palate: That upfront sugary sweet streak again. The overall brightness and yellow fruit flavor profile create a great sense of purity and freshness. Golden raisins in syrup. Splash of lime juice. Candied sweet lemon. A faint herbal note lurking in the background and which adds freshness. Lovely. Quite enjoyable and away from the norm. I enjoy this style.
Fins Bois VSOP (40% abv)
Eye: Gold color with traces of amber.
Nose: Very close to the Organic VSOP. Golden raisins in syrup again. Candied citrus fruits. A variety of light honeys – some fresh and clean like acacia honey, others more raw and earthy like a miel de fleurs. A touch of anise or licorice root. Overall bright and earthy.
Palate: Sweet streak present again. Round. Occupies all corners of the mouth with its brightness. Delicate mouthfeel. The oozing raisins are present in spades. Sweet citrus juices, pickled ginger, greengage plums, anise. It’s fine and really very close to the Organic. Could it be that the Organic sources its Eaux-de-vie from the Fins Bois, like this cognac?
Borderies VSOP (40% abv)
Eye: Light amber color
Nose: Could this be the fullest Cognac yet? Nutty butter note. Interesting and wholly unexpected. Candied apricots and oranges. Fig jam. Prunes at perfect ripeness. Nuttiness is more present with time in the glass. The nuttiness is so common with Borderies Cognacs. Cinnamon and nutmeg spices. Vanilla. This noses nicely. Everything feels quite integrated. No one thing sticks out.
Palate: Easily the Cognac with the most heft. The upfront sweetness is present once again – there is a clear Fussigny style that tends towards sweetness. It’s not gloppy or cloying, thankfully. Sweet Tooths out there, please take note. Very jammy and the honey is now getting darker (miel de fleurs up to miel de lavande or miel de montagnes). The richness is up a notch and the alcohol does not feel at all. Dangerously easy to drink. Like the Superieur, this could be a wonderful first Cognac; you get many of the typical Cognac smells and flavors without a single challenging note.
Petite Champagne VSOP (40% abv)
Eye: Light amber color
Nose: More candied fruits. Orange and Apricot jam again. Vanilla. Much more dessert-like aromas, like creme brulee. There might be more power here too.
Palate: Big texture similar to that of the Borderies. More heat and grip now on the finish confirms what the nose picked up. I personally enjoy this grip – makes the Cognac feel more alive. Jams definitely. The torched top of a creme brulee. Other dessert pastries like a tarte tatin. Sweetness yet again, but the grip on the backend lifts everything. Fresh ripe figs and caramelized apples and pears. Vanilla.
Grande Champagne VSOP (40% abv)
Eye: Light amber color
Nose: Very close to the Petite Champagne. I struggle to find differences. Candied fruits of course. Vanilla. Maybe a touch of milk chocolate. Toffee. The same orange and apricot jams. Dessert like. A faint grassy note, similar to that found in some rhum agricoles. Interesting, but I recognize this is out there and perhaps a result of nose and palate fatigue. Again, very close to the Petite Champagne VSOP.
Palate: A touch brighter than the Petite Champagne. Other than that, most flavor notes carry over. The fact that this one feels brighter makes it feel like the most complete one of the bunch. In other words, there is the roundness, heft, richness, but with a clearer definition that seems to lift everything up and contributes to the overall mouthfeel.
The A de Fussigny Cognacs are all well made, nice Cognacs. I especially appreciate that each Cognac behaves as it should relative to its placement within the product range. VSOP’s should behave like VSOP’s. The XO should stand out for its added maturity and refinement, and it did. One underlying sensation that stood out as a common denominator for all of these eight Cognacs is the sweet streak in the mouth. Fans of sweetness will treasure this as it rounds off all undesirable angles and makes each Cognac all the more accessible. But I’d venture to guess that the sweetness of the Cognacs homogenizes the products somewhat and brings each of the products closer to one another, instead of making them stand out with clear differences. This must be the reason why I particularly enjoyed the VSOP Organic and the VSOP Fins Bois. Although they carry the same sweetness, the clarity of the ripe yellow fruits, honeys, and syrups make them the easiest for my palate (I love acidity and freshness in wine and spirits).
The vast selection can make it difficult for the taster to navigate and eventually make a selection. To start out, the Superieur Fine Champagne strikes the best balance of aromas, flavors, mouthfeel sensations, and overall easy access. It really does give some of the younger Remy Martin bottlings a run for their money. If you have considerable experience with Cognac, especially mature Cognac heavy with rancio and old wood note, consider the VSOP Fins Bois and Organic. You’ll find a slightly different profile – yellow fruits and pronounced earthiness – that just might pique your interest. And as far as the XO goes, no doubt it’s a nice product, but the XO landscape is a busy one. So even though it was the best and finest Cognac of the flight, for me the beauty of the Fussigny ranges are their younger more accessibly priced bottlings.