Francois Voyer Extra Christmas Edition, Cognac Grande Champagne
My previous four bottle reviews were of single barrel cask strength Cognacs. While such products – and the tastings they procure – are fascinating, it’s always nice to take a step back and explore the mature balanced blends, what I consider to be pillars of Cognac’s identity. The beauty of Cognac as a spirit is the deep variety of its bottlings: single barrel “brut de fûts”, monovarietals, official vintages, cocktail-focused Cognacs, and of course, the blends (VSOP, XO, Extra, Hors d’Age, etc). The above-mentioned styles of Cognac bottlings are all different branches of the same tree, and the tree is taller and healthier because of the existence of all of those types of products.
This month I’ll explore the Francois Voyer Extra Christmas Edition, an Extra blend of Cognac with a thirty year age minimum.
The Cognac inside the bottle all comes from the Francois Voyer house, whose vines are located within the Grande Champagne cru. It is often repeated that the Grande Champagne is Cognac’s Premier Cru. I won’t agree or disagree with this title, but it must be said that stunning Cognac can be found throughout all of the crus of Cognac. However, Cognac from the so-called Premier Cru are likely the most apt to age the longest and reveal more complexities and nuance with each passing year in the barrel. For the other crus, I have to believe there is a younger upper bound on how long the eaux-de-vie can rest in the barrel and continue to improve.
The eaux-de-vie that make up this blend are a minimum of thirty years old. The Cognac is bottled slightly overproof at 43% ABV. As the images will indicate, no chill-filtration was done, and my understanding is that the color of this Cognac is natural. Other than that, the label itself does not provide any other details about how this blend was put together, which leads me to ponder how much information should be included on a Cognac label?
I’ve wavered on this topic of how much information should be included on a Cognac label, or not. My position has swayed as I’ve considered this topic for Cognac relative to other spirit categories like whisky and rum. I’m trending more towards the direction of “it depends”. Single barrel cask strength bottlings should indeed contain as much nerdy production information as possible; there’s no such thing as too much. But for blends such as this Francois Voyer Extra Christmas Edition, I’m fine with a simple indication of age and a mention of filtration and/or no color added.
Part of the wonder of fine Cognac, such as the one in front of me, is what I don’t know, and the questions it makes me ask. For instance, do we enter a fine MICHELIN star restaurant and pester the chef for all of his or her ingredients and techniques? No, we don’t. We experience the smells, flavors, and sensations as they arrive and then create hopefully lasting memories of the experience. So it’s becoming more acceptable to me that complex blended XOs, Hors d’Ages, and Extras can contain a minimal amount of info on the label. Plus, my experience talking with the producers themselves has shown me that they’ll be happy to answer any geeky questions. I just need to ask.
There are bottlings that are meant to be dissected and “geeked” out upon, and then there are others that are perfectly at home on one’s table after a nice meal, surrounded by united friends and family. This seems to be one such bottle. Sure, the title Extra Christmas Edition are just words on a label, but before even having a smell and taking a sip, I cannot help but think this would be perfectly suited for the dinner table after a fine Thanksgiving meal, or a Christmas dinner. These are my preconceived notions at least. I do not yet know what the reality will be.
I expect a Cognac that is complex and balanced yet easy for anyone to access, understand, and appreciate.
Bottle Presentation & Packaging
The Francois Voyer Extra Christmas Edition comes in a rather tall clear wine bottle, taller and more slender than a typical Bordeaux bottle. That being said, there is significantly more heft which suits the fine quality spirit that this is. While I really like the quiet confidence of the typical charentais bottle shape, I do appreciate the simplicity of this wine bottle format. Its look is fine and elegant, without drawing too much attention to the bottle itself, and therefore away from the liquid inside.
The label is clean and crisp, with traces of traditionalism and modern craftiness. The font choice for Francois Voyer, along with the address and Cognac Grande Champagne in cursive script, is pure class. The production details at the bottom of the label in courier font give a craft presentation. And in the middle section of the label is a vine with hanging grapes encircling the Cognac Grande Champagne text. The warm colors give a feeling of autumn, warmth, and coziness. This all makes the bottle appear just different enough from Voyer’s standard range. Voyer’s standard range’s bottles and labels have their own style and personality, so the slight departure is sensible.
There clearly was an effort to include some production details on the bottom section of the label – for example the mention of un-chillfiltered and bottling year. Moreover, I always like the addition of the master blender’s signature on a label. I see it as a stamp of approval; whoever produced the Cognac is proud enough to put his or her name on it – in this case Pierre Vaudon. The Terroir section falls short, though. All it lists is 1er Cru de Cognac – Grande Champagne. In fact, Cognac Grande Champagne is mentioned three times on this label. That’s a touch overkill. One or two times will do. Instead, why not put a statement of natural color or some indication of age? Or why not put what the terroir is of the Grande Champagne cru?
Still, my reflections above in the introduction most definitely apply. Do I know everything about how this Cognac was made? No. But, do I really need to know everything about how it was made? There’s something to be said for sitting back and just enjoying what’s in glass.
The following bullet points give several details on how the tasting note to follow was constructed:
- The Cognac was tasted over a period of six consecutive days
- Glass: Lehmann Eau de Vie 15
- A “control” Cognac was included during each tasting, control Cognac at 40% ABV. Despite the bottle focused on in this review being overproof at 43% ABV, the control Cognac served an important purpose as it gave a point of reference with which to compare the Voyer Extra Christmas Edition. The control Cognac is a bottle I know well and taste frequently – for this review, the Guy Pinard Napoleon to be exact. This is actually something I’d recommend to readers. Think of it this way: Suppose you drink the same coffee or tea every morning. Then, one day you decide to try a new coffee or tea. Imagine how helpful it would be to have both coffees or teas in glasses in front of you. The similarities and differences would actually show themselves with much more clarity.
- Tasting duration: approximately one hour per tasting
- A personally-adjusted printed Cognac Aroma Wheel was by my side for each tasting.
So what does the Cognac taste like?
Eye: The Cognac pours a bright amber color, with some orange reflections. Gently coating the glass walls reveals many thick legs that slowly parade down the glass. While this is clearly no cask strength beast, it does seem to have an elevated viscosity.
Nose: The nose takes some time to get going. While smelling the Cognac over its first minutes, it’s evident that a handful of notes are lurking but only slowly unfolding, rising up out of the glass. I’m reminded of what Youtube’s famous whisky and spirits commentator Ralfy says, “A minute in the glass for each year in the cask.” Well, if this is a 30 year old spirit, then patience is required for things to unfold. And do they ever…
After some time, I smell tingly autumn spices. A mental image of a warm spicy pumpkin pie flashes through my mind. Imagine some orange zest sprinkled on that pumpkin pie too, which contributes a bright citrus note. I smell quince paste – a recent discovery of mine – and fine artisanal apricot jam. There is some fresh grated vanilla for sure and a fragrant precious wood smell. So the nose has a lovely balance of fruit, spice, and perfumed wood. In short, the Cognac smells like a Cognac of exceptional balance. I should also add that the empty glass reveals a creamy milk chocolate note.
Curiously enough, two similar Cognacs I’ve recently tasted come to mind as I take my time smelling this: Paul Giraud Très Rare and the recently released Marancheville Lot N°14/45, although this is definitely a younger brighter version of the Marancheville. Interesting.
Palate: In the mouth yes this is indeed a more spice-focused Cognac, but the spice does not contribute any abrasive heat. There is a gently warming tingle from these spices which stays firmly in a comfortable zone. I get cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg in an equally proportioned blend. There are some orange peel or orange zest notes too, which add a certain youthfulness, and then under the spice and citrus is a layer of the quince paste and apricot jam. It’s almost as if the flavors arrive in waves with each sip: spices arrive first, then the fragrant woodiness, then a cushion of the aforementioned fruits behind it all. Everything comes off as in total balance. The Cognac is classy and elegant but not dainty. It is flavor-rich more than it is texturally-rich. There is drive thanks to the 43% ABV, which heightens those flavors and sensations and carries them from the entry into the finish.
Finish: As expected, the finish is long but certainly not eternal. The flavors linger on the center of my tongue for a decent amount of time before departing and forcing me to take another sip. As this is not a cask strength Cognac, I do not get any bitter note or tannic grip on the finish. My teeth do not feel as if they’ve been stained, and my cheeks do not cling to my teeth. Everything is just so comfortable, so pleasant. The blend is dialled in and complex, yet accessible.
While many folks may obsess at the length of a wine or a spirit, I personally want the flavors to linger but not forever. I do not always want my palate stained with the Cognac’s flavors. I want to feel that I need to keep smelling and sipping to get the most out of the moment. And that’s the case with this Cognac: Give it time. Smell it. Taste it. Let the flavors linger, but before too long they’ll depart and you’ll have to take another sniff and another sip.
This is lovely Cognac with a wonderful balance of fruit, wood, and spice – with particular emphasis on the spices. It’s hard to find fault with the Cognac and the overall tasting experience. I’m not left wanting for anything. But, it’s important to remember that this is a mature complex blend. It should, therefore, not be gauged relative to single cask bottlings, or exclusive vintage bottlings. It should be measured against other blends of roughly the same age. That all being said, since this is a selection from Cognac Expert, produced by Francois Voyer, for the holiday season, I see this Cognac perfectly apt as a gift for any lover of fine spirits, and I especially see this Extra Christmas Edition as a perfect close to the holiday meals that are approaching in the coming weeks.
For me, it’s settled, I know which Cognac is going on my table this Thanksgiving and Christmas – if the bottle survives that long. Head over to the product page to read more.