“Organic since 1969”. Everywhere I look, whether it be the Guy Pinard website or Facebook page, or even the Cognac bottles themselves, “Organic since 1969” is proudly stamped front and center. And for good reason, as organic viticulture in the Charentes regions of France is no small endeavor. The mild and humid weather is a boon for pests, mildews, and rots. Moreover, working organically carries serious financial risk as producers need to ensure their own production but also the production which satisfies any contracts with the big Cognac houses.
So the fact that Cognac Guy Pinard has been working organically since 1969 is quite remarkable. I recently read a BNIC environmental press release that stated there are only twenty Cognac houses in the region working under the organic label. Yes, twenty. I’m therefore comfortably hypothesizing that the Pinard family has been working organically for so long out of a deeply held conviction, for both the biodiversity of the soils and for the quality of the wines and the eaux-de-vie produced.
Two Guy Pinard Cognacs will be explored in the paragraphs that follow: the Napoleon Ten Year and the Folle Blanche XO. Both Cognacs were proudly produced organically from the clay and chalk soils of the Fins Bois – since 1969 of course.
Bottle Presentation & Labels
As the photos demonstrate, the Napoleon is presented in the classic 70cl Charentes Cognac bottle, and the Folle Blanche XO is presented in a 50cl watch style bottle (imagine the cork stopper as the date and hour pin of a wrist watch). I find the classic Cognac bottle shape to exude simplicity and elegance, not unlike many of the vignerons from the Cognac region. The bottle shape has a clear Charentes identity and keeps the focus on the Cognac inside, a very positive asset. The same cannot be said for some of the more ostentatious decanters reserved for many of the region’s most exclusive bottlings.
The watch style bottle works really well for formats up to 50cl. There is something of an experimental laboratory look to the bottle that aligns perfectly with small production or custom releases, such as this Folle Blanche XO Cognac.
There is room for improvement with the labels, however. Useful information that could be included on the labels is left out. For example, on neither the Napoleon nor the Folle Blanche is there any mention of Fins Bois. At a very minimum, this cru information should be stated on the label. Additionally, the Folle Blanche XO has no mention of the number of years it spent aging in barrel before bottling. The bottling year is included but not the year of distillation, or a minimum age.
Sure, the Folle Blanche is an XO and therefore has been aged ten years or more, but the taster could get a lot of benefit from knowing exactly how long the Cognac aged in the barrel. There are plenty of other items I’d love to start seeing on back labels, but for now cru and more precise age info will suffice. To be fair, I hold this criticism for the vast majority of Cognacs out there. I just think we’re at a moment when consumers want to know exactly what they’re tasting and how it was made, and the back label is a great place to add this meaningful information. Overall, though, the simple presentation works well for these Guy Pinard Cognacs.
Regarding glassware, recently I’ve been experimenting with several of the Lehmann Reims spirits glasses: Islay (stemless), Eau de Vie 15, and Grande Reserve. All of my tastings of the Guy Pinard Cognacs were carried out using one of these three glasses, and on some occasions all three glasses side-by-side. The tulip form on all of the Lehmann glasses is very classic and therefore perfectly adapted for tasting Cognac. All glasses are machine blown and so have a nice weight, a compact footprint, and a solid build quality, even if they miss out on the added elegance and feel of mouth blown glasses. Still, their looks, feel, and function really are spot on. Read here why the glassware matters.
So now, how about those Cognacs?
Guy Pinard Napoleon 10 Year, Cognac Fins Bois (40% alc)
The Cognac pours a deep yellow color, but stays short of the shades of gold seen with more mature Cognacs. It is not stated on the label if any coloring has been used, but the clarity and shade of yellow of this Cognac would suggest that very little, if any, coloring was added. We’re really in late harvest white wine territory as far as color goes; think Sauternes, Jurançon, or Vendages Tardives Pinot Gris from Alsace. Curiously enough, I’m not too concerned with color, which I acknowledge is divergent from more academic professional tasters. While I enjoy looking at a Cognac’s color and seeing the legs slowly crawling down the glass, I consistently find color to be a weak indicator of the smells, flavors, and sensations the Cognac will deliver. Onwards to the nose.
Immediately after dipping my nose into the glass, I’m greeted to a slightly sharp spirit note – nothing harsh by any means, just energetic and youthful. It’s got something of a grassy character too. Perhaps I’m dreaming, but I smell whiffs of Rhum agricole. This is lightyears away from a mature rancio bomb. Vanilla notes are present but they are toned down and off from center stage. The faintness of the vanilla suggests to me that this ten year old was bottled just shy of its mid-maturity phase, after which the vanillas and baking spices tend to come out to play. In front of the vanilla is the fruit: overripe white grapes, a variety of yellow and green plums, and a splash of citrus. The fruit smells juicy and fresh and seems to work well with the sharp youthfulness.
Additionally, there is an herbal rooty note somewhere between fresh cut fennel and fresh ginger. Could that be the grassy note mentioned above? To be sure, I’m not finding the nose to be overly seductive, but it is an honest nose – challenging and a touch rustic, but honest. It is apparent to me that the producer has a sensible touch and is not overdoing things in the cellar. The eau-de-vie is left to speak for itself.
In the mouth the spirit nip on the nose is offset by the aforementioned syrupy fruits and a texture like that of melted butter. The vanilla smells do not show up as flavors in the mouth, instead leaving space for the fruit to shine. For the fruit, it’s all overripe white grapes, golden raisins (sultanas), mirabelle plums, greengage plums, and dried yellow fruits.
It is a fresh Cognac with seamless transitions from the delivery to the finish and has an overall good density. The finish is cool and refreshing but with a dark streak, similar to the sensation from tasting anise or liquorice. I’m finding the flavors and overall mouthfeel sensations to hold my interest more than the nose. The freshness – we’d say “vif” in French – really picks it up for me. It’s quite a characterful Cognac, with one foot firmly in youthful spirit territory and one foot edging ahead to a more mature zone.
Each time tasting this Cognac I kept uttering to myself that it feels honest. The eau-de-vie has not been covered up by anything and is left to say what it has to say at its young ten years of age. And what this Cognac has to say is very different from what we find with mature Cognacs. Forget the baking spices and vanillas. Forget the rancio and the richness and the layers and layers of nuance. This is a youthful, fresh, and fruity spirit, if perhaps a touch challenging. If mature Cognac is a rich dessert, then this Cognac is a basket of golden and yellow fruits. It deserves to be sipped before dinner on a sunny summer day. Check out the product page Guy Pinard Napoleon if you are interested in tasting an organic Cognac with a firm Fins Bois signature.
Moving on to the Folle Blanche XO.
Guy Pinard XO Folle Blanche, Cognac Fins Bois, (43% alc)
The Cognac pours a pale light yellow color. One could be forgiven for thinking that there was a light white wine in the glass. I find it refreshing that the label clearly states that the Cognac does not contain any added sugar and that the color is natural, a very promising start I must say.
What a lovely mellow nose! This is subtle, delicate, and lifted with white muscat grapes, flat white peach, white nectarine, pear (Passe Crassane is my preferred type found here in France), citrus zest, and runny acacia honey. Vanilla and the typical orange-meated fruits are nowhere to be found. Baking spices are non-existent too. And for the second time with these Guy Pinard Cognacs, we are miles away from a rancio bomb.
It’s interesting because on one hand the nose gives an impression of a light spritzy springtime floral perfume. But on the other hand, there is a sense of fat, rich, dense fresh fruit lurking one layer underneath. It’s as if there is a tug of war between light and rich. Before even tasting this Cognac, I expect a Cognac of texture. Using my past wine experience, I smell similarities between this Cognac and the textured Grenache Blancs from the Roussillon and the mellow Pinot Blancs from Alsace. Fun and unexpected!
Now we’re cooking with gas! On the palate, this Cognac has a tender sweet cushion to it that is outrageously pleasing. The fruit is fresh, dense, and oozes in the mouth. There is a simplicity to this Cognac in that it is primarily a fruity Cognac, but simplicity can indeed be a strength. Thankfully nothing distracts from these beautiful fruit flavors; it would be a crime to do so. Moreover, I taste a natural sugary sweetness as I turn the Cognac around in my mouth. I get this sugary sensation often when eating ultra ripe pears, for example. It is not in any way an industrial sugar sweetness, but instead a very pure and clean natural sweetness.
Once again, the Cognac finishes with an anise note that lingers on the tongue. Interestingly, I repeatedly get anise on the finish from Fins Bois Cognacs. Could this be a signature of Fins Bois eaux-de-vie? The flavors are exceptionally fruity – white muscat grapes, flat white peach, white nectarine, ripe pear – and the syrupy honeyed texture coats every corner of the mouth to then slowly fade away down the sides of the mouth and then linger on the tongue with the anise note.
As with the Napoleon, everything about this Cognac feels honest and true to itself. I get the sense that the producer is putting great effort to both showcase eaux-de-vie from the Fins Bois but also, and perhaps more importantly here, show what unadulterated young Folle Blanche can offer. I must say this is a winner and a welcome departure from the mature, layered, ultra-complex Cognacs we Cognac lovers constantly seek out. Nope, age is not everything.
Cognac enthusiasts would do well to consider adding a pure Folle Blanche Cognac to their drinks rack. This mono-varietal subcategory seems to be gaining traction too. If one looks closely, one will find that more and more producers are coming out with pure Folle Blanche Cognacs, and if the producers do not yet have this type of bottling, they are in the works. It will always be a niche small production output since the grape is apparently fickle to grow in the conditions found in the Charentes; I presume that producers just can’t afford to plant more than a hectare or two of this grape variety. Understandable.
The proof is that merely one percent of the Cognac region’s vines are planted to Folle Blanche. But Cognac as a spirit could use a few breezes of fresh air, and these non-Ugni Blanc single variety bottlings, when naturally presented, provide such a gust of fresh air. To taste it for yourself, head over to the shop for a closer look Guy Pinard Folle Blanche XO.
Bravo for this simply outstanding Folle Blanche XO! And bravo for these two honest Fins Bois organic Cognacs.
Discover the entire Guy Pinard Cognac range on Cognac Expert.