This month I’m pleased to taste through three new Cognacs from a new producer that has just landed in our shop: Cognac Prulho. Prulho is actually most known for their prowess at producing pot stills to be used in the distillation of fine spirits. Their alambics (still in French) can be found all throughout the Cognac region, and even around the world. If you have tasted a variety of Cognacs, there is a good chance that you have tasted a Cognac that dripped out of one of Prulho’s alambics during distillation. So they have a keen knowledge of all aspects of distillation, and the stills themselves, even if they themselves do not have their own vines from which they make wine to be distilled.
To produce their Cognacs, my understanding is that they use their deep connections within the region to source quality eaux-de-vie from all of Cognacs crus. But being a producer of alambics, and sourcing eaux-de-vie from quality producers is only half the battle. The cellar master must have an acute knowledge of how best to guide the eaux-de-vie in the aging process and, very importantly, blend them to create unique products with balance, subtlety and complexity.
Prulho Production Details
For a section titled Production Details, I typically like to include as much info as possible about the specific Cognac and how it was made. However, for these three Prulho Cognacs, little information is known about their production. My understanding is that they do not own their own vines and therefore do not distill their own wine. Instead, they source eaux-de-vie from around the region using their extensive connections. I have to believe that a key producer of pot stills, based in the Cognac region, has access to a wide range of eaux-de-vie.
The Fregate XO has a minimum age of ten years (as per XO regulations) and most likely contains a blend of eaux-de-vie from several crus. It is bottled at 40% ABV.
The Eclat Extra Grande Champagne comes entirely from the Grande Champagne. Even though the Extra designation falls into the XO age classification, typically Extra Cognacs have greater maturity. This is where a producer might mention an average age stretching into the twenty to thirty year old range, or higher. Such an average may be the reality with this particular product. The Eclat Extra is bottled at 40% ABV as well.
Finally, the N°8 XO Borderies Heritage Pierre Prulho comes entirely from the Borderies cru, and being an XO Cognac, carries a minimum age of ten years. However, in this case I suspect there is some significantly older eau-de-vie in this blend. It too is bottled at 40% alcohol.
In one of my previous reviews on the Francois Voyer Extra Christmas Edition, I came to terms with the fact that I’m becoming more and more accepting of having minimal production information stated for traditionally blended Cognacs. These three Prulho Cognacs are not single cask or high proof millesime Cognacs. Therefore, it’s ok for me that there is a mysterious element to these Cognacs, and specifically the details of their production. But nevertheless, at the very least, an indication of the age – even if it’s an average age – would be welcomed just so the taster can more easily refer this tasting experience to other experiences with Cognacs of similar ages.
Bottle Presentation & Packaging
Before getting into each specific Cognac, the photos will show that these bottle designs and overall outward appearance are anything but understated. They are bold, flashy, and command attention one way or another. Upon unboxing and taking a casual glance at the three bottles in front of me, I can’t help but think they are quite polarizing. There is no middle ground with regards to the bottle presentation and packaging: you will love the look, or hate it. Of course, we can all agree that it’s the liquid that counts, but it is still worth exploring the style and look of each product.
The Fregate XO has a bottle shape that looks like an old frigate boat at full sail. This must not be coincidence as the name of the bottling itself suggests a maritime theme. The decanter is ultra heavy and has a very solid gold stopper on which R. Prulho’s name is engraved. On one side of the bottle, numerous white chevrons cover the walls from top to bottom. I can’t help but imagine this as the design of one of the boat’s sails. Finally, on the bottom right of the bottle, a simple mention of Cognac XO is included. There is no back label, or no label whatsoever.
The Eclat Extra Grande Champagne is equally commanding of one’s attention. Here the bottle shape is more in the norm, but the center section is transparent, which shows the Cognac resting inside. There is gold text that wraps around this middle section which explains a short historical note about the Prulho name and their production of stills known the world over. The top and bottom sections of the bottom are gold plated. Yes, imagine a gold coated mirror. Taking pictures was tricky so as to make sure myself and my phone were out of the shot. The bottle as a whole has solid heft. As suggested before, this is flashy and daring – a polarizing design and style to be sure.
Finally, the N°8 XO Borderies Heritage Pierre Prulho is the quietest, most classic bottle of the lot. That being said, it still captures the regard of anyone glancing in its general vicinity. The bottle’s footprint is wide. The weight of the bottle is again way above average. It’s imposing when placed on a table. There is a graphic included on the top part of the bottle which shows the number 8 and the letters XO.
We all know what XO designates, but I struggle to understand the 8. Some producers include lot numbers to unofficially state a vintage. If that were the case here, the 8 would suggest distillation in 1908. That is definitely not the case with this Cognac. So perhaps the 8 metaphorically hints at something with continuity, something with duration and that will never end. The math person in me sees an infinity symbol. Interesting. The bottom part of the bottle contains a classic label stating the name of the Cognac and the Borderies cru, from which the eaux-de-vie came from.
I’ve written several times before that I’m not a fan of flashy decanters and loud designs. I prefer more minimalistic and understated bottle shapes and label styles. But please, such comments are only an indication of my personal preferences and not indications of the actual quality of these Prulho decanters. For sure, the impression when looking and holding these bottles is of attention to detail, luxury, and utmost high quality. They command attention and have a real presence on a table. You will like them or hate them, but no one can deny the quality of design and construction.
Regarding the inclusion of some production details on the bottles. It would be unhelpful to suggest that the producer needs to put a back label with details of production. I’d make such a suggestion if the bottles were standard cognacaise bottles, but here these are stylish decanters. A front or back label would diminish the look Prulho is going for. That being said, I do think some more detailed information for the tasters would be welcomed on the Prulho website. It does little harm to provide some information about what folks have in their glass. More and more these days, tasters want to know more about what they are drinking.
Anyways, enough of these perhaps unnecessarily hypercritical details. Let’s taste some Cognac.
The following bullet points give several details on how the tasting notes to follow were constructed:
- The Cognac was tasted over a period of six non-consecutive days
- Glass: Lehmann Eau de Vie 15
- A “control” Cognac was included during each tasting, control Cognac at 40% ABV. The purpose of tasting these three new Prulho Cognacs alongside what I call a control Cognac is to have a point of reference while tasting and evaluating these new, unfamiliar products. The control Cognac is a bottle I know well and taste frequently – for this review, the Andre Petit XO 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. You’d be in a better position to evaluate the new coffee or tea since you have your familiar one alongside for reference. After a period of days conducting tastings in this manner, I’m confident that a personal tasting note for the particular product can be relatively easily developed.
- Tasting duration: approximately one hour per tasting
- A personally-adjusted printed Cognac Aroma Wheel was by my side for each tasting. Why? It would be a brazen statement for me to say that I have the ability to taste a Cognac – or any other wine or spirit for that matter – and simply spout out various aroma and flavor notes. Sure, the front and center notes will be easy to identify and state on the fly, but there are so many other notes that I only get if I consult a list of what is possible. By scanning this entire list of aromas and flavors, I’m able to attach a word to a note I knew I was smelling or tasting but could not pinpoint verbally. To be clear, I did not say read another tasting note on the same product. Instead, I’m suggesting to consult the Cognac aroma wheel, scan its entirety while tasting a Cognac, and identify what particular notes you pick up. I do this regularly with the standard Cognac Aroma Wheel, on which I’ve added a handful of my own descriptors.
Nose: Dipping my nose into the glass I’m greeted by a Cognac that smells reasonaly rich. I smell creamy milk chocolate, caramel, hazelnut spread (finer quality than Nutella of course), and buttery pastries. As mentioned above, the aroma notes are rich but very mellow and easy-going. I do also pick up the tiniest note of sweet citrus underneath everything. If this sweet citrus shows up on the palate, I have to believe it will contribute freshness to the Cognac, which would indeed be a good thing.
So this is a pretty agreeable nose. It’s easy to get along with and seems to offer zero challenge to the taster. Some of the more refined spicy oak notes are absent, which diminish the overall complexity, but let’s not forget that this is an XO Cognac and should smell like one. And this does a wonderful job at that!
Palate: Creamy. Well-behaved. Round. There is no spice whatsoever, and the chocolate, caramel and nuttiness sets in on the palate as suggested by the nose. On the midpalate to the finish there is a fine fresh streak lurking that does wonders for this Cognac. Without it, the Cognac could risk feeling a tad one-dimensional, dark, and heavy. But thankfully that’s not the case here. I cannot say if this fresh streak is the sweet citrus I smelled, but whatever it is, it’s present and working well with this Cognac.
There is an underlying sweetness that contributes to the overall rich feel to the Cognac. At the same time, the mouthfeel is relatively fine and gentle on the palate. Sure, this is not a model of complexity, but it tastes really quite good, and offers the taster an idea of what a classic XO Cognac should taste like. Just getting started in Cognac? This could very well be the one to pull you into the rabbit hole. Be careful.
Finish: The finish is short to medium. The flavors stick around for a minimal amount of time before leaving and forcing me to take another sniff and sip – something I won’t disagree with. Ideally, I’d have liked to see a touch more persistence and grip, but I must remember that this XO must be evaluated relative to other XO Cognacs. And when doing so, the finish is just fine. I often find that short to medium finishes enhance the experience for folks who are new to Cognac or for people who prioritize drinkability in their spirits. This is highly drinkable Cognac.
To take a closer look at the Fregate XO, head over the product page.
Eclat Extra Grande Champagne
Nose: There it is: the fruit. As my nose moves around inside the glass, I smell apricots, and something tropical, like papayas. The fruit is not fresh and clean; there is an earthy quality to it, like dirty fruit. Some vanilla is present too as well as some fragrant old oak. There is medium strength honey involved and a dusting of spices too. Lastly, something about this feels almost waxy. So the nose alone smells like an interesting intersection between earthy orange-fleshed fruits and old oak. Interesting, albeit less obvious than the Fregate XO.
Palate: Right away I notice the fullness of the Cognac. There are indeed the syrupy fruits: apricot jam and dirty earthy peach and papaya. Everything is wrapped in an old fragrant oak note so the Cognac does not come off as a fruit bomb. It is round in the mouth and feels a touch heavy, but once again, everything is saved by the sharp clear notes from the fruit. The fruit flavors add to the freshness and prevent the Cognac from feeling muddled. The presence of fruit, oak, and spice increase the complexity of this Cognac. I’m really enjoying this. It’s interesting to be sure, but easy to learn to like in a short amount of time with it.
Finish: Again,I’d classify the finish as medium. The flavors definitely stick around longer than the Fregate XO, but they do not last an eternity either. I’m fine with this as a medium finish often leads to a more drinkable Cognac. A Cognac to put on the table with a mixed audience and watch the hours go by – and consequently, the level of the bottle go down.
Click here to see more about this well-made Grande Champagne Cognac.
N°8 XO Borderies Heritage Pierre Prulho
Nose: This one smells heavier, darker, sweeter, yet somehow more refined than the others. I find these contrasting descriptors quite intriguing. How can heavy, dark, and sweet also be more refined? Fine spirits can do that I suppose. I smell marzipan, fig jam, dates, sweet citrus candy, and a crystal clear tingly spice mix. Is that a trace of maple syrup too? Make no mistake, this is a Cognac that showcases its spices. To be clear, it smells spicy in the sense that there are a lot of spice flavors going on, but it does not smell spicy in a sense of heat or abrasiveness.
The fruits mentioned are naturally darker, heavier, and sweeter than those in any Cognac centered on apricots, peaches, pears, and other fruits of that nature. Here, it’s the spices that lift everything – a textbook Age of Spices Cognac. Lastly, I’ll just say that the Cognac smells very candied and patissier, a French word suggesting all things desserts. A hedonistic nose!
Palate: I have not tasted a significant amount of Cognac from the Borderies, but each that I have tasted has had a fuller profile and a seemingly higher natural sweetness. Once again, that is the case here. This is dark, heavy, and sweet Cognac. It occupies all corners of my mouth, even at 40% ABV. The spices give an impression of freshness, but really for me the spices just lift the Cognac and give it a little extra drive. It is not an inherently fresh Cognac; it is a rich Cognac.
I taste the elevated spice mix, fig jam, hazelnut spread, vanilla, other candied fruit and a dash of maple syrup. Somehow, miraculously, the Cognac still maintains such a refined footprint. It is not a tiring Cognac to drink. It is not cloying. Really, this is close to the Fregate XO but just amplified by a factor of two or three. Very easy to get along with. It’s hard not to like. It’s another one of those Cognacs that can just be set on the table after a meal and enjoyed by any and all. Classy hedonistic stuff here. And much to my surprise, I’m liking it!
Finish: Like the Eclat Extra, this N°8 XO Borderies Heritage Pierre Prulho has a nice medium finish. Your palate will not feel stained, and your throat will feel zero ounce of abrasiveness when swallowing. The sweet fruit and spice notes linger as the palate is left with a light coating of the cushioned sweet texture. Then it all vanishes and you must begin again. Nice!
The product page for this lovely rich spice-infused Cognac can be viewed by clicking here.
I’ll be honest, I had zero expectations for these Cognacs. Their flashy outward appearance and lack of production information would usually cause me to look elsewhere in my journey for quality Cognac. But those are details that are somewhat detached from the liquid in the bottles. If I simply focus on the Cognac, which really should be the main focus, then I must say I’m very pleasantly surprised. The master blender here has done a fine job, with a fine touch.
All three Cognacs are easy to access, but offer delicious aroma and flavor profiles that are hard to take issue with. These Cognacs could have gone down a dark, heavy, and sweet path, but thankfully the blender’s skill here kept everything on track. The blender sought out some extra freshness and executed it perfectly. So in short, these are hedonistic, rich Cognacs that stay light enough on their feet due to the fine fresh core that are lurking just behind the upfront fruit, spice, and oak flavors. Well-made stuff!
To be clear, these are not Cognacs to geek out with. These are Cognacs perfectly suited for the table with a mixed audience. Cognac lovers will enjoy the decadent aroma and flavor profiles, and those not accustomed to Cognac, or spirits, will be amazed that what they are drinking is insanely drinkable and so easy to like. They just might take the plunge into the Cognac rabbit hole. Again, be careful.
On my end, for whatever it’s worth, I’ll enjoy continuing to taste through these bottles, and I won’t hesitate for one second to bring them out when the context and company is right. So which product most suited my palate? Easy, the Eclat Extra Grande Champagne. To me it had the most interesting marriage between fruit, spice, and wood. Bravo Prulho!