Up for exploration this month are two Cognacs from Cognac Tiffon. Tiffon is located along the banks of the Charente River in Jarnac and has forty hectares of vineyards in the Fins Bois and Grande Champagne crus. It is worth noting that Tiffon shares strong roots with Cognac Braastad, as the Braastad family today is at the helm and manages all aspects of production and sales for both houses. When asked for descriptions of the DNA of each of the respective houses, Mr. Edouard Braastad responded that Tiffon is the traditional brand that focuses on producing ultra-classic authentic Cognacs with a taste of yesteryear and that Cognac Braastad is a young, modern brand that strives to be more daring, explorative, and innovative. Such descriptions lead me to believe that Tiffon is a producer with one foot firmly in the past and the other foot steadily inching ahead.
In the paragraphs that follow, I will examine the Tiffon Supreme and the Tiffon XO. Both Cognacs are blends of various crus. Given that the house has vines in the Fins Bois and the Grande Champagne, one could easily assume that those two crus are represented in the blends, but I cannot say if the house sources wines from other crus. The aging cellars in Jarnac are all said to be humid, so we’ll see how this influences the smells, tastes, and especially the textures of the two Cognacs. Lastly, the Supreme is a new release for the house. In 2018 when the XO age designation was modified to indicate a ten year minimum (up from a six year minimum), Tiffon wanted to come out with a product that would bridge the gap between their pre-existing VSOP and XO. One can think of the Supreme as a sort of stepping stone from VSOP quality Cognacs to XO level Cognacs – not unlike many other houses’ Napoleon bottling.
Bottle Presentation & Labels
The Tiffon Supreme is housed in a modern if atypical, bottle shape. Its shoulders are rather square, and its neck reaches higher compared to the more classic Charentais bottle shape. There is good heft when holding the bottle, and a “Tiffon 1875” three-dimensional glass imprint above the label adds a custom feel and texture to the bottle. The front label uses a mix of fonts and designs that suggest equal nods to the past and the present. It’s a smart, modern label.
Moving away from the youthful design of the Supreme, the Tiffon XO rests in a seriously heavy decanter shaped like an upside down balloon glass. This must not be a coincidence as once upon a time the balloon glass was considered as the Cognac glass par excellence. Once again, the textured “Tiffon” glass imprint stretches across the bottom of the bottle. In a word, classy. One word of warning, however, the heft and cumbersome shape of the decanter make it slightly tricky to handle, so consider using two hands when pouring. I’ll be the first to admit that I do not care much for decanters, but I acknowledge that such a comment says more about my own personal taste than it does the quality of the presentation with this XO bottling. Putting my stylistic preferences aside, the XO bottle exudes class and has a somewhat regal presence on a table.
The contents on the labels, however, leave a little to be desired. On both the Supreme and XO the label info is kept to a minimum. Let’s take for example the Supreme. The taster gets no mention of an age indication: VS, VSOP, or XO are nowhere to be found. One of the first things a newcomer will learn about Cognac are the official age designations. There are only three (excluding XXO) and they are abbreviated from the English language and so are actually quite easy to understand. Assuming an individual is armed with the knowledge of this basic classification system, he or she might be confused, or worse frustrated, with the Supreme name. To be clear, the Supreme sits snugly between Tiffon’s VSOP and XO, but one would not know that from the name alone. Find here more about cognac aging and age indications.
The photo will also show that there is a back label (nothing on the XO). This I’m very much a fan of, but the information included on the back label could be more meaningful. For example, the Vignoble, Distillation, and Vieillissement sections of the label contain information that I would consider as obvious under the Cognac Appellation Controlée status. Instead of saying that the wines come from the best crus, state which crus. Instead of writing that the wines have been distilled traditionally in copper pot stills – they have to be – tell us how long the distillation lasted and if the lees were used or not. And finally, instead of mentioning that the Eaux-de-vie aged for a long time in oak – again, a legal requirement – tell us a minimum or average age and if the cellars are humid or dry. Given that the Supreme bottling is intended to bridge the gap between the VSOP and XO, the consumer will be able to digest this information. Moreover, it will increase consumers’ knowledge base and get them asking the right questions.
To be fair, this pointed criticism is not directly aimed at Tiffon. Most Cognac houses do not include much information about their Cognac production on the label, but I think consumers are thirsty for this information, and it could very well rise the tide of Cognac knowledge and appreciation. For a concrete example of a French wine region that Cognac could do well to mimic, look to Champagne. Many small producers in that region now include a wealth of information concerning their production on back labels (dosage, disgorgement date, base year, reserve wine proportions, etc.), and some big houses have even begun to follow suit. Cognac can and should go down such a path.
But I digress. Let’s move on to what matters most: what’s in the glass.
Tiffon Supreme (40% alc.)
The Supreme pours a fairly rich amber color. It certainly looks darker than what I expected for a relatively young Cognac. Nevertheless, I’ve never really considered color to be an effective indicator of what my nose and palate will experience.
On the nose, the Supreme immediately reveals chocolate and toffee notes. Tootsie Roll in liquid form is the first thing that comes to mind. For those who have never had the pleasure of eating a Tootsie Roll, imagine a hybrid candy somewhere between chocolate, caramel, and taffy. There is a streak of vanilla present and a slight hazelnut nuttiness. There is fruit, but the fruit is not bright fresh fruit such as peaches, mandarins, mangos, or apricots. Instead, here we have figs, dates, and red raisins (as a kid it was always the Sun-Maid raisins in the little red box). Hence, the fruit is heavier with a rather concentrated dry natural sweetness. Just on the nose alone, I get the sense that the fruit is secondary behind the chocolate, toffee, and nutty confectionery notes. It’s a nice nose but perhaps a touch diffuse, or lacking precision.
On the palate, the fatness of the Cognac makes itself known from the very first sip. The notes from the nose show up on the palate, so there are no surprises: dates, figs, raisins, chocolate, toffee, and hazelnut. I also pick up a medium strength raw honey. Here I note a rich grainy miel de fleurs. The Supreme is a heavier spirit that’s lacking a touch in elegance and precision. The aforementioned flavors and textures initially attack the front of the mouth only to then diminish mid-palate. However, once the Cognac is swallowed, traces of those notes reappear along with a slight bitterness. That’s nice and saves the overall experience, but the sensations are too concentrated on the front of the palate.
I would not consider this Supreme to be an inherently fresh Cognac. Any perceived freshness is due to the youthfulness of the spirit, and not necessarily the flavors themselves. That being said, one must remember that this bottling is meant to fit between a VSOP and an XO. Therefore, it must be evaluated relative to its place in the range. Keeping this in mind, I’d say the Cognac is nicely blended and very easy access due to its rich flavors and rounded off fat texture. I have not tasted Tiffon’s VSOP, but I’d be curious to see if this Supreme lies closer to it, or the XO which I’m about to explore below. I suspect the former. Stop by the shop for more details on the Tiffon Supreme.
Tiffon XO (40% alc.)
In the glass, the XO also pours a deep amber color but with a slight metallic copper tint.
Dipping my nose into the glass, it is apparent that this Cognac shares the same DNA as the Supreme, but with aromas that are more lifted, more elegant, and more precise. The chocolate, toffee, and vanilla notes are front and center, but this time they are joined by a lovely aromatic tingly baking spice mix. Cinnamon and nutmeg are present along with fragrant cedarwood, or perhaps even precious wood smells. The same date, fig, and raisin fruits are present, but now they too are all infused with the spice and wood elements. Moreover, the vanilla sticks out more and plays a supporting role with the other smells. To be sure, the aromas do not jump out of the glass, but nor do they sink into the glass bowl either. They are just present in all the right places and in all the right amounts. It’s a measured, poised nose; nothing is out of place.
As I sip the Cognac I am quick to remark just how cohesive everything feels. The barrel maturation in Tiffon’s humid cellars have done wonders for this Cognac. Yes, the chocolate, toffee, and vanilla show up as flavors, but this time they are accompanied by fruit flavors that are candied and spice-infused. Please do not interpret candied fruit to mean sweet or sticky in any way. Imagine high quality fruit pastes (“pate de fruit” in French) that perfectly respect the original fruit flavors but deliver those flavors with an extra dose of natural sweetness and concentration. Additionally, I get a trace of fine maple syrup and a slightly cooling finish that adds to the Cognac’s freshness.
The texture on this XO is similar to that of the Supreme but because of the elevated spice notes, the Cognac seemingly feels less fat and certainly less rounded. The mid-palate does not drop off either; the transitions from entry to mid-palate to finish are seamless and perfectly measured. The spices assert themselves especially on the finish, but they never venture into terrority I’d consider to be hot or spicy. Spicy can be thought of in two ways: spicy as in hot spicy food, or spicy as in containing lots of spices, in this case baking spices. This XO is the latter spicy.
There is a word in French, patissier, which refers to any and all things pastries and desserts. I’d sum up this Cognac as being very patissier. It smells and tastes as one would expect the dessert tray at a fine Michelin star restaurant to smell. Very fine!
I’ll be the first to admit guilt of speaking romantically about terroir and its impact on the Eaux-de-vie. I’d posit that terroir is present in this Cognac, but I do not see it as the focus; if it was, the producer would have done more on the label to indicate as such. Here, the work of the blender must not be understated. This is a timeless XO blend that is perfectly measured and perfectly executed. It faithfully respects the XO category and so does not come off as an Extra or Hors d’Age Cognac. On the other end, no one would mistake this for being a VSOP either. It’s just a masterful XO blend. It’s got rich seductive aromatics; it’s got deep spicy flavors, and it has an overall texture and finish that slowly fades away, comforting the palate as it goes. I’d even say that the 40% abv works just fine for this Cognac. As mentioned before, everything is dialed in.
Lastly, if one considers the Cognac Aroma Wheel this Tiffon XO is a poster child for the Autumn Spice portion of the wheel. Anyone in his or her exploration of this great spirit would do well to taste Cognacs that correspond to each part of the flavor wheel. This Tiffon XO will take one from Autumn Spices to Winter Woods with great ease. To experience this XO blend for yourself, head over to the shop to take a closer look: Tiffon XO.
I’ve got to admit, I came into this tasting with no expectations for these two Cognacs. I knew the house has a good reputation amongst Cognac enthusiasts and spirits enthusiasts alike. I guess at this point in my exploration of the spirit, the Tiffon Cognacs just never caught my attention. They do now! And if one takes a closer look at their range, it’ll be easy to feel spoiled for choice with extremely mature bottlings aged well past the two Cognacs in this review. I have a list of Cognacs to taste that only ever gets bigger – funny how that works – and the experience I had with the XO has made me take a very close look at Tiffon’s entire range and add some of them to my list. The Tiffon brand page can be found by clicking here.
I’ll finish by commenting that appreciation of the oldest and rarest bottlings can be enhanced by first tasting and understanding the core bottlings from a producer’s range. For this reason, I’m thrilled to have tasted the Supreme and the XO side-by-side and now feel as though I can get something more meaningful out of tasting a bottle higher up in the range. Thank you and bravo Tiffon!