Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a full portfolio wine tasting sponsored by Frederick Wildman, a major importer of top quality vintages. Held at Guastavino’s which is located under NYC’s 59th Street Bridge, both levels were packed with tasting tables. Amidst the sea of tasty and venerable wines & spirits, Leopold Gourmel‘s fully organic cognac made a huge impression on me. Not only was their lineup unique and flavorful, visiting their table was like taking a full-immersion trip to France and witnessing their passionate craftsmanship firsthand.
Spend a few minutes with Leopold Gourmel co-founder Olivier Blanc and you realize that you are in the company of a true cognac aficionado who knows the business. His distillery goes out of its way to produce a line of cognacs that buck convention. “So many of the established cognac houses adhere to the same formula year after year and critics are fixated on how each year’s batch matches up to its VSOP, XO standards. Our cognacs have unique subtleties between batches instead of being locked into a rigid pattern of refinement”.
The white wines used to make Léopold Gourmel cognacs come from the 1st growth organically cultivated Fins Bois grapes. Their vines have roots that plunge 80 to 100 ft into the soil of the vineyards’ hilly terrain near Gente France. This environment yields stronger, richer, and more aromatic wine possessing mineral overtones.
All Léopold Gourmel cognac is made from wine of the same year meaning that the vintages are never mixed.
Aging takes place in un-toasted extra fine-grain French oak casks. This wood is harvested from the oldest French oak trees called Allier which are known to prevent oxidation while adding very delicate notes of wood giving these cognacs a long finish and very clear color. Instead of the typical chill filtering which invariably removes some flavor and aroma, Leopold Gourmel uses a light screening technique yielding the same taste in the bottle as in the cask. Distillation is done additive-free unlike other top brands that prematurely darken the color and soften the taste for mass marketing appeal.
Before embarking on the tasting, Olivier Blanc advised avoiding a snifter or cognac balloon which accentuates too much of the alcohol. Go with a simple white wine glass instead. The thinner, straighter, and sharper edged glass the better. He also advised against warming it which again brings too much alcohol to the forefront. Swirling three times oxidizes the cognac by coating the glass with a thin film. Allowing it to breathe in this way showcases the spirit’s full bouquet. Lifting the glass to your nose and pulling it away a few times lets your nose adjust and gradually discover the aromas. Tasting on your lips first prepares your palate for the full blossoming. Each serving size should be limited to a few splashes to maximize this experience.
So it was with this background and advice that I enjoyed a narrated tasting of the following:
This 6 year old soft gold was fresh and supple with white fruits like pear and white peach poking through with a refreshing long-lasting finish.
Age du Fruit
With a delicate bouquet hinting at fresh almonds, this pale gold lasts longer in the cheeks all the way to the throat. Its beautiful finish exudes preserved fruits, apricot, and citrus zest. Optimal times to enjoy include after imbibing great white wines, after white meat or fish, and complementing Asian or Scandinavian cuisine.
Age des Fleurs
Warmer, balanced, floral vanilla along with delicate wafts of rose, jasmine, and lilies on the nose. Rich on the front of the palate, silky on the tongue, velvet on the throat, deep in the stomach with a honeysuckle and delicate lime finish. Perfect with game meats or after steaks. Typically appeals to cognac lovers since it reminds them of their favorite traditional brand yet possesses a far more elegant un-caramalized taste experience.
Age des Epices
This vintage has a deeper gold hue with sweet aromas of wood and honey. Rich and powerful peppery spice and coriander opens slowly on the tongue with a warm complexity in the finish reflecting ginger and cloves. Blanc indicated this cognac penetrates slowly into the casks until after 20 years it naturally reaches the best part of the wood. Divinely pairs with pure black chocolate.
Leopold Gourmel’s signature cognac that dazzles with a wide variety of flavors on the pallet. Inspired by the best old vintages of 1st growth Bordeaux wines, this vintage is something you would spring for to celebrate a major business deal or one of life’s other major milestones.
photos courtesy of Leopold Gourmel