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February 21, 2013

Rare Spirits: Say Hello to Single Cask Cognac

By Chris Boyle

By Mike Espindle

Simply put, cognac is brandy made in a specific area of France—the Cognac region (the same way champagne is sparkling wine from a specific region).

But if watch and jewelry making scion Evan Yurman has his way, you will never think about cognac simply ever again. Yurman has harnessed his passion for rare spirits, and along with partner and spirits expert Nicolas Palazzi, has started the exclusive brand L’Artisan, dedicated to sharing the pure spirit of cognac with those who can appreciate it.

Palazzi told me as we prepared to sample their fledgling offering just last night, “In France, there is a saying: ‘We have no money in the bank, but we have cognac in the cellar.’” Cognac region producers often part with these “family jewels” when they are planning a wedding, or sending a child to college or some other major financial event. The L’Artisan team is able to acquire stunning heirloom stores of fine single-farm vintage cognac, cask by cask, from the same artisanal producers that traditionally sell to large cognac houses. The larger houses take those casks and blend them with younger brandies to deliver the mass-produced product you are probably familiar with. Blending creates a consistent flavor profile, but you can also lose some of the subtler authentic signature aspects of the base spirits when you blend them. Think single malt whisky versus blended whisky, and them some.

L’Artisan cognac presents the original vintage cognac in its pure, unadulterated form. It is the sipping cognac the local families have enjoyed and coveted for generations. I sampled the firm’s charter offering, simply called No. 50 (now what could that 50 stand for? Since a blended cognac’s age is listed as the youngest spirit in the blend and these guys don’t have to do that since it is unblended, could it be…?) and let me just say I have never had anything quite like it: A nose far spicier yet lighter than any brandy I’ve ever sampled, a deliciously complex start without the expected alcohol bomb of most cognacs (although the No. 50 is cask-aged to a nice mid-40 percent alcohol content) and a long, languid finish that includes floral and herb tastes as well as mineral content. Pretty stunning. Expect to pay about $1,500 a bottle for this limited edition offering of about 480. And keep your eyes on the L’Artisan team; it seems they have another gem or two hidden in their cellars, as well.

Contact Brokers Patrick O’Connor at Fine+Rare Wines Ltd., Private Clients Sales in London (44-20-7089-7400) or Wyatt Peabody at Soutirage in the U.S. (866-309-8203)

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