Fri 24 Dec 2010
The Paul-Marie et Fils “devant la porte” Grande Champagne Cognac is a one-of-a-kind, unfined and unfiltered, cask-strength cognac that will blow away lovers of distilled spirits, especially of the kind that demand lingering over for an hour or so. The story is as interesting as the product. Nicholas Palazzi, whose parents own small estates in Bordeaux, has deep connections, through his grandfather, with the Cognac region. Seeking out an old friend of his grandfather, someone from whom he could learn all the intricacies and nuances of cognac, Palazzi found himself, a few years ago, in the dark, redolent cellars of ancient properties, cellars that held barrels of cognacs that went back generations. After tasting many of these, Palazzi chose one barrel to bottle, a barrel “in front of a door” — devant la porte — that had been distilled in 1951. He bottled the spirit in August 2009 and since then has been basically hand-selling it all over the world, though with only 257 bottles in existence it’s obviously pretty damned rare. The alcohol content is 51 percent, yes, 102 proof.
Palazzi sent me a small sample of Paul-Marie et Fils “devant la porte” Grande Champagne Cognac, which I took my time about opening, but finally broke down. The color is medium copper-amber with a pale, almost transparent rim. The first impression is of alcoholic power buried inside woody spices — sandalwood, cloves, allspice — with a touch of burnt orange and bitter chocolate. Slowly, traces of toffee, caramel and dusty leather emerge. Then, at least in my experience, the cognac shuts down for 20 or 30 minutes, perhaps gathering its forces for the real display, because a little time leads to a blossoming of pear and fig pudding, spice cake and toasted coconut and a reassertion of the caramel, toffee, almond brittle elements. There’s a touch of something slightly bitter in reserve, and yet sweet, too, a woody sense of rigor and strength somewhat belied by the cognac’s utter smoothness and mellowness as it flows powerfully across the tongue and palate, somehow achingly dry yet honeyed simultaneously. Exceptional. About $600 (a bottle).
I told LL that I was writing this “last minute gift” post and she said, “Like, very very really last minute,” but, you know, it’s about 3 in New York and hours earlier on the West Coast. Plenty of time! Get to it! Make someone happy!