Mon 14 Apr 2014
Some people have jobs that just make you say, “Awww, man, no fair …!” I’m thinking in this case of Nicolas Palazzi (image at right), whose family owns Bordeaux properties in Cotes de Bourg, Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves — his mother is French, his father Italian — but whose heart lies in the world of spirits. Palazzi’s work is to haunt old cellars in Europe and search out barrels of spirits or fortified wines that have been quietly aging for generations, bottle them in small quantities and hand-sell them all over the globe. I previously wrote about his Paul-Marie et Fils Pineau des Charentes Tres Vieux Fut #3 (here) and his Paul-Marie et Fils “devant la porte” Grande Champagne Cognac (here). A more recent foray took him into the realms of Spanish brandy and rum, bottled under the Navazos-Palazzi label, indicating a joint venture between Palazzi and Equipo Navazos. An interesting story itself, Equipo Navazos began as a group of sherry-loving friends that searched for ancient hidden treasures in the region’s cellars and bottled what they selected in limited editions, beginning in 2005, for a small circle of connoisseurs, collectors and writers. In 2007, a company was formed to market the sherries to the public, still keeping quantities at the artisan level.
Today, I look at each of these three collaborative products — two brandies and the rum — tasted from small samples provided by Palazzi.
First is the younger of the two brandies, a six and a half year old single-cask brandy found in the cellars at the Rey Fernando de Castilla bodega in Jerez de la Frontera. For the initial three years of its life, this spirit rested in multiple-use sherry casks; the next three and a half years were spent in 600-liter casks that had formerly been used for fino sherry. Made from 100 percent airen grapes, it is bottled unfiltered and at full proof, 41.1 percent alcohol, and no additives were employed. The color is pale but radiant gold with green highlights. This is a very young, powerful, impetuous and fiery brandy, yet it manages to be ultimately well-balanced and harmonious. Notes of spiced pear with hints of banana and bay leaf dominate a bouquet that brings up touches of toasted wheat, candied orange peel and some astringent little white flower. Profound acidity grips the palate and keeps this brandy vibrant; the texture is lithe and sinewy, and the overall impression is of blond wood, bitter orange, fruitcake, walnut shell and a tinge of toffee. It stays with you. Production was 720 half-bottles. Excellent. About $80 a half-bottle.
The “Montilla” is a single cask brandy that’s at least 50 years old. Palazzi and his partners found it at Bodega Perez Barquero in Cordoba. It spent its whole life in what is apparently an oloroso sherry cask. Like its stablemate mentioned above, it was bottled unfiltered, at full proof (40.1 percent alcohol) and receives no additives like caramel coloring. It is also made from 100 percent airen grapes. The color is medium gold-amber; the bouquet offers hints of cloves and allspice and a plethora of woody and woodsy notes: dried porcini, walnut shell, moss, smoke from a leaf fire, pencil shavings, all opening to toffee, maple syrup, pine and old leather; and far in the distance, a subliminal touch of woodland flower. This is a deep, multi-dimensional brandy that when it first flows across the tongue feels infinitely smooth and mellow, but boy does it have an afterburn as it goes down. The last elements that I pointed out in the bouquet — the toffee, maple syrup, pine and old leather — define the flavor profile but add depths of fruitcake and plum pudding and an intriguing steely mineral quality. Again, 720 half-bottles was the production. Excellent. About $115 per half-bottle.
A bit of mystery surrounds the Ron Navazos-Palazzi. Because of a non-disclosure agreement, Nicolas Palazzi can reveal only that the rum originates from an island at the southern end of the Antilles and that it is made from molasses. This rum aged five years in former bourbon casks at the distillery and then was shipped to Jerez, where the bodega emptied it into old oloroso sherry casks and aged it for 15 more years. It was kept around because the bodega simply did not know what to do with it. The alcohol content is 51 percent, translating to 102 proof. Navazos-Palazzi will produce 1,500 bottles a year for four years; the present example represents the first release. The color is medium amber with gold highlights; not surprisingly, there’s a lot of wood here, but the rum, at least initially, feels clean and bright. You have to imagine a combination of sherry and rum, with sherry’s dryness, spareness and elegance and rum’s hint of sweet fruit. Still, to reiterate, there’s a lot of wood here; this is dense, almost viscous, powerful, dominated by leather and loam, with faint notes of maple syrup, dark molasses and toffee, allspice and sandalwood; a wayward whiff of mango. Unique, perhaps an anomaly. Excellent (sort of). About $165 for a standard 750ml bottle. As Palazzi told me, “Yes, we don’t really give things away,” but what price does one put on such a rarefied product? For thoughtful sipping after dinner, not for your daiquiri or Dark and Stormy.