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A Sip of the Angels' Share
A Special Moment With Cognac Pierre Ferrand

By Simone Zarmati Diament

While "Cognac" always evokes glowing feelings of complex flavors blooming in the mouth and liquid fire trickling down one's esophagus after dinner, the appellation Cognac does not always a Cognac make.

Not only does it have to be made in France, but it must be made from grapes grown in the delimited area which extends from the banks of the Charente to the Atlantic coast, and where lie the vineyards of Jarnac, Segonzac and Cognac -- 465 kilometers south-west of Paris and 120 kilometers north of Bordeaux -- which gave its name to the spirit.

And while one automatically associates Cognac to one of the Big Four - Hennessy, Courvoisier, Rémy Martin and Martell - more visible on liquor store shelves and in glossy magazines, there are exquisite boutique cognacs being produced in the region.

Single estate, single distillery Cognacs
The uniquely delicate bouquet and exceptional smoothness of Cognac Ferrand are closer to the subtle flavors found in a great wine. This is not the type of Cognac you mix with lime or even dilute with ice, said Director of Marketing Jean François Bonneté, who was recently in Miami for the promotion of Cognac Pierre Ferrand and Cognac Landi. "It is to be appreciated on its own. It's a special moment."

GABRIEL & ANDREU is a company specializing in high quality spirits, like Cognac Ferrand, one of the very few cognac houses which specializes in old cognacs from Grande Champagne "It is one of the very few single estate Cognacs," declared Bonneté,. "It is an exquisite brandy made 100 percent from grapes grown single vineyards in the Grande Champagne, the best district of Cognac."

Another characteristic of Cognac Ferrand, says Bonneté, is that the Cognac, produced in the tiny village of Angeac Champagne, in 60 acres of what is referred to as "The Golden Triangle" of Cognac, France, is distilled from wines of the best lots of Ugni Blanc grapes - for freshness and acidity - and Colombard grapes - for fruitiness and body. The wine, which remains unfiltered after fermentation in order to impart as much fruitiness as possible, is distilled on the lees (an old, uncommon method in Cognac today).

The Aged Cognacs of Pierre Ferrand
The light, fruity and acidic wine must age before becoming Cognac, and it is aged much longer than required by law. According to French law, a VS must be aged 2.5 years, a VSOP 4 years, a NAPOLEON or an XO 6 years, usually in up to 450 litre oak casks.

Pierre Ferrand Cognacs are aged between 10 and 70 years exclusively in 350-liter "Limousin" oak casks with a process called "redouellage" (restaving) in order not to get overly-oaked cognacs. "We take our old barrels and change one or two staves only. So the cognac can breathe through the wood and mellow with age without becoming too oaky," explains Bonneté, who also stressed that the Pierre Ferrand prices are extremely competitive in prices.

Partners Alexandre Gabriel and Jean Dominique Andreu, together with their cellarmaster Patrick Giudicelli, maintain stocks of vintage cognacs -- Grande Champagne cognacs usually reach their prime at around 30 - 50 years of age -- which are used as part of the blends sold by Pierre Ferrand:

Ambre: (aged 10 years)
Aged in old casks, Ambre has little tannin. Its color is golden, with a light and delicate nose. Aromas of flowers, oranges and a hint of vanilla highlight this cognac. (Approximate cost: $40)

Reserve: (aged 20 years)
A complex and full-bodied cognac offers a subtle bouquet and smooth flavors. It has a fine gold color and is very fruity and round, with a slightly vanilla flavor. The aroma is like fresh picked grapes at the harvest. (Approximate cost: $60)

Selection Des Anges: (aged 35 years and over)
As much as 3% of cognac production each year escapes into the air through the casks. This evaporation is known as the Angel's Share. In all of Cognac, the natural evaporation process of spirits kept in wooden casks, a rate of 3% per year, would be the equivalent of 13 million bottles of Cognac per year, according to Bonneté. Pierre Ferrand's Selection des Anges, named after the evaporation in cognac, is a fully mature cognac, old gold in color with a rich, mellow flavor of musk and spices with hints of vanilla and licorice, and a lingering aromatic finish. (approximate cost: $99)

Abel: (aged 45 years)
Sold in limited quantity, this cognac was named after the cellarmaster who distilled it. Abel is a very old cognac, ruby-gold in color, with an incomparably subtle and delicate bouquet that can only come from long aging in oak cask. The lingering aroma and flavor of this superb product can last as long as 10 minutes on the palate.

Ancestrale: (Aged over 70 years)
No more than 300 bottles of Pierre Ferrand Ancestrale Grande Champagne cognac are released each year. It is unique, not only because of its age, but because of its structure, which has allowed it to age in oak for so many decades and still improve. Because of the extensive evaporation (89%) that has taken place over the years, (called the "angel's share" by the French), it takes 100 bottles of wine to make one bottle of Ancestrale. Ancestrale, it displays an incredible richness of aromas. Burnished gold in color, this rare cognac is comparable to a very old wine in its subtlety and complexity. Having a very delicate nose, it balances prune and chocolate aromas in a perfectly aged, pure eau de vie
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