With this issue, Wine Enthusiast Magazine introduces a new spirits tasting director and a new system of ranking spirits.
F. Paul Pacult, a writer who specializes in spirits, will be evaluating and rating the distilled spirits listed in the Buying Guide. Pacult has contributed articles to the magazine in the past, and will continue to do so. Readers may also know him as the author of a book, Kindred Spirits, his own newsletter, F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal, and as a contributor to such publications as The New York Times, Sky, and Playboy.
Pacult is a guy who takes his spirits seriously. When we asked him what his thoughts were on assuming the spirits tasting director post, he said, "We’re living in a true Golden Age of distilled spirits. Never before in recorded history has there been such a plethora of fine whiskeys, brandies, white spirits and liqueurs from all parts of the world available to such a wide audience."
Pacult will be taking a new approach to the ranking of spirits. Instead of scoring with exact numbers, he will use the following rankings:
Classic (which will equate to 96-100 points)/Highest Recommendation
Superb (90-95)/Highly Recommended
Very Good (85-89)/Recommended
Acceptable (80 to 84 points)
"My pledge to Wine Enthusiast readers," says Pacult, "is this: Count on me to give you the real deal, for better or worse, in distilled spirits evaluation. My request of you is: Tell me when you think I’m off base. Tell me when you agree. Let’s have a regular, lively dialogue."
CLASSIC (96-100)/Highest Recommendation
A. Edmond Audry Cognac Mémorial Fine Champagne (VOS Selections, NY) 42% abv, $150. Lovely burnished orange/copper color. Traces of green pepper, green apple and lead pencil in the early aroma; rich scents of spice and oak resin get added to the mix; ends up being delicate, raisiny, dried fruit-like; rancio is the featured attribute—a stellar bouquet. The midpalate phase highlights the bacon fat/rancio/oaky quality. Finish is long, sweet, honeyed, satiny and delicious.
A. Edmond Audry Cognac Exception Fine Champagne (VOS Selections, NY) 43% abv, $250. Deep brown/copper penny hue. The maturity and poise of the aroma are evident right from the first whiff, as delicate fragrances of old oak, dark toffee and baked pears enchant; after five minutes of air contact, there’s a slight weakening, but the bouquet turns biscuity and buttery, emitting the initial fatty/cheesy signals of rancio. The entry is opulent, lip-smacking and sweet, with flavors of of buttercream, bittersweet chocolate, dark coffee and bacon fat. The aftertaste is cheesy/fatty, oaky and sweet.
Maison Surrenne Cognac Distillerie Galtaud Borderies, Lot 1984/02 Casks 2 & 3 (Santos & Dumont, Ukiah, CA) 40.4% abv $70. Brilliantly clean copper/amber color. Borderies nuttiness is evident immediately, while further nosings add almond butter, wood resin, marzipan and nougat. The entry flavor shows oaky sweetness and dried fruit; the midpalate stage has elements of dried apple and pear. The finish is medium-long, sweet and even a touch smoky. Definitive Borderies.
Roullet Cognac #26 Grande Champagne 58 Years Old (CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA) 41% abv $423. Amber/honey hue. The opening whiff shows delicate yet sinewy aromas of oak, caramel and baked pear; later nosings find a fuller bouquet, laced with scents of oak resin, dried fruit, holiday spices and the first hints of rancio in soft cheese form. The entry is sublimely sweet, round and caramel-like; the midpalate stage offers oak, vanilla extract, soft cheese and prunes. The finish is regal, toasted, almondy and brimming with oaky richness.
SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended
A. Edmond Audry Cognac Très Ancienne Lot #43 Grande Champagne (VOS Selections, NY) 50% abv $350. Attractive bronze/copper color. The high alcohol content is obvious; with aeration, the nose develops into a bouquet of bittersweet scents of lead pencil, vanilla bean and caramel; no clear signs of rancio are detected. The palate entry is buttery and spirity; midpalate flavors include baked pear, spice, black pepper and toffee. The finish is long, a bit lean, oaky and prickly.
Maison Surrenne Cognac Ancienne Distillerie Petite Champagne Lot 1989/4 (Santos & Dumont, Ukiah, CA) 40.2% abv $30. Pretty amber/light honey color. The bouquet features scents of vanilla wafer, citrus zest and light wood resin; aeration reveals spice, raisins and toasted bread. On the tongue, it’s lithe, dry and woody, then at midpalate it turns complex, layered and blissfully sweet. The aftertaste is long but in keeping with the lightness of the flavor phase. Agile and lean; it’s a "clinic" that shows how Cognac can be both nimble and profound. Best Buy