Rums Brandies and Calvados



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This month we feature two distilled spirits categories: rums and brandies. While decidedly different, in the best of times these categories mirror one another in character. Indeed, two of the rums herein, Plantation Grande Reserve from Barbados and Zaya from Guatemala, have brandy-like qualities that make them particularly appealing to seasoned spirits admirers who tend to savor their libations. Rums matured in oak barrels for long periods acquire supple textures, hints of color, and caramel aromas and flavors that bear a resemblance to certain brandies.

And speaking of brandy, we also look at three outstanding Calvados from a favorite producer, Christian Drouhin of Coeur de Lion. Drouhin's spectacular 1963 Pays d'Auge Calvados is nothing short of a clinic on how to make great apple brandy. Two of the little known factoids regarding Calvados are, one, that the Calvados district in Normandy is an officially demarcated brandy region in France (one of three along with Armagnac and Cognac), and, two, that most Calvados have a small percentage of pear brandy in them to counter some of the razor-sharp crispness of apples.

One last heads-up worth noting: Château de Laubade's 1941 Bas Armagnac is definitely one for the ages. Doubtless, one of the finest spirits you'll try in your lifetime. Your mission is simple: Find. Buy. Consume slowly.

Well, drink up, my friends, spring is just around the corner.

—F. Paul Pacult

 

RUM

SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Plantation Grande Reserve Barbados Rum (Barbados; W. J. Deutsch & Sons, Harrison, NY); 40% abv, $15. Scents include brown sugar, molasses, vanilla bean, ripe tropical fruit, marzipan, refined sugar and honey. Taste features intriguing, bittersweet tastes of black pepper, molasses, dark chocolate and palm oil. Finish is long, bittersweet and woody. Best Buy.

Zaya 12 Year Old Gran Reserva Rum (Guatemala; Wilson Daniels, Ltd., St. Helena, CA); 40% abv, $45. Seductive nose is juicy, with ripe, fruity aromas of baked apple, baked pear, nutmeg, vanilla bean, cardamom and dried orange peel. Flavor is firm, bittersweet, focused and more maple-like than sugary. Ends moderately oily and keenly bittersweet. In that league of aged rums that begin to resemble brandies.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/RECOMMENDED
Beachcomber Coconut Flavored Rum (USA; Barton Imports, Chicago, IL); 27.5% abv, $9. Aroma is fresh, mildly sweet and properly coconut-like. Taste is gently sweet, coconut-true and has a marshmallow-like quality that's attractive in its simplicity. Aftertaste stays the course set out at palate entry. Best Buy.

Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum, (USA/Puerto Rico; Diageo USA, Stamford, CT); 35% abv, $14. The no-nonsense bouquet opens up with marshmallow, light toffee and light honey. Early taste is sweet and molasses-centric, then at midpalate there's a spiced honey flavor that gently guides you to the creamy, cake frosting
finish. I liked this affable spiced rum when I first reviewed it 12 years ago and I still like it. Best Buy.

Captain Morgan's Parrot Bay Puerto Rican Rum With Natural Coconut Flavor (USA/Puerto Rico; Diageo USA, Stamford, CT); 21% abv, $13. The fruity bouquet foists plump aromas of sweetened coconut and bubble gum sugar onto the olfactory sense. Taste is all coconut with nary a trace of rum at first, then the midpalate turns rich, creamy, properly sweet. It ends as it began, with coconut flavor ruling the roost. Best Buy.

Myers's Rum Original Dark (Jamaica; Fred L. Myers & Son Co, Baltimore, MD); 40% abv, $19. The initial inhalations expose a moderately spicy, black peppercorn perfume; aeration brings about flax, cooked vegetables, and brown sugar. The platform flavor is intensely cocoa-like, then at midpalate, the taste leaps into deeper cocoa/bittersweet chocolate territory before turning lean and keenly bittersweet, oily and chocolaty in the finish.

AVERAGE (80-84)
Bacardi Select Puerto Rican Rum (USA/Puerto Rico; Bacardi Corporation, Puerto Rico); 40% abv, $18. Toasty aromas are of dark caramel, molasses and hard candy. The entry taste is cloyingly sweet and sap-like. It concludes syrupy and sweet, with a trace of cola nut. Basic Dark Rum 101. A mixer rum that's ideal when you're concocting piña coladas by the batch for the gang.

Beachcomber Apple Flavored Rum (USA; Barton Imports, Chicago, IL); 27.5% abv, $9. Opening whiffs detect a reluctant, bitter scent of apple peel. Flavor is pleasantly ripe; by midpalate, the ripe apple taste (kind of like apple strudel) becomes more acceptable. Finish is very sweet and too sugary.


CALVADOS


CLASSIC (96-100)/HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION
Coeur de Lion 1963 Calvados Pays d'Auge (France; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 42% abv, $310. Apple peel-like scents greet you early-on; further time in the glass reveals much deeper, more profound aromas that resemble milk chocolate, cream and cotton. Taste is clean, acidic and sap-like, then at midpalate the flavor turns slightly sweeter as if the apples were harvested a day before full ripeness. Simply one of the best vintage Calvados I've sampled.

SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Coeur de Lion 1966 Calvados Pays d'Auge (France; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 42% abv, $310. Bouquet provides fruity, if reluctant aromas of tropical fruit, dried fruit, refined sugar, honey and oloroso Sherry aromas. Flavor features integrated, concentrated tastes of ripe apple, baked apple strudel and apple butter. Finish is long, sweet, oaky, seed-like.

Coeur de Lion 1981 Calvados Pays d'Auge (France; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 42% abv, $155. Sensuous bouquet offers buttery scents of old oak, dark toffee, cola, tobacco smoke, charcoal and bacon fat. Taste is bittersweet like brown sugar and dark honey, toasty, smoky and warm. Aftertaste is long, oaky, intense and silky.


ARMAGNAC


CLASSIC (96-100)/HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION
Château de Laubade 1941 Bas Armagnac (France; Baron François, Ltd., New York, NY); 40% abv, $460. Semisweet aroma leaps forward emitting toasty, almost smoky fragrances of campfire, charcoal, pipe tobacco, blue cheese and rancio. Taste is elegant, refined and supple, showing mature tastes of oak, marshmallow, honey, oloroso Sherry, black tea and coffee. A seamless six decade-old jewel.

SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Château de Laubade 1953 Armagnac (France; Baron François, Ltd., New York, NY); 40% abv, $219. Aeration serves to cut loose an intense nut-like perfume that's off-dry and oily. Flavor displays a wonderful harmony between the acidity, ripe fruit, nut-like oil flavor, honey and dark cocoa. Concludes succulent, sap-like and honeyed.

Duc de Loussac XO Bas Armagnac (France; Baron François, Ltd., New York, NY); 40% abv, $45. Bouquet offers tight, semisweet, toffee-covered apple and wood resin fragrances. Flavor is taut, sweet and moderately oily. Finish is long, pleasingly sour, oily and engagingly nut-like. A beauty. Best Buy.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/RECOMMENDED
Duc de Loussac VS Bas Armagnac (France; Baron François, Ltd., New York, NY); 40% abv, $25. Scents of wood and grapes evolve into aromas of peanuts, baked bread and oak resin. Taste is dry to off-dry, with flavors of light toffee, honey, caramel, peanut butter and marshmallow. Ends long, a little narrow in scope, and semisweet. A young Armagnac that requires a bit of patience.

Duc de Loussac VSOP Bas Armagnac (France; Baron François, Ltd., New York, NY); 40% abv, $30. Nose displays an early oakiness, then well-developed aromas of nut paste, roasted almond, cola nut and meringue. Flavor is dusty, semisweet and caramel-like, with late notes of nougat and marzipan. Finishes sweet, raisiny and toffee-like.

Loujan 12 Year Old Bas Armagnac (France; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 42.7% abv, $80. Aromas include walnut butter, nougat, jasmine, papaya, grape skins and leather. Rich, textured, sweet, honey flavors emerge at palate entry, then stately tastes of nougat, toasted almond, sweet oak, vanilla bean and tobacco emerge. Ends long. and maple-like.

Loujan 22 Year Old Bas Armagnac (France; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 42.9% abv, $125. Opulent but astringent scents of honey, nut candy and dark toffee impress the olfactory sense. Flavor is tart, lean and brown sugar-like at first, then it explodes with marzipan, brown sugar, honey, cocoa and toasted almond. Aftertaste is long and bittersweet.

AVERAGE (80-84)
Château de Laubade 1964 Bas Armagnac (France; Baron François, Ltd., New York, NY); 40% abv, $124. First whiffs uncover scents of cotton candy, gum and dried tropical fruit; additional aromas include chocolate bar, nougat and oil. Flavor is intensely cocoa-like and bittersweet early on, then a heavy cloak of sweetness quashes the virtues. Concludes long, concentrated and too sweet.

Sauval VSOP Armagnac (France; Halby Marketing, Inc., Sonoma, CA); 40% abv, $38. Bouquet hints at vanilla bean, tobacco leaf and mild honey. Taste is simple, candy-sweet and marshmallow, with no depth or scope. Aftertaste is predictably sweet and common.

Sauval Napoleon Armagnac (France; Halby Marketing, Inc., Sonoma, CA) 40% abv, $47. Following aeration, the bouquet offers toasty notes of tobacco leaf, baked apple, baked pear and sweet oak. Taste is sweet and intensely honeyed at first, then turns too concentrated and sweet in the finish. Almost a liqueur, which is not a compliment.

Sauval XO Armagnac (France; Halby Marketing, Inc., Sonoma, CA); 40% abv, $55. Aroma makes a good showing following aeration as succulent, scents of almonds, toasty oak, lanolin, light toffee and paraffin entice the olfactory sense. Flavor is overly sweet and honey-like; the sweetness clobbers the taste buds into submission.

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