They say that good things come to those who wait. The adage is probably as old as Cognac itself, but somehow it has never felt more appropriate. A double-digit growth in sales over the past decade has much to do with the exquisitely judged release of limited edition, age-specific premium products, with the venerable house of Frapin accomplished at releasing just enough to whet the market’s appetite, but never so much that it might become ubiquitous.
It is three years since Frapin last released one of its coveted multi-vintage ‘Multimillésime’ editions; the first was in 2008, and this new release is only the seventh, so – counter-intuitively – the rate at which it is being delivered has slowed, despite its enormous popularity with collectors.
“It is like haute couture” says Patrice Piveteau, veteran cellar master at Frapin. “This is a blend of the best vintages, so I need the finest materials to produce it”.
This latest release, a mix of three vintages (1989, 1991 and 1993) has a special significance for Piveteau, as ’91 – the base of the blend and the dominant component – was the year that he joined Frapin. “Fine, elegant and fruity are the hallmarks of 1991,” according to Piveteau, who believes that vintage Cognac “must bring something different”.
Daring to be different is also what defines Frapin. Still family-owned, sitting alongside the equally idiosyncratic Champagne Gosset, it is something of a rarity in Cognac because it controls every aspect of production, from nursing its own rootstock to bottling the finished product. Most of its rivals rely on growers, but Frapin owns its own land – 240 hectares, all of it Grande Champagne, generally regarded as the finest of the six Cognac Crus – so exclusively uses its own grapes.
“Because we control everything, we can take risks that others cannot,” says Piveteau, who distils on fine lees to add additional character.
Maturation is also out of the ordinary, with the cellars divided into an ‘upstairs, downstairs’ arrangement. The higher floors are for dry ageing, where evaporation is faster resulting in a leaner, more precise blending partner. A floor below, the humid cellars deliver plumper, fruitier, slightly softer characteristics thanks to the slower rate of loss.
“People obsess about the age of Cognac,” says Piveteau, “but it is not really about the age. It is about how it has been aged, and where”.
“People obsess about the age of Cognac,” says Piveteau, “but it is not about the age. It is about how it has been aged, and where”
For the ‘Multimillésime n°7’ blend, Piveteau tasted blind to select the component elements from both humid and dry cellars, witnessed by representatives of the BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac) who, in Dickensian fashion, use a wax seal to verify the authenticity of every barrel containing a vintage-specific Cognac.
“There are two keys to the cellar,” he jokes. “One for me and one for the BNIC.” The final blend was made six months before its release, with its creator confident that the resulting complexity will ensure “everyone can find their own souvenir”.
Tasting this much-anticipated release, the brightness, purity and elegance of the fruit is striking. Floral aromas, citrus zest, ripe apricot and burnt orange combine with polished mahogany, soft leather and toasted pine nuts, with candied peel and raw vanilla pod. Rich, complex, yet exquisitely balanced, the finish is long and harmonious.
Frapin Multimillésime n°7 Cognac is priced at £250. “Good value for money,” says Piveteau confidently, “when you consider that it contains three different vintages of Grande Champagne Cognac”.
Whether or not you agree, it is unlikely to be around for long as just 3,000 bottles have been produced. Then begins the wait for n°8.