While in Cognac I visited two producers: one a small family operation, the other a mega huge brand with a vast global reach. I loved what I tasted from both. But let’s take a look at the little guys first and save the big name players for the next post in my Spirit of Place series.
So, the family producer I visited was Les Freres Moine. A father and son business spanning more than 30 years, the winery and distillery is run from an age-old farmhouse with a small distillery and cellar and vineyards across the countryside of Jarnac, an area about 10k from the city of Cognac that’s renowned for its vineyards and quality of wines and spirits produced there.
Freres Moine’s Cognacs range from VS (three years aging in oak casks) to XO (18 to 25 years aging in oak casks). I found the XO notable with its lasting oaky bouquet and rich notes of dark chocolate. In addition to fantastic Cognacs, Freres Moine does a fabulous and intriguing selection of wines (including lightly sparkling pétillant) and pineaux des Charentes.
A new one for me and not too commonly found outside southwestern France, pineau is a fortified wine made from a cask-aged blend of lightly fermented grape must and eaux-de-vie. Think: juicy, strong and kinda sweet. Essentially this flavoursome “little brother to Cognac” is started out as a waste-not-want-not byproduct of Cognac. Why it’s not better known and appreciated further than the regions where it’s produced is beyond me. I know I’m kicking myself for not bringing a bottle back. Indeed, maybe the most memorably tasty sip I took during my trip was poured from a bottle of Freres Moine Très Vieux Pineau des Charentes from 1978. If you’re love sherry and port – and of course Cognac – and you’re a fan of value-for-flavour drinking keep pineau in mind!
The Oak Circuit
Les Freres Moine also offer fascinating Oak Circuit tours of Jarnac that trace the role oak wood plays in the creation of Cognac. Stops include the fendeur de merrains, where staves are made for dried lumber and a cooperage where those staves are shaped into casks by craftsmanship that’s equal parts brains and brawns.
The tour concludes with look at Freres Moine still and its cellars as well as a tasting of Freres Moine drinks (and a chance to see what’s on view in the winery’s arts exhibition space). If the very old pineau was the best sip of my trip, the best sights were those seen during this tour. Seeing what goes into the manufacturing of oak casts and the significance of oak to the production of so many wines and spirits.
I’d highly recommend the tour to anyone whether you’re into your booze or not. And if you are into your booze, I’d highly recommend enjoying something from Les Frere Moines ASAP.