Frapin Cognac turns 750 years old this year. But it doesn’t look a day over 500.
The veteran small-batch brand that operates out of a French castle traces its lineage to 1270, when it began as a wine-growing operation. Over the years, a move to distilling – cognac being a descendant of wine – launched a new passion in its founders.
Based in the central France region of Grande Champagne, ground zero for cognac distilling, Frapin uses about 600 acres of the dry soil, where the grapes are grown and handpicked. This begins the considered process of pressing, fermentation and aging that plays out over a period of years.
While the heavyweights in the cognac line carry the market share – Hennessy has almost 65 percent of the entire U.S. – Frapin mines a trend to the underground with a small-batch approach to the process.
Unapologetically old school, emboldened by periodic revivals, cognac is referred to as “yak” in rap lingo (“‘gnac” to fans of Snoop Dogg) and is touted in song and in Hollywood, most recently by Al Pacino’s character as a film producer in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which shows him pulling an Hoyo de Monterrey from a small humidor and pouring a cognac for a viewing.
The latter is true cognac positioning – a thinking drinker’s spirit, equally formidable as a pre-meal soother, a post-dinner kicker, or Pacino’s screening treat.
That versatility becomes even more desirable when it comes to serving as a complement to a good smoke. And Frapin can help.
Frapin’s Cigar Blend XO, which first came out in the 90s, begins its aging in a new cask for at least a year to pull more aromas through the tannins – the flavor of the wood that varies by type. In this case, oak is where the blend sits for years.
“To make a difference between blends, it’s mostly the aging,” Frapin cellar master Patrice Piveteau says in an interview with Cigar Snob. “The cigar blend I age in a new cask more than the others.”
The brew is then moved to older, less intense casks to temper the highs and lows of the notes. Piveteau has no hard rules for when it is ready.
“No rules except for the tasting,” he says. “It’s a way for me to adapt to creating the right taste.”
The casks for the cigar blend are stashed in a more humid confine than some of the other blends, ideally providing a roundness and flavors of vanilla and dried fruit which pair amicably with the flavors from a premium cigar. The XO designation means “extra old,” and must be created from a base that is at least six years old.
It’s a distiller geek’s dream. And when Piveteau declares it ready, he seeks a rounder cognac, that is, balanced with no single overpowering tone, as some blends are deliberately aged to please a more specific palate.
“It is a structure in this case, how the flavors connect in ways of complexity,” Piveteau says. “The notes on the cigar blend should be rich but with a flavor that is not too heavy.”
The roundness of Frapin’s Cigar Blend should ensure that a cigar matches the cognac, which as a relative of the wine will have a fruity top note to match the spice of a solid premium cigar.
Piveteau says that Frapin’s small-batch process allows it an exclusivity – “in the niche market, we are very big, though” – that ensures it won’t be found as easily in a disco as it will in an upscale establishment.
Just as cigar makers are often bound by outside forces and events, cognac too is a survivor with generations of makers that have outlasted wars, pestilence and weather woes to create their coveted grog. It makes cosmic sense that the two should get together frequently as a pair.
Cigar Pairing: Rocky Patel Quarter Century
Before lighting the Rocky Patel Quarter Century, take time to nose the Frapin and the cigar. The inviting aromas coming from the cognac and the cigar are a perfect way to set the stage. Once lit the cigar opens with loads of cocoa, earth, and smooth pepper, which plays beautifully with the Frapin’s core of delicate vanilla and dried fruit. The long finish of the Frapin allows for multiple deliciously paired puffs between sips.