Hosted at that stunning Hedonism shop in London we were set for a very French evening hosted by 14th and 15th generations of the Godet family, Jean Jacques and Jean Edouard respectively. The table was dressed with fine French cheeses and fine petite French biscuits with plates, knifes & napkins and five Cognacs lined up accompanied with an ordered tasting sheet. We started however with a mystery dram [Godet Antarctica] which was served along with tonic water and orange zest in order to make an appetitive cocktail.
During this additional serving, perplexingly Jean Jaques Godet begun talking about the Renaissance Grande Champagne which as it turns out was our number two glass [from left to right], or number three if you count this new arrival as number one. So there was a new number one with the original two going next followed by the originally numbered one which came in at number three! It was a right old pickle i must say, but the proof is in the pudding and whilst not au fait with the evenings numbering system, Jean knew his business, his craft and his legacy. And then there’s the provenance.
The Godet family have been making Cognac in La Rochelle since 1550 although 1782 is when Gedeon Godet officially registered the company name. Wine from La Rochelle is, “not great,… by French standards”, says Jean “so we burn it to reduce it in order to make it more intense”. He says brandy making initially came from the Dutch who’s word for brandy is brandewijn meaning ‘burnt wine”. Jean says the Godet family is the last remaining Cognac family to share this direct connection with the Dutch past.
Whilst Phylloxera remains a constant threat, climate change provides a potentially even bigger challenge. Warmer climates mean sweeter grapes and more sugars means higher wine abv’s. Wine pre 1990’s was around 7-8% [7% being the minimum for Cognac distillation], but wine abv is currently now up to 9% and climbing. The Cognac industry doesn’t want this going up any higher, although 12% is technically the limit, according to the Cognac rules.
Despite these worries, Godet continue to produce great Cognac, and whilst maintaining traditions from previous generations they manage to innovate at the same time. Jean Jacques passion for sailing like his father led to Godet’s latest innovation. Cue the late arrival, Godet’s white Cognac – inspired so the story goes during his trip to Antartica in 2008. He devised the ‘Spirit of Antartica’ during the trip which in reality is a Cognac made using Folle Blanche grapes, aged for seven years [in exhausted casks] before being filtered to remove any colour – in order to reflect the icy frontier. Cognac rules means he can’t technically call it a Cognac, so Godet Antartica it is.
Godet Antarctica 40% [neat] WF50
- N: Very clean eau de vie with a light floral bouquet.
- T: Reminds me of a light vodka-gin, it’s ever so clean cut.
- F: Very little of course.
- C: Quite some marketing and a story to accompany, intended to be served on ice with a mixer. No doubt intended for a younger market, I’m definitely here for the aged stuff.
Traditionally, two types of wood are used for storing and ageing Cognac, either from the Limousin or Troncais forests. Limousin is a natural forest that produces wide grain pedunculate oak. Godet use wood from the Troncais timber forest producing fine grain sessile oak. Godet keeps eau de vie in Troncais casks for a maximum of 12 months as the tannins are considered undesirable. For mature Cognac that’s destined to reach upwards of 60 years, plain/exhausted casks are a must. After 60 years [Godet’s limit] in barrels the spirit is then moved to vats or demijohns before bottling, ‘but in the beginning you start with the grape’, says Jean philosophically, ‘…. first and foremost you have a flower before the fruit is formed’. Like whisky, the oak ageing is important but more crucial is the floral-fruit quality of the wine to be distilled. 98-99% of Cognac vineyards presently grow Ugni Blanc grapes. It’s far more resistant to phylloxera which pretty much wiped out more traditional varieties such as Colombard and Folle Blanche [also known as Picpoule]. Godet begun replanting Folle Blanche back in the 1980’s. He says the success of the re-introduction of the family strain of Folle Blanche is risky because of its susceptibility/fragility whilst success of the re-release of Folle Blanche Cognac comes down to hard work and pure dedication.
Jean Jacques says he intended this to be aged around 20 years although some websites claim the market release is around 15. There’s no information about the age on the Godet website, not that it matters greatly.
- N: A light nose with subtle notes of cake dough, ginger, light floral fruits, apricot jam, violets and hints of lavender.
- T: It’s actually rather malty with a waxy mouthfeel similar to that of many single malts.
- F: Appears youthful yet competent.
- C: Thankfully, much more going on than the Antarctica.
Scores 81 points
Godet Renaissance Grande Champagne 40%
This is a replication of a style that [Bonaventure] Godet made for Henry de Navarre, King of France in 1588. Made using a blend of fifteen vintage Cognacs between 1900 & 1950, it’s been listed with a maximum age of 50 years.
- N: Lots of everything, never too much, ‘just right’ as Goldilocks would say.
- T: Much more fruity than the Folle Blanche. The casks speak later on – wonderful, nutty, even malty! casks with vanillas also.
- F: Hums,… and is awash with bubblegum fruits.
- C: Really good, now we’re getting there! It’s time for the vintages.
Scores 87 points.
Godet 1975 Petite Champagne 40%
- N: Very similar to the Renaissance but more fungal. Overall light yet true, it has a glassy varnish quality, honeyed certainly and leaning towards maple syrup with some bubblegum and vanilla.
- T: Sweet with a lesser bitter edge – from the oak i imagine, translated as fruity putty and oak tannins.
- F: Waxy vanillas
- C: It’s good certainly but not as balanced as the blend.
Scores 84 points
Godet’s stocks went up to Versailles in WW2 to protect against german advances. However some of it was buried in the garden including this 1921 vintage that survived the chaos. Due to financial pressures, Godet actually sold this along with their remaining stock to Grand Metropolitan in 1984 [who merged with Guinness to become Diageo], but bought it back in the 1995. Jean Jacques remained the CEO throughout the period. What a treat to be trying this.
Godet 1921 ‘Isaac Godet’ [60 bts] no abv stated
Isaac Godet- 6th Generation 1640
- N: The fragility of some old juice means you have to snatch at the descriptors or they dissipate or move on ever so quickly. It’s abundantly fruity with a bubblegum fruitiness, liquorice notes and it’s woody – air-dry woody
- T: So air-dry in fact that the cask is concealed, such is the nature of neutral/exhausted casks i imagine? Despite it’s obvious age, it’s ever so clean and fluid with fabulous notes of toffee and butterscotch waffles.
- F: Lip-smacking fruitiness and non obtrusive wood assures ideal balance.
- C: Wowee, it’s perfect and with a fine story to match. That’s quite an experience, right up there with the best
Scores 92 points
Godet 1848 Grande Champagne no abv stated
So the moment has finally arrived, the oldest juice i’ve drunk by some margin. This came from grapes from a village [Sapori?] in the Grande champagne region, grapes that Jean Jacques great-great Grandfather Augustin Godet [10th generation] would have grown and distilled. This was placed in a 20 litre demijohn by Paul Godet [11th generation] some 60 years later where it sat in the ‘paradis’ for around 100 years [+/-], before being bottled in 2016. Aside from what’s already been bottled, there’s around 200 litres left to bottle in La Rochelle.
- N: More wows following on from the stunning 1921. Fungal, chalk and deep mould, forest mould. It opens up fruity, settling on fungal<fruity.
- T: Oh so mouldy with overly fermented grapes & blackberries on the side.
- F: It’s going to be fungal all the way with vanilla also. A mycologists dream dram perhaps?
- C: Not all the super oldies are going to make it, and the amazement of history that passed outside of the bottle can easily outweigh the contents inside as is certainly the case here. This is Godet’s oldest Cognac although the son, Jean Edouard Godet [15th generation] let it slip [to the irritation of Jean it appeared], that there is a 1803 vintage on the cards.
The evening ended oddly when a privileged chap in a smart beige three-piece suit and funky bow tie suddenly appeared out of nowhere to announce that he would be willing to hold an impromptu auction which could begin immediately, with the 1975 starting at £1000 and the 1921 starting at a £7000. He begun, but an embarrassing no show of hands resulted in an awkward and unfortunate end to a passionate, enlightening and befuddling evening. My lasting memory will be that bowtie, i mean the 1921 vintage.