Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This Cognac's Is Truly A Signature!

I have always envied Louis Banyard of Signature Wines & Spirits for what seems to be his continental suave charm and poise. He seems to deal with everything that comes by him is an effortless smoothness-----not slick or overpowering as, let's say, like some articulate furniture or vehicle salesmen or politicians but clean and admirably in command. His refined accent doesn't hurt either and his personality is magnetic without being overwhelming. In other words, I like the guy!
Our first meeting was through PMA or Peter Mielzynski Agencies where he handled the Grand Marnier Account. Louis and I did a program appearance on Rogers Television where he made a lasting impression not only on me but it seems also on all the swooning females at the station. It must have been the accent and, in my case, he also had hair!
We've kept in touch even though he no longer works for PMA---though I feel that by now both PMA and Grand Marnier wish he was back! He now works for Signature which is a family business.
We met today at the Bayview Village Mall in the North East part of Toronto. Louis brought with him, Ivan de Fonclare area manager of Mounier/Polignac Cognac. Now, some individuals have areas such as: Toronto or South-Western Ontario. This guy has Scandinavia, Iceland and North America. Sounds like H. Mounier thinks only in big ways!
Ivan impressed me as being very unpretentious and straight forward in a polite and charming way. There is no evasive phoniness here. His success lies in his "take me for what I am" manner which truly is refreshing. He and Louis definitely make a great team!
H. Mounier Cognac
This company was founded in 1858 by Herbert Mounier and quickly became the sixth largest Cognac company in the world. 95% of its products are exported leaving the poor French with the 5% left. H. Mounier V.S. (available on general list LCBO 293662 $38.65) is a blend of Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderies cognacs in that order. These are zones where cognacs come from---Grande Champagne (the term "Champagne" here refers to the chalky soil of the area which is reminiscent of the area of Champagne) regarded as being the finest followed by Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fin Bois, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaire in order of appreciation and quality. The lower one descends, the rougher and more harsh the resulting cognac will be. Incidentally, there are very strict regulations that govern the making of Cognac and any deviation from these rules will result in a demotion to general Brandy status. Like Champagne or a Bordeaux, Cognac must take care of its name. Cognac is a brandy but not all brandies are Cognac which is, after all, the town where this drink comes from.
The average age of the spirit in H. Mounier Cognac V.S. is 4.5 years far higher than the legal requirements.
How It's Made
H. Mounier takes grapes from Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderies. Grape types are Ugni Blanc (90%), Folle Blanche (5%) and Colombard (5%). The grapes are vinified to an alcohol content of 7% (normal fermentation) and then are distilled via a copper kettle or pot (called Charentais or Alembics). They are distilled to about 32% alcohol and then are distilled again. The the first distillate and the final distillate are omitted leaving only the middle portion or "eau de vie" which would be then at about 70% alcohol. The Cognac is aged in barrel (usually Limousine oak for a period of time depending on the designation to be. The alcohol is then diluted with distilled water to about 40%.
Cognac does not age in the bottle. All aging is done in the barrel. For example, a cognac which was made in 1900 and bottled in 1940 is as old as one that was made in 1940 and bottled in 1980.
Style and Taste.
H. Mounier V.S. is smooth and very easy to drink. Here are my notes: On the nose: there is some herbal spice which can be described as vegetal, a strong vanilla/wood influence is enhanced by some floral notes. On the palate: Their is initially a sweetness that greets the palate. Nuances of caramel, vanilla and burnt sugar with a very long and lingering honey sweetness on the finish.
This is indeed a very pleasant cognac---not harsh like many V.S. styles and more reminiscent of a V.S.O.P. or better. A true bargain and cheaper than (Hennesy V.S. costs $20 more) other similar brands and in most cases is as good or better!
H. Mounier also produces some very special cognacs by the name of Polignac (founded by Prince Hubert Polignac) which can reach many levels of Quality from V.S. to XO Royal ($148). The company also makes a very special 100% Grande Champagne Cognac called Blue Sun ($890). The H. Mounier V.S. seems very reasonable indeed compared to its bigger brothers.
One interesting fact about the H.Mounier company is that in 1996 Grey Goose of Vodka fame asked the company to produce a French style Vodka. It's blender at the time, Francois Thibeaunt, succeeded in producing a fine style. Grey Goose was later sold to Baccardi (Francois went to work for them) but H. Mounier still bottles the product to this day!
Reynac Pineau des Charentes
Pineau des Charentes is made by taking the unfermented grape juice (grapes that normally are used to make Cognac) and adding Cognac to them until the resulting beverage is at 17% alcohol. The result is a very sweet drink that can be used as a dessert wine or as an aperitif. In many ways it has the taste and consistency of Icewine at a much less ($17.95) price.
The number one Pineau in the world is Reynac Pineau des Charantes (LCBO 101394) of which some 10,000 cases are imported annually to Canada. Presently it is the only General List Pineau available in Ontario.
For more information go to the following: or