A Michel Couvreur Masterclass

Michel Couvreur is a French independent bottler, well known in the business since over 30 years. The founder, Micher Couvreur himself, passed away in 2013, but his son-in-law Cyril Dechamps and the master of cellar Jean-Arnaud Frantzen kept intact the company reputation and the quality of their product. So, since I am curious about this French bottler as little Georgie is (was?) about talking to evil man-eater clowns popping up in the sewer, I decided to participate to a masterclass organised by the Whisky Shop Paris.

The chaperon of this masterclass is a very competent and affable guy who gave us a pletora of information about the bottles and the company in general, but in this review I’ll deliberately hide his identity and will substitute him with a random French character from the literature. Let’s say, Edmond Dantès. Differently from most of the others independent bottlers out there, Michel Couvreur (hereinafter MC) actually actively ages the whisky in France (in Burgundy, to be precise)! It’s quite an interesting concept, and our Edmond stops for a second from plotting overly complicated revenge schemes to tell us that MC works mainly with five distilleries in Scotland, and it receives from them new make spirit to be aged in sherry barrels purchased directly at some Spanish bodegas the company has been working with for many years.

Of course there are whiskies, both grains and malts, from different distilleries that contribute to some of the MC blends, but they account only to 20% of the total as Edmond tells us while dressing up in the back room as the mysterious Count of Montecristo. And it is with a blend that we start today, a flamboyant…

Cap a Pie (45%, MC, 2018)
This blended whisky consists of a marriage of 12-20 year-old malts (up to 50% of the total) and 4 year-old grain whiskies. The weird name means “(armed) from head to foot“, and it refers to the term used for a warship ready to engage battle. Edmond starts to cry, remembering his time as an employer of Monsieur Morrel… but that’s not your story, Ed, stop it! Let me focus on this whisky here.
Nose: It’s definitely fresh, with some tropical fruits mixed with something young (maybe too young?). Something metallic, and soy sauce. Soy sauce? Seriously, Edmond, did you go to a sushi restaurant before the tasting? With time, a bunch of pineapples pass by to say hello.
Taste: Very dry and a bit bitter. Not too consistent with the nose, a bit like when Edmond dresses up like Father Busoni: it’s just not too convincing for me. There is just not very much going on, but it’s still enjoyable. Cereal and spicy.
Finish: Quite short, but very clean and nice.
Overall: The gentleman here now fully dressed as the Count of Montecristo (in this heat?) suggests us that it could be a perfect whisky for an aperitif. Which to me sounds like something people always say when a whisky is not too complex, not too intense, but not too bad. And that’s it for this Cap a Pie, a 76/100 for me. BOBA FETT: try it before you hire it!

Vin Jaune 2008 (47%, MC, 2019)
This one is a single malt single cask, so a big upgrade (in theory) from the blended whisky we had before… It’s a 10 years old whisky fully aged in a vin jaune cask, a special white wine made in the Jura region. But the good Count is not here to read the wikipedia page about the vin jaune, so let’s get to it.
Nose: How do I describe it… it’s very weird! I get asparagus mixed with fortified white wine, so yes: very weird. Dried fruits, floral, almost white port wine – just with a much higher percentage of alcohol. It also kind of stinks a bit, I don’t know how to put it differently.
Taste: Wow, it’s definitively something else, interesting for sure. And weird, let’s not forget it. Cooked vegetables and tons of sugarcane, with a bit of oaky bitterness. I’ve never had anything like this one, and it’s surely an experience. Maybe not the most enjoyable one, but an experience.
Finish: Fruits and liquid sugar lingering a bit too long.
Overall: Everything in this malt is constructed in order to put in front the vin jaune. I can understand the philosophy behind it, but I just didn’t like it too much: 74/100 in my book. ADMIRAL ACKBAR: to me, it’s a trap.

Overaged (43%, MC, 2018)
And now we arrive at the main dish, the most famous and consistent product of the MC maison: the Overaged. It’s technically a NAS, but we actually know that it’s a mix of 12 to 20 year-old whiskies from 5 distilleries, two from the Highlands, 2 from the Speyside, and one from Islay. The 5 whiskies were separately matured in ex-sherry (Oloroso) casks before being married for 5 years in an ex-sherry (Pedro Ximénez) cask. Ready for it, Edmond?
Nose: Huuuuge puffs of pleasure. It’s a full, soft nose. Velvety, with a very vague peat smoke and a ton of sherry. And yet it’s not a sherry monster despite, its full ex-sherry maturation, nor it’s overwhelmingly sweet, at all. Interesting too, this one, but I like it so much better than the previous one. Peat smoke and peaches.
Taste: More smoky and salty in the mouth, here the Islay influence is stronger. The Force is powerful in this one: it’s interesting, nice and tasty, oily and fruity (cherries, orange peels). It’s simply a very good and intriguing whisky.
Finish: Long, warm, full and nutty. No smoke here, a bit mineral, plums too.
Overall: Powerful and yet fresh. A bit dirty, very good. Edmond is busy manipulating the evil Fernand Mondego into making him commit suicide, but I’m free and I think it deserves a sound 88/100. LUKE: after the first two, this one is much more than a new hope.

Candid (49%, MC, 2018)
This one is a single malt, from one Islay distillery only, diluted to 49% from the orignal 53% – and at this point Edmond wears a homeopathic hat and starts talking with non convincing arguments about some questionable “slow dilution“. No idea what he was talking about, and maybe it’s better this way. Aged in half-sized sherry casks.
Nose: Muscular and very tannic. Olive oil (what??), salt and peat smoke. Very intense and sapid, surely not a soft and caring nose… I like it! Leather, too, or maybe it’s the odor of the whip that Edmund is using to hit Danglars with.
Taste: Sherry, hemp, mustard. Very spicy and very strong strong. Heavy, with chocolate and coffee. It’s so dirty and oily!
Finish: Long and fat, very good. Nuts, sherry, a deep smoke that doesn’t give.
Overall: I should love it, it hits all of my sweet spots… theoretically. And yet, despite its roundness and dirtiness, and even though I enjoyed it quite a lot, I am not completely won over. It feels like there is something missing here, but I cannot pin down what it is. Nevertheless: 85/100. HAN SOLO: Chewie, we are home.

Blossoming Auld Sherry (45%, MC, 2017)
This whisky bottled at 45% is a single cask from an unknown distillery, aged for 15 years in a very old (over 70 years of age) ex-sherry (PX) cask. As I wrote above, MC has a lot of deep and long-lasting connections with Spanish bodegas, and therefore the company can afford the purchase of some peculiar and high-end sherry casks, Edmund says torturing Morcerf to death. And this one is definitely one of them!
Nose: Waves of violent and indomitable sherry. Again, not overly sweet and surprisingly very sapid. It’s super good! Malt, fresh mint, some spices. Dried cinnamon, vanilla, honey! It’s a treat, seriously, I’d nose it for ages. Thyme, too. It’s like when the dogs eat up the face of Ramsay Bolton with Sansa slowly walking away: very satisfying.
Taste: Briny and fresh despite the very heavy sherry flavours. Intense and oily, floral, mineral, salty. Succulent, savoury, sexy, full of malty and reminiscences. Blueberry marmalade, hazelnuts, walnuts, vanilla and caramel. Boom, it’s not a blossoming, it’s an explosion!
Finish: Long, malty, gorgeous and glorious, very satisfying. Sultanas, fat fruits.
Overall: I guess that by reading you can understand that I… kind of liked it? Nah, I loved it! And Edmund, stop duelling with the Viscount Albert de Morcerf, you had your vengeance! It gets a whopping 91/100 from me. DARTH VADER: this whisky is among the chosen ones.

High Privacy 1998 (43.8%, MC, 2018)
We know the distillery from this 20 years-old single cask. It is, as the not too subtle name suggests, a Highland Park! Aged, this one too, in an ex-sherry (PX) cask, promises wonders… and after the Blossoming I’m quite excited about this one!
Nose: Very floral, intense, with a surprising and angry lemon. There is a veeeery vague peat smoke, so vague it might be the smoke coming from the bonfire Edmond is making down the street with the properties of his enemies, actually. Sherry, strawberry, flowers again (violets?), acidic and somehow zesty ruspante, acidic, strawberry. Also, apricots.
Taste: Some peat smoke, again, extremely well integrated with some old and heavy sherry. Zesty, with orange peels and lime. Coffee, it’s very powerful and intense. Oily and earthy, yet very well balanced.
Finish: Super clean, medium long and maybe a bit too floral. Still, briny, vibrant, salty and leathery.
Overall: It’s great, really, but maybe it’s not the bottle I’d pick to come home with me this evening, especially for the price. I mean, it costs around 250 euros, and it’s a 0,5l bottle… a bit much, if you ask me! But you didn’t, nor did you ask that for me it is a 88/100. Again, we have a LUKE here!

At this point Edmond, who feels generous after the overwhelming victory in his epic and not very realistic vendetta, shows us a bottle that has never been bottled, and it was originally reserved only for a chosen few of the best client of the company. It’s called The Unexpected, a french malt from Hautes Glaces distillery. Distilled from the two-row Vanessa barley, it’s a 7 years old whisky, matured in an ex-sherry (Cream) cask. And it was unexpected indeed! Very tasty and compelling, much more bitter and herbal than the other whiskies of the evening…

But it was the perfect way to end a great and interesting Masterclass. Seriously, I learnt a lot, and Michel Couvreur is definitely a peculiar independent bottler, with a different approach to whisky maturation from many other indies in the market. The great attention to the casks definitely has a big impact on the whisky. For example, there was absolutely no sulphur in any of these whiskies despite the full ex-sherry maturation. Nor was the sherry too overwhelming, nor too covering, nor too sweet, but it really worked in sustaining and completing the distillate. Maybe it is not a coincidence that the one I liked the least, the Vin Jaune, was not coming from a sherry cask… Anyway, I hope you’ll get the chance to taste some of these fantastic products!

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