Vineyard acreage: 81 acres (33 hectares)
Grape variety: 85% Ugni blanc, 15% Folle blanche
Annual sales cognac: 40 000–50 000 bottles

 

Cognac Ragnaud-Sabourin sits on a hill outside the village of Ambleville in the south of Grande Champagne, one of the most prominent houses in the cognac business. They sell some eau-de-vie to the big cognac houses but keep the major part for their own production. The firm boasts unusually large stocks of old cognac, some of which are pre-phylloxera, and it offers a wide selection of cognacs, especially in the high-end range.

The history of the house can be traced back to 1850, but it is during the first half of the 1900s the foundation stones of the cognac house are laid. Both Gaston Briand (1880–1957) and his son-in-law Marcel Ragnaud (1904–1996) are regarded as founders, although formally speaking, it is the latter who does this towards the end of Second World War. Gaston Briand starts selling cognac in the 1930s and he soon becomes renowned for his exquisite vintages from 1904–1909. He also becomes a leading figure and advocate for the cognac industry as a whole. Briand actively contributes to the 1909 legislation, which defines the area of production and after World War II, he participates in the formation of the trade association BNIC and the INAO, the national body that classifies domestic agricultural products.

P41The son-in-law Marcel Ragnaud starts selling cognac in his own name from 1945. It does not take many years until his cognacs become much talked-about for their high quality and soon they are served at reputable restaurants across France. When his daughter Annie becomes involved in operations in the 1970s, the house has also started exporting. In the 1980s, the house changes its name to Ragnaud-Sabourin. Today, the firm is led by Annie Ragnaud-Sabourin together with her son Oliver.

Few houses take such a long-term view on their production as Ragnaud-Sabourin. Since the focus is on old cognacs, you have to plan ahead. A large part of production is saved for future years because the firm’s niche is old and very old cognac. Present stocks represent approximately fifteen years of sales. The majority of the vineyards surround the premises. Folle blanche is cultivated in 12 of the total of 81 acres, Ugni blanc on the rest.

The house offers a complete range of cognacs with a focus on the high-end products. The basic range consists of a 4-year-old VS, an excellent 10-year-old VSOP, a 20-year-old (Réserve Spéciale N° 20) with a quality beyond the ordinary and an equally enjoyable XO Alliance 25. Ragnaud-Sabourin’s flagship, the 35-year-old Fontvieille N° 35, also belongs to the basic range. It is made up of 60% Ugni blanc and the remainder by Folle blanche and Colombard. In my opinion, this cognac has it all. Silkiness, mellowness, complexity and a long finish.

P42The generous and extensive tasting makes me confused. The first two cognacs (the 10-year-old and the 20-year-old) keep very high standards and yet 6–7 glasses with higher quality cognacs are still on the table in front of me! This tasting session is probably as close to heaven as a cognac enthusiast can get. Florilège N° 45 is a naturally reduced assemblage consisting of 60% Ugni blanc and 40% Folle blanche. Naturally reduced is indeed also Le Paradis of which 10% of the eaux-de-vie are pre-phylloxera, i.e. before the 1880s. What complexity, what length! Héritage Ragnaud finally, is an assemblage of century-old eaux-de-vie. Difficult to describe. I feel like I have run out of words.

Does Ragnaud-Sabourin have the world’s best cognac range? No, you cannot rank cognacs in that way. Just as the Nobel Prize for Literature is no world champion title, it is impossible to appoint the world’s best wine or the world’s best cognac, but – of course – if I was forced to choose one single bottle of price-affordable cognac to take with me to a deserted island, well, in that case, Ragnaud-Sabourin N ° 35 would certainly be a choice to consider.

This is an abridged version of a translation into English of pages 110–111 of the Swedish book Cognac – kungen av eau-de-vier (Cognac – the king of eaux-de-vie) © Stevali Production and Gunnar Svedberg, 2014.
© Gunnar Svedberg 2015-02-04

 

 

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