Jan 172016
 

TR 1986 Label 1

Like a kilt, this ten year old rhum proves that less can often be more.

(#250. 89/100)

***

The Japanese art of ikebana is that of flower arranging, and if you think its principles lack applicability to rum, well, give that some thought. Sorting a big bunch of flowers into a vase is not what it’s really about (one could say the same thing about the chanoyu).  The true art is about selecting just a few elements, and finding the perfect way to arrange them so that they rest together in harmony.  Trois Rivières is unlikely to have studied the matter…but this rum displays all the fundamentals of both art and simplicity, in a way that elevates the whole to a work of sublime grace.

Trois Rivières issues specific years’ output, perhaps more than any other rhum maker in Martinique (except maybe Neisson) – there are millèsimes from 1953, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, and so on. Rarely, if ever, is it stated how old these are, aside from the “vieux” notation, meaning a minimum of three years ageing.  But to my mind, a rhum this good (sorry for the spoiler, but you already know the score) is a poster child for why we need the guys pushing great hooch out the door to stop messing about and tell us poor lambs what we need to know right up front – in this case, how old the thing is.  Because speaking purely for myself, I want to know whether age is the primary factor in the excellence of the 1986 millèsime over the 1975, or some other factor.

TR 1986

Still, I soldier on under the burden of my anguish, since there’s nothing to be done about it right now. Presentation was that consistent yellow box (I’ve seen several millèsimes with the same one) with that famous windmill, the year 1986 enclosing a slim bottle with the same info on the label…and surmounted with that same annoying tinfoil cap that somehow makes my expensive purchase seem…well, cheapish.  Ah well…

I can tell you though, that my small disappointments and whinges from above were forgotten the instant the bottle was opened up and poured it into the glass. Because with a nose like the one it presented, I could swoon like a maiden from Walter Scott.  It was so sweetly wonderfully rich that I almost went running for my thesaurus. It opened with juicy pears and white guavas, fennel and the faint lemony twist of a good cumin.  Scents of treacle and honey followed on, very rich and smooth and almost perfect at 45%.  Even after half an hour it kept giving out some extras – vanilla and well-controlled tannins, almonds, very light smoke and leather.  The 1986 blew past the 1975 millèsime from the same company as if it was standing still, which was why I wrote about the latter the way I did.

It was similarly good to taste, and again showed up some of the shortcomings of the 1975.  Warm and smooth, the 45% strength didn’t hurt it at all.  Medium bodied and dry (but in a good way), providing first tastes of peaches, plums, more guavas, black grapes.  I was actually a little startled at the fruitiness of it, because it was an AOC designated rhum, but where were the light, clear notes one could expect? The grassy vegetals? Luscious notes of licorice and vanillas and even molasses backed up the zesty citrus notes that gradually came to the forefront, and again there were these delicate hints of cumin and lemon zest I had observed on the aromas.  And this was not all, because tart (not sweet) red fruit – strawberries, red currants and raspberries also made themselves known…I kept asking myself, how old was this thing?  Even on the medium long finish, which was a bit dry, warm and breathy and easy-going, some of those fruits retained their ability to amp up the enjoyment – prunes, licorice and vanilla for the most part, and always that citrus component which coiled behind the primaries to lend a unique kind of counterpoint to the main melody.

TR 1986 Label 3The question I asked of the 1975 (which I was using as a control alongside the Rhum Rhum Liberation Integrale, the Velier Basseterre 1995 and two Neissons) was how old it was, and the labelling on that one was at best inconclusive.  With the 1986 things seemed a bit more clear: the box had a notation “Vieux 86” and next to that “Sortie de fût: 04-96” which I take to mean it was distilled in 1986 and released from the barrel for bottling in April of 1996…a ten year old rhum, then, if the numbers mean what I say they do. TR never did get back to me on my inquiries, so if anyone has better knowledge of the age of this rhum, feel free to share.  I’m going to go on record as believing it’s ten.

And what a rhum indeed, at any age. It is an amalgam of opposites that gel and flow together with all the harmoniousness of a slow moving stream, gentle and assertive, thick and clear, with wonderful depth married to controlled intensity.  We sometimes get sidetracked with fancy finishes, family recipes, strange numbers on a bottle and all sorts of other marketing folderol, not the least of which is the conception that the older the year-stamp on a
bottle is, the better the rhum inside must be (and the more we can expect to pay for it). The Trois Rivières 1986 shows the fallacy of such uncritical thinking.  Like the Chantal Comte 1980 it demonstrates that great rums can be made in any year, at any age…and that beauty and quality and zen are not merely the province of those who fix motorbikes, pour tea, or arrange flowers.

 

Dec 222015
 

TR 1975 Label

Proof that year of make does not confer exceptionalism.

(#246. 85/100)

***

Trois Rivieres in Martinique is over 350 years old, formed in 1660 when Nicolas Fouquet, Superintendent of Finances to Louis XIV, won a large concession of about 5,000 acres in the south of the island, where it remains still, after many changes in ownership.  In 1953, the Marraud Grottes family, owners of their own distillery and the Duquesne brand, bought the estate and sold aged Trois Rivières Duquesne rhums under the brand until 1972. In 1994 the Trois Rivières distillery was acquired by the company BBS, which also had the La Mauny brand, and they’ve held on to it ever since.  I thought that the 1977 millèsime might be the oldest one I’d ever get (and I’ve been keeping an eye on the 1953), but when I managed to source the 1975 (and 1986) millèsimes, well, I jumped.

Trois Rivieres is certainly one of those French island companies that prides itself in specific years’ output, perhaps more than any other rhum maker on the island – there are millèsimes from 1953, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, etc etc etc…you get the point. The really odd thing about them is that rarely, if ever, is it stated how old they are, aside from the “vieux” notation, meaning a minimum of three years ageing (see “Other notes” below).  Which may be one reason why I thought the 1986 rhum was better than this one from eleven years earlier.

TR 1975

Presentation was a consistent yellow box for these oldies(I’ve seen several millèsimes with the same one) with that famous windmill, the year 1975, enclosing a slim bottle with the same info on the label…and surmounted with a tinfoil cap, which struck me as strange, but okay, perhaps when it was made wrapping and toppings were different. An amber red rhum gurgled invitingly within.

For a 45% ABV rhum, the 1975 was quite soft to smell, more so than the 1986.  Nougat and vanilla flavours led right off, with more delicate, floral and grassy scents curling right behind them.  Lighter fruit, raisins and dates followed swiftly, and while the 1975 was not entirely salty, some small element of brine was definitely there, as were faint rubbery notes and pencil shavings of the sort that used to litter my geometry set in primary school.

My contention is usually that an older rhum or rum is, on balance, a better one – the complexity that ageing imparts cannot be easily duplicated or faked, and if one tries enough products, sooner or later the difference is self evident.  Hence my feeling that for all its supposed antecedents, the 1975’s ageing (whatever it was) was not sufficient to elevate it to the status of cult classic.  I wasn’t terribly excited here: the taste was a bit thin, without as much depth and richness as one might expect.  That’s not to say it was bad or lacking in complexity…because I tasted caramel, raisins, sugar water, honey, prunes, freshly sliced cucumbers, green grapes, more grass and some white guavas, and this was a pleasant melange to experience – it was a perfectly good nose, just not a great one.  

The mouthfeel somehow also didn’t come up to par for something about which I had higher hopes (again, the 1986 tasted in parallel outclassed it) because of a lack of overall body and elegance of texture. Adding water did bring out some background flavours, mind you – more nougat, toffee, cafe latte, with the slight citrus taking something a back seat.  The fade was all right, neither failing nor exciting, giving up some nice florals, nuts, a bit of leather and vanilla and subtler grassy notes.  In other words, an above-average agricole, unaggressive, interesting and very easy to drink, which probably cost me too much.  I think that in another year I’ll look at it again and share it around with the Rumaniacs, see if their opinion is the same.

TR 1975 Label back

It’s funny, in a very short space of time I’ve experienced two rhums that had older brothers, and in both cases those older ones were effortlessly outclassed by their younger siblings.  The 1980 Chantal Comte decimated the 1977, and now the 1975 Trois Rivieres is not as good as the 1986. If there’s ever been a reason why I want more information on a label, this is it, because I’d dearly love to know if it was ageing that caused the difference in quality, or some other factor.  If nothing else, this is perhaps why one should never take reported age or year of make alone as the sole arbiters of how good a rum “should” be – because here I got two that say exactly the opposite.

Other notes

So back to how old this thing is. Yes the “vieux” statement supposedly tells its tale.  Cornelius, Henrik, Gregers and I pored over the labelling and the box to see if there was something that could give us a clue, and came up with this little mark at the bottom right of the label, where it says “Emb. 97209 A”.  Could that mean bottled in 1997-2-09 or 1997-20-9? If that were true, the thing is 22 years old.  But in that case, why not say it is a très-vieux, or XO?  On the other hand, it could refer to the postal code of Fort de France on Martinique, so don’t take my conjecture as gospel. The mystery deepens until Trois Rivières (or any reader) can provide more information.

 

Dec 022015
 

Chnatal 1980 2

This rhum is a quietly dazzling masterpiece.

(#243. 92/100)

***

The Chantal Comte 1980 purrs away in the glass, containing so many quietly thrumming riches, revealed in so gradual a fashion, that it embarasses ordinary rums.  And yet, its characteristics aren’t gaudily thrown before us to entertain or impress.  There are no marketing tricks here, no fancy “finished in…” or “made this unusual way…”. No dosing, adding or off-the-wall ageing. It is only after I tried it for the fourth time that I truly appreciated the full reach of its accomplishment, and realized how well and how subtly it had been made. And all this from a seven year old rum.

The Chantal Comte Rhum Vieux Agricole Appellation Martinique Controllee 1980 (to give it its full title) hails from St. Luce, which is to say Trois Rivieres. Chantal Comte, a lady who owns the Tullieres estate in France, and who also has a long association with the French West Indies, has an appreciation for rhum which many years ago prompted her to begin issuing aged agricoles under her own label. The Hors D’Age from Habitation Ste. Etienne was a wonderful rhum for example, and the 20 Year old St. Luce 1977 Millesime was also pretty good — yet here she does it one better, and perhaps this is one reason why the price of the seven year old 1980 is more than twice that of the 1977 even though less than half as old (that and the fact that 15,000 bottles of the 1977 were issued, versus 1400 of the 1980).

The presentation was somewhat lacklustre for a rhum of this price: a black cardboard cylinder enclosing a very handsome frosted glass bottle.  Never mind,  I’ve made my sniffy observations on this kind of thing before. The label, relatively simple, filled in some of the details noted above.  The age was not stated and it took some sleuthing around to have it confirmed that it’s a seven year old…no idea why that was omitted – were they waiting for a reviewer to talk about it, perhaps afraid people would be put off by its single-digit age? 

Chantal 1980 1

Anyway, forget the preamble and walk with me through the sampling.  It was a dark amber rhum, issued at a solid 58%, and the nose…well, all I can say it was great. It was a beautifully rich yet simultaneously subtle, and complex to a fault.  An initially warm and delicious melange of fruits, flowers and the faintest background of turpentine and well polished floors. This developed into lavender, toned-down lilies, unripe cherries, everything soft and yet edgy at the same time (that was the 58% speaking – it intensified everything without actually moving the rhum into harsh bitchiness).  But this wasn’t the end. We were in the middle of a six hour tasting session and as the hours wore on we kept coming back to this one glass, and by the time it was over, to those flavours we smelled, were added some faint caramel and molasses, vanilla, cinnamon, very faint ginger and baking spices.  And all these in a really harmonious balance.

Since it was a relatively strong rhum, I expected some sharpness at the inception of the taste, and indeed this was there. But that dialled itself down to a strong kind of heat that made the experience a much better one after some minutes. It was quite full bodied and intense, and the immediate sensations were of butter cookies with a strawberry jam centre (for the benefit of my friends Henrik and Gregers who were there with me, I’ll say they were Danish); cinnamon again, black cherries teetering on the brink of over-ripeness, plus an assortment of light peaches, apricots, bananas and dark honey.  And all this intertwined with the sweetness kept way back, a dusting of leather and smoke, aromatic port infused cigarillos, some drier woody notes, and even some brine…but I must emphasize how extraordinarily well this all came together, without any one aspect dominating any other – it was as well balanced and solid as the keystone in a Roman arch.

As for the finish, well, what can I tell you?  It was great, summing up everything that came before: long and a little dry, spicy and wholesome, with both the sweet and the salt of a top-end Japanese soya, finishing things off with some oaky notes, almonds, vanilla, and port.

The construction and gradual unfolding of this thing is amazing. I started by liking it, an hour later I was impressed, and by the time the evening was over I was in love.  It took time for the full effect to sink in.  It lacks the rough hewn brutality and single-minded intensity of the Veliers, and is perhaps more akin to Rum Nation…just better (perhaps because “dosing” is not part of the assembly).  The 1980 may be classed as an AOC agricole, but I honestly think this has aspects of both French and Spanish style rums (with maybe a flirt of Bajan thrown in for good measure). It’s an order of magnitude better than many products twice or three times as old, and thinking I was being too enthusiastic, I tried it four separate times over a week and yep, it was still as good as that first time. It is the best sub-ten year old rum I’ve ever tried.

I truly enjoy rums that are well made and appealing, no matter who makes them, and find that certain companies are consistently top grade. That they are almost all independent bottlers not seeking to dominate their market (though Velier comes close) may be key to the quality of their rums, because they are niche players, not commercial mastodons like Diageo or Bacardi, and therefore they pay careful attention to what they slap their labels on. Their stuff isn’t made by committee, so to speak; perhaps to them money and market share is less important than making rums, not mere products.

Yet, even within the small independent world of Veliers, Compagnie des Indies, Duncan Taylors, Rum Nations, Moon Imports and Samarolis, there are occasional bright shining stars that amaze and awe us with the sheer brilliance of their creations.  While it’s obviously an unknown if all of Mme Comte’s rhums operate at the level of the three I have tried so far…I can hope.  This rhum is one of the absolute best I’ve had all year, and it earns that accolade not because of stratospheric price or fancy bottle or rarity…but because it really is that extraordinarily good.

Other notes

Chantal Comte’s website makes no mention of this rum at all. I contacted the company directly and they told me it was a seven year old, aged in oak (but not what kind).

I highly recommend, if you ever try this rhum, to take your time with it.  The scents and tastes simply grow richer over time. 

The closest rhum to this profile I recall is the Courcelles 1972 which exhibited many of the same characteristics, but was many years older.

Opinion

I read somewhere recently that “French Island style” (agricole) rhums represent less than 10% of market share for rums as a whole.The wonderment is, perhaps, that agricoles exist at all, given the preponderance of molasses based rums in the world.  I think they remain an unappreciated resource, rums that live in their own space and time, in places we must be willing to visit, to touch, to sample, to experience.  An inability to even concede they are worth trying is a profoundly depressing inadequacy, something like saying black and white, silent or subtitled films have no place in the world overrun by remakes, sequels and superhero retreads. Those who casually deny themselves such rhums are also denying themselves the building blocks of the drinking imagination.

 

May 202015
 

Trois Rivieres 1977

***

Rumaniacs Review 001 | 0401

Not entirely sure how old this is…I think it was bottled in 2000 or so, making it at least a twenty three year old. AOC controlled from Martinique, pot-still-made from cane juice (of course).

Nose: Bright, flowery, quite spicy, but also very clean.  Cinnamon, breakfast spices, cloves, some dried fruits (banana, fleshy pears just starting to go).  All this is shouldered aside by a rather startling brininess and musty vegetal pungency after a while…y’know, like cardboard in an old, unaired cellar.  Not unpleasant, but not your standard fare either

Taste: Oh, nice, very well put together.  Again dry and vegetal (the nose wasn’t lying), even a bit minty. Warm and assertive, and enough potency to make you think it was actually stronger. Anise, citrus peel, more spices, sushi (maybe seaweed). Somehow all these things work reasonably well together.  Didn’t bother adding water on this go-around – at 43%, didn’t really want to.

Finish: Long, aromatic, dry; that anise/licorice starts to come forward at the back end, isn’t balanced as well with other notes as it could have been.

Thoughts: Great, complex nose, quite a smorgasbord on the palate, an agricole all the way through.

(85/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid.

Trois Riviere 1977

Trois Rivieres 1977