Another lovely Martinique agricole from Chantal Comte, lacking something in its construction to be truly great.
(#249 / 89/100)
Before I venture into fresh waters, the next few weeks will be about housekeeping – writing about rums to which I have referred elsewhere and which are now getting some attention of their own. Unsurprisingly, the first one is the older-but-not-quite-so-stellar brother to what may have been the best rum I tried in 2015 (the 1980 Chantal Comte), also from Trois Rivieres on Martinique, somewhat older (twenty years, versus seven), but with less power (45% ABV), more outturn…and less of a price tag.
Note that just because the rhum is cheaper doesn’t make it a bad investment. In its own way, the Chantal Comte Rhum Vieux Agricole 1977 is also a very good product (its misfortune was to be tried in parallel with a better one), and I would never tell you to steer clear of it, because it displays all the hallmarks of a potentially great agricole — well tended, lovingly aged, smartly selected and a sheer delight to drink. Plus it doesn’t have some ridiculous outturn of 100 bottles that makes people shrug and walk away – fifteen thousand bottles of this thing were issued, so there’s hope for us all.
Anyway, let’s get straight into the sniffy matters. Quite some polish and salty wax wound about the opening scents of this mahogany rhum, and somewhat like the Neisson line of agricoles (to which we will be turning our attention later this year), they were relegated firmly to the background without ever letting you forget they existed. Salt beef in brine, red olives, grass, tannins, wood and faint smoke were more readily discernible, mixed in with heavier herbs like fennel and rosemary. These well balanced aromas were tied together by duskier notes of burnt sugar and vanillas and as it stood and opened up, slow scents of cream cheese and marshmallows crept out to satisfy the child within.
So not bad at all on the nose, a lot of differing profiles were duelling for attention, but nothing to complain about. Was the taste as good, or better? I thought so. The smooth mouthfeel and heated overall texture of the 1977 and the 1980 were almost exactly the same to me, though the tastes did diverge. A sort of passive-aggressive meaty paté on rye bread underlay other flavours of bitter black chocolate, coffee and almonds on the medium bodied 1977 in a way that had been much more dialled back in the 1980. It was a darker rhum, however, and maybe even a smidgen richer (just not better). With water we got more party favours: additional tastes of sugar coated butter cookies, those candied chocolate oranges, salted butter, eclairs, more cream cheese, some more definite leather and smoke, and a light floral background that elevated the whole experience.
Finish was medium long, almost short, but warm and not spicy at all. The lack of strength made this easy going. The briny notes persisted, accompanied by almonds, oak a last bit of vanilla, sweet and deep – quite good, if not as exceptional after the excellence of the palate and nose.
So, clearing away the glasses, then. I didn’t think the 1977 was as good as the 1980, though it was still quite exceptional in its own way, as that score shows. Leaving aside the slightly faltering fade. it was the same salty and olive notes so well held in check by the 1980, that took on a slight dominance here: and that created a subtle imbalance in the profile, detracting from what was an otherwise excellent – even remarkable – rhum. However, this is a personal quibble – you would not be doing yourself a disservice to acquire the 1977 (not least because of the lower price point for an older product that is a very good one).
And if you can, try the two in conjunction. Each informs the other and allows you to judge the strengths of one against the difference of the other – I’m almost convinced you would love them both given the chance. I know I did, and consider that the experience of sampling them together, in the company of the persons who were in the room that day, one of the best of my 2015 rum calendar.
The rhum is AOC certified. No additives, adulteration or other messing around. Twenty years old
The presentation was good,with a shiny cardboard box enclosing the bottle as shown in the photo above.