Why the amazing Chateau Chantal always sort of hangs around the periphery of my Michigan wine conscience instead of barreling to the forefront is truly one of God’s mysteries. I’ve met winemaker Brian Hosmer many times over the years—a bright, engaging fellow with a Christ-like tonsure and an affinity for big words—and have sampled his wares, which are likewise bright and engaging. I’ve read with near-voyeuristic fascination the story of the winery’s founders, Robert and Nadine Begin—a former diocesan priest and a former Felician sister who abdicated the Calling and got married in 1974, thus producing the gorgeous Marie-Chantal Dalese. I’ve even drooled over the East Arm of the Grand Traverse Bay-view from the twenty-thousand square foot B&B that forms the architectural centerpiece of the 65 acre Chateau Chantal estate.
I’ve just never gotten around to writing about them.
Anyway, based on their latest press release, all that changes: Seems that up there on Old Mission Peninsula they’ve been busier than a set of jumper cables at a redneck funeral and in fact, do more before nine AM than the Marines do all day. What they’ve already accomplished is staggering—beside the eleven unit bed and breakfast—named one of 2010’s top ten country inns by Gayot—the vineyard, the six private home sites, the cooking classes, the wine seminars and the Tapas Tours, the Chantal concern (the winery is public, with multiple shareholders and a nine-member Board) also owns 55 acres of vines in Mendoza which produce more than two thousand cases of malbec per year—which I’ll also write about if I ever get a chance to try any.
But there’s more: Chateau Chantal has just announced an inaugural release of Cinq à Sept, an oak-aged (five years) brandy made entirely of Northern Michigan grapes.
Brandy is, of course, a distillate of wine, and as sugar cane is to rum, as barley mash is to scotch and as corn is to bourbon, grapes are to brandy. Cognac is the world’s priciest, most famous version—it’s named after a specific region in Southwest France and must adhere to certain production laws in order to flash the Cognac crest. But, simply to give you an idea of what Cinq à Sept’s five years of barrel aging signifies in Cognac terms, a V.S. Cognac requires a minimum of two years in barriques, V.S.O.P. four, while an X.O. designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is six years old.
With Cinq à Sept, we are clearly dealing with some serious sippage.
And why ‘Cinq à Sept’?
According to Robert Begin, “Literally, Cinq à Sept means ‘five to seven’; it’s a French Canadian term for Happy Hour. In France, the phrase was originally used as a description of the time of day a Frenchman would visit his mistress, perhaps with a gift of brandy in tow…”
Cinq à Sept is bright mahogany in color, soft and silken on the palate with citrus, sweet fruit, oak-honey and butterscotch; there are light tobacco aromas present along with toasted gingerbread spice, it finishes creamy with a touch of mint and dried herbs. At $40 a fifth, it’s priced as a rough equivalent to Martell or Courvoisier V.S.O.P.
Suddenly a benchmark among Michigan eau-de-vie, Cinq à Sept joins the Chantal family of distilled fruit juices which includes Cherry Eau-de-Vie, ‘Entice’ Brandy with Ice Wine, ‘Cerise Noir’—cherry brandy with red wine, and ‘Cerise’—a blend of cherry brandy and cherry wine.
Currently, these are available only via shipping from the Chantal internet store, and fortunately for those of you who find yourselves unable to work your new mail-order brandies once they arrive, they come with full instructions:
‘The typical serving size is 1–2 ounces, owing to the high alcohol content of the spirit…’
‘Usually served as a digestif—a post-prandial alcoholic drink that aids digestion.’
Post-prandial is one of Hosmer’s big words, and I had to look it up, because I thought it meant ‘after the physical act of love with one’s Parisian mistress with whom one has had a tête-à-tête being that it is five o’clock’, and yet I assumed that even a randy ex-priest, who must answer to a Board of Directors, would not link his new brandy to such illicit pleasures of the flesh.
And in fact, it turns out that ‘post-prandial’ actually means ‘after dinner’, and fittingly, Wiktionary offers as an example: ‘A post-prandial brandy’.
But iconoclasts may take heart. After extensive sampling through all the hours day and night that the good Lord sends us, I have concluded that the entire Chantal line-up—grape wine, fruit wine, sparkling fruit wine, booze, wine and booze mixed together—(can beer be far behind?)—work equally well as pre-prandial ingurgitatables.
‘Ingurgitatable’ is a big word that you may indeed borrow, Brian.
Entice, Cerise Noir, and Cerise are available for shipping within Michigan and select states at http://store.chateauchantal.com/.