Navigating Cognac like a Pro

By Marie-Ève Venne

The first thing to do to truly appreciate Cognac is to forget what you think you know about it. No, you don’t have to be a big cigar smoker with a strange thing for velvet drapes and leather chairs to be able to qualify as an acceptable spirit drinker. That cliché is long gone! You simply have to get familiar with some basics regarding its making and history, along with discovering which brand might be the best fit for your palate. Then, you’ll find yourself in for a treat.

Let get started, shall we?

First thing that you need to know is that Cognac is a high-quality brandy made from white grapes that can only be produced in the west of France. The wine obtained from the grapes goes through two distillations, a process that runs from November to March. By French law, distillation must stop at midnight on March 31st.

You’ll find the spirit graded by its age, that is to say by how long its youngest eau de vie component has been aged. For example, VS stands for “very special,” the youngest Cognac category that rests for a minimum of two years. This is the Cognac that you want to experiment with in some cocktails, like a Sidecar (Cognac, orange-flavoured liquor, and lemon juice) or a French 75 (Cognac, champagne, lemon juice, and simple syrup).

When you feel ready to up your game a little, you want to switch to VSOP, or “very superior old pale,” which is aged for at least four years. While VSOP also works in cocktails, it is better enjoyed on its own. The next step is to try the XO, “extra old,” a Cognac that requires six years of aging (but after April 2018, that number went up to ten). Please, don’t mix it in any drink and save that pricey XO for sipping, since aged brandies have very delicate and subtle notes. 

Now that you know a little bit more about fine brandy, it’s time to continue your education by discovering some iconic brands and bottles.

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Hennessy VSOP

It is a blend of 60 eaux-de vie made from Ugni Blanc grapes and aged at least 4 years in oak barrels. Some might describe it as a testament to the never-fading expertise of the master blenders, along with being a natural balance of strength and smoothness. On the palate, you can experience traces of vanilla, clove, cinnamon, and candied fruit melding together for an exhilarating experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hennessy Paradis Imperial

Here, you have a truly unique blend created by Hennessy’s Master Blender Yann Fillioux in 2011, made of 35 to 130-year-old cognacs matured in seasoned old barrels. Only one out of one thousand cognacs are good enough to get in one of these bottles. The palate is filled with golden amber and flowery notes of jasmine and orange blossom, and virtually no wood, but rather hints of spice and florals in a delicate yet persistent style. It's packaged in a sophisticated crystal decanter designed by Stephanie Balini and features an 18-carat gold-plated label.

When speaking about it, Fillioux described the process of creating Paradis Imperial as “a quest to select the ultimate eaux-de-vies of the best quality possible, before maturing them to the point of elegance.” For him, it’s his ultimate legacy to the world, something that people would be able to enjoy even after he will no longer be the Master Blender!

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Grand Marnier 1880

Cuvée 1880 is a tribute to the beginning of Grand Marnier, when, in 1880, Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle began blending Cognac with oranges, which, while common today, were an absolute luxury at the turn of the 20th century. The Grand Marnier Cuvée 1880 is a distinctive blend of aged, premium XO Cognac made exclusively from Grande Champagne. With more Cognac in the nose of its taste profile, it is significantly less sweet than the Cuvée du Centenaire, while still incorporating wild tropical orange notes. Full of bold flavours!

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J. Dupont VSOP

J. Dupont Cognac represents a remarkable timeless family treasure where expertise and tradition meet. Each eaux-de-vie is distilled in small alembics and hand-selected by the master blender. The oldest barrels are over a century old, and only the most exceptional can aspire to be bottled. A classic premier-cru Cognac from Dupont, this VSOP is light, sweet, and fruity with notes of vanilla, caramel, and apples.