Cognac is the versatile spirit you should be drinking.


Have you added Cognac to your regular spirits rotation?  If you’ve hesitated because you think it’s too fancy or stodgy, let me stop you right there. Cognac starts out as grapes, most often Ugni Blanc that are distilled twice. It’s a brandy that originates in the town of Cognac in France and it’s produced using some of the oldest and strictest quality control protocols in the world. The history of Cognac goes back hundreds of years as do most of the rules. Much of the equipment utilized today is similar to what was used in the 16th Century.

There are six growing areas within Cognac and all of the fruit has to come from some combination of them. At a minimum to be considered Cognac the distillate has to be aged in oak for 2 years. After aging in barrel blends are assembled to produce different expressions of Cognac based on each house’s style. There are three aging designations. Unlike say a tawny port whose age statement reflects the average age of what’s in the bottle, with Cognac it reflects the minimum age of every drop in the bottle. Because Cognac production begins with grape growing, vineyard sites, soil type, weather and more influence the end product. This makes the role of the master blender crucial as he monitors many barrels of aging Cognac carefully to choose them for use at right time and in the right designation to maintain both quality and that given Cognac house’s style.

V.S. Must have been aged in oak for a minimum of two years. This designation accounts for half of the Cognac sold in the world.

V.S.O.P. The youngest Cognac in these blends has to have spent 4 years in oak.

X.O. Must be aged in oak for at least 10 years. This tier makes up a mere 10% of Cognac in the world but is often the most talked about and contemplated.

Like whiskey, Cognac has a myriad of potential uses. Both classic cocktails and new creations can benefit from the use of Cognac as a signature ingredient. Depending on the drink you’re looking to craft you can choose a designation that suits the intended flavor profile. Like the other great spirits of the world, Cognac is also enjoyable sipped on its own. Tulip glasses which allow the aromas in Cognac to be controlled are the recommended vessels to sip from. If you’re making cocktails, default to the correct glass for the drink in question. Most importantly Cognac is delicious and fun. Grab a bottle in your price range that sounds appealing and taste it a few different ways. Better yet plan a party with a handful of friends where you pool your resources and grab three to five bottles to taste side by side. Tasting different expressions of a spirit side by side is the absolute best way to learn what you like.

Some favorites:

Courvoisier V.S. Cognac ($25)

This is one of the most recognizable and readily accessible Cognacs on store shelves. Don’t let its wide availability and friendly price fool you, this is an appealing expression and a workhorse Cognac, whether you want to sip it neat or mix it into a cocktail. The complex nose is filled with fresh and dried fruit aromas and bits of spice. Apricot, peach and hints of mango are evident through the palate. The finish shows off continued spice and hints of toasty oak.

A.E. Dor Cognac V.S.O.P. ($50)

Evocative fruit aromas are accented by hints of dust. Flavors of dried mango, brewed tea and a touch of citrus are all in play. The long mellifluous finish shows off depth and a hint of astringency. The complexity and elegance are what stand out most about this Cognac.
Hine Rare V.S.O.P. ($65)

Citrus, Anjou pear, and apple aromas nearly leap from the nose. Hints of pink grapefruit, mesquite honey and toasted pecan drive the layered palate. The finish is long, profound and delicate with layer after layer revealing itself as you contemplate this Cognac’s charms.  This V.S.O.P. is simply a knockout. There’s a level of nuance and sophistication that belies the modest price point. Hine Rare V.S.O.P is a truly beautiful and exceptional sipper.

Cognac Frapin Chateau de Fontpinot X.O. ($140)

This X.O. was produced from grapes sourced in a single vineyard.  White flower and orange zest aromas lead the nose.  References to dusty baker’s chocolate, stone fruit and spice line the dense palate. The firm finish has length and depth to spare. Spice notes and linger fruit flavors resonate. There’s an impression of acidity that starts from the first whiff and carries through the last sip. It provides a freshness and vigor that makes it quite difficult to stop sipping this offering one you begin.

L’Aigle de Delamain X.O. ($200)

There’s a restraint to the aromatics here that belies the depth and complexity of the overall profile.  Bits of hazelnut and nectarine are the most apparent of those subtle aromas. The firm palate is loaded with dried stone fruit, dusty baker’s chocolate, white pepper and a wisp of citrus. The finish is long, dense and impressive with all of the flavors reverberating. This isn’t a Cognac to be taken lightly; savor it in good company over a long evening.

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