Cognac: Flying Vie

January 5th, 2011

Photo by Massimo Gammacurta
Originally published in Guitar Aficionado, Fall 2010 Issue – Buy Issue

Many connoisseurs consider Cognac the humble grapevine’s most extravagant offering. It takes its name from the southwestern French town at the center of the six regions where the spirit’s grapes are cultivated. Cognac is distilled from white wines made primarily from Colombard, Folle Blanche or Ugni Blanc grapes (with occasional variations like Folignan or Sémillon). Years of aging in Limousin or Tronçois oak adds deep, complex, sensual flavors to the doubly distilled eaux-de-vie. A bottle of Henri IV Dudognon Heritage Cognac Grande Champagne currently holds the record as the world’s most expensive alcoholic beverage at $2 million a bottle. The following Cognacs offer similar luxury for a fraction of that price.

Delamain Vesper Grande Champagne

Produced entirely in the Grande Champagne region, Delamain Vesper is a blend of various Grande Champagne Cognacs averaging 35 years of age that are married and aged an additional two years, resulting in smooth, complex flavors with a lingering finish.

Nose: Oak, clove, vanilla bean, dried fig
Palate: Orange marmalade, marshmallow, nutmeg

Martell Extra Fine XO

Launched in 2005, Martell Extra Fine XO, which features eaux-de-vie from Borderies and Grande Champagne, is one of the newest blends from the region’s oldest great Cognac house, founded in 1715.

Nose: Marzipan, fig, dried apple
Palate: Cola, brown sugar, sour cherry, crème brûlée shell

Hennessy Paradis Extra

Hennessy blends more than 200 of the finest eaux-de-vie—some over 100 years old—to produce a truly luxurious Cognac bursting with elegant flavors, graceful power and an outrageously smooth palate.

Nose: Sweet wood resin, pine, buckwheat honey
Palate: Bittersweet chocolate, white pepper, vanilla, hazelnut, orange blossom

Courvoisier XO Imperial

Courvoisier was allegedly Napoleon Bonaparte’s Cognac of choice, and the distillery’s XO (Extra Old) Imperial—a blend of eaux-de-vie aged between 20 and 35 years and voted “the world’s best XO Cognac” at the 1994 International Wine and Spirits Competition—is certainly worthy of an emperor.

Nose: Cigar box, violet flowers, roasted walnut
Palate: Spicy amber, bitter almond, mandarin orange peel, Assam tea, lychee

Rémy Martin 1989 A.O.C. Grande Champagne

Rémy Martin’s first single-harvest Cognac since 1965, 1989 A.O.C. Grande Champagne is made from Ugni Blanc grapes from four estate-owned vineyards distilled into eaux-de-vie and aged 18 years in Limousin oak.

Nose: Ethereal, light blend of saffron, rose petal and ginger
Palate: Concentrated, tangerine, Tellicherry peppercorn, Kenyan coffee, acacia flower