Spending around 700,000$ on French brandy each year Kim Jong Il – one of the world’s former most powerful leaders – is just one of the many people that have discovered the true quality of Cognac.

Just like many other of the world’s best discoveries the birth of Cognac was nothing but pure serendipity. In the 16th century Dutch settlers came to the cognac region to purchase goods including wine. In order to preserve the wine on their trip home, as well as to reduce cargo volume and thus save money, the settlers started distilling it into eau-de-vie (eau-de-vie translates to “water of life” and is the base spirit of Cognac before it’s aged in barrels). It did not take long before the Dutch realized that this brandewijn (literally burnt wine) would improve with age and become an even more elegant and smooth spirit. This was the birth of brandy and there are now six growth areas designated for producing Cognac (listed in descending order of quality): Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires.

V.S. (Very special) / *** (three stars):  2½ years minimum
V.S.O.P. / V.O. (very old) / Reserve:  4½ years minimum
Napoléon / X.O. (Extra Old):
 6½ years minimum
Hors d’Âge (no age) / Vieille Reserve / Extra
 6½ years minimum

1. #8 hit – HENNESSEY XO
  ON THE PALATE: Roasted Nuts, Leather, White Pepper.

VERDICT: Whether your devotion lies with the masculine or feminine Cognacs I urge you to try Hennessey XO. The floral notes are toned down while the oak grip is very noticeable. In line with the woodiness you have a very delicious bed of both nuts and leathery notes that, in my opinion, separates this Cognac from so many other generics.

2. #16 hit – MARTELL Cordon Bleu
ON THE PALATE: Tropical Fruits, Oak, Vanilla.

VERDICT: Cordon Bleu should be in any Cognac enthusiast’s collection. I guarantee you that this is as smooth eaux-de-vies gets. It has the perfect balance of sweet fruits and oak and you don’t have to spend a half paycheck to get it (you can find it around 100 bucks I reckon).

3. #24 hit – MARTELL XO
  ON THE PALATE: Vanilla, Dark Fruits, Baked Banana.

VERDICT: It definitely deserved its silver medal at the IWSC last year (2012) but I still don’t think it can compete with Hennessey XO or even Martell Cordon Bleu.

4. #22 hit – REMY MARTIN XO Excellence
  ON THE PALATE: Exotic Spices, Dried Fruits, Vanilla.

VERDICT: I guess the saying “all dressed up and nowhere to go” would perfectly fit the description of this cognac. Excellence it is not.

5. #21 hit – RAGNAUD ABOURIN NO. 10 VSOP  
  ON THE PALATE: Spicy Tannins, Oak, Dried Fruits.

VERDICT: The house of Ragnaud-Sabourin has existed since 1850 and is currently run by 3 generations of women. All editions produced by this family have matured as vintage cognacs meaning there is no blending. Definitely one of my favorite VSOPs.

6. #29 hit – MAXIME TRIJOL Elegance
  ON THE PALATE: Pears, Fruits, Vanilla.

VERDICT: When comparing this to the available range of V.S.O.P.s I find it slightly superior to most. That being said you can get a cheap XO (but not necessarily of better quality) for the price of a single Maxime Trijol Elegance.

7. #35 hit – MEUKOW XO
  ON THE PALATE: Apricot, Orange, Oak.

VERDICT: Meukow claimes to be the fifth largest Cognac house and many people think that this XO is superior in taste to some of the other big houses like Hennessey, Martell and Remy Martin. Personally I couldn’t disagree more. I find this Cognac very disappointing considering its age.



 8. #70 hit – CHABANNEAU XO
 Chabanneau ON THE PALATE: Toasted Marshmallows, Toffee, Wood.

VERDICT: Very smooth and traditional flavors, nothing surprising here. As a whole it is more on the sweet than oaky side. The low price also makes it attractive and I would recommend it if you just need a plain Cognac and are not out to impress anyone.

9. #17 hit – FRAPIN VSOP
  ON THE PALATE: Spring Grass, Citrus, Vanilla.

VERDICT: This is a very gentle and refreshing cognac that rises above most V.S.O.P.s out there. The alcoholic punch that often accommodates younger Cognacs is more or less absent which almost makes you believe this was a XO. Where the apples are hiding however is beyond me…

10. #7 hit – CAMUS VSOP Elegance
  ON THE PALATE: Floral notes, Fruity, Vanilla.

VERDICT: The Camus house was founded 1863 and uses grapes from the Borderies Cognac area – one of the smallest regions in the Cognac region. Considering that it is a VSOP and is rather harsh I am slightly impressed by this Gognac. That said I would still prefer it as a cocktail mixer.


3 responses to “Cognac

  1. I’ve been enjoying brandies (particularly Cognacs) for more then 45 years. I strongly suggest you try Delamain. IMO it is by far the finest Cognac for the money…..period!

    • Thanks for the tip Steve! I have been looking at Delamain XO for a long time now but never bought it. I guess it’s about time:)

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