In a world of drinking that seems to be eternally focused on whiskey, it’s good to take a moment and consider the pleasures of cognac. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s essentially aged French brandy made in the region of France that surrounds its namesake town. The production process is as follows: wine is distilled in alembic copper stills into eau-de-vie, which is then aged in the cellars of the cognac houses and blended. There are several designations that indicate the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend: VS (two years), VSOP (four years), and XO (ten years). Despite its reputation as being the ultimate French spirit, cognac is actually relatively unpopular in its homeland. But it does big business around the world, with the U.S. and Asia leading the way. And cognac plays an important role in cocktail history, with classics like the Sazerac originally using it instead of rye. Here are five new and classic cognac expressions (and one armagnac, just for fun) to drink now.
Remy Martin Tercet – $110
Remy Martin’s new Tercet expression is, according to the brand, inspired by three important people at the cognac house: Cellar Master Baptiste Loiseau, Wine Master Francis Nadeau, and Master Distiller Jean-Marie Bernard. The intention was to create something that follows the long tradition of Remy Martin while standing out from the style that it usually adheres to. What all this results in is a rich grape jam nose, and spice, cherry, and oak notes on the palate. This is an excellent sipping cognac that you could also make a tasty cocktail with.
Plume Frapin – $3,500
This new luxury release from Cognac Frapin is for high rollers only, with a hefty price tag that is out of reach for most of us. But there’s a reason why it’s so expensive: Plume Frapin is made up of eau-de-vie that was aged for over 60 years in the house’s cellars, resulting in a dark orange liquid that is full of notes of dried fruit, oak, tobacco, and candied cherry flavors. It comes in a decanter topped with an 18-carat rose gold stopper and some feathers, which puts a pin in just how elegant this cognac is said to be.
Ferrand 10 Generations – $60
Maison Ferrand has released many high quality cognac expressions over the past few years. The latest is Ferrand 10 Generations, a Grande Champagne Cognac made only from Ugni Blanc grapes that is meant as a tribute to the history of this family of cognac producers. It was aged in French oak barrels (20% of which were Sauternes casks) for an undisclosed amount of time. The color is light and so is the style, with ripe berries on the nose and sweet citrus on the palate giving it an almost lemon-honey flavor. This cognac finds complexity without being heavy, and would be a good introduction for those who are new to the category.
D’usse XO – $200
It’s not like Jay-Z needs any more accolades or money, but his D’usse Cognac brand is not too shabby. In fact, the XO expression is decidedly and completely un-shabby; it’s rich, deep, and complex with notes of caramel-covered fruit and ribbons of grape-infused treacle, all of which make this a very slow sipper. The dark black bottle is a bit showy – the liquid within could certainly stand up just as well in a clear glass decanter. But if you’ve skipped this brand up until now, go ahead and give it a try and you will not be disappointed.
Camus Borderies Single Estate VSOP – $53
VSOP is sort of the affordable sweet spot denomination of cognac — it’s a step above VS, but not yet reaching the often exorbitant price range of XO and beyond. The eau-de-vie in VSOP must be aged for at least four years. In the case of this single-estate release from Camus, the grapes come exclusively from Camus’ vineyards in the Borderies appellation. The liquid is bright and fruit-forward, with strong vanilla notes and just a touch of oak and tannin. This is another cognac that has a lot of versatility — you can drink it neat, on the rocks, or mix it into a cocktail. Camus likes to tout its “Intensity” production process, which focuses on extracting the most aromatic qualities of the eau-de-vie. And if you are looking for something a bit older, try the XO which launched last spring.
Domaine D’Aurensan Armagnac – $130
This last one is not a cognac; it’s an armagnac, which is made in the Armagnac region of France using column instead of pot stills, but we’re including here because armagnac seems to be often ignored by Americans and this is something special. PM Spirits, a company that sources and releases a variety of different spirits, is the force behind this single-cask expression. It was aged for a decade in Gascon oak, and according to the company, the angel’s share and some leakage left only 110 out the original 420 liters put into the cask. The armagnac is dark brown and has a delightfully funky nose and palate, astringent with almost savory notes of grapefruit, chalk, and ripe grapes.
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