Hot on the heels of the whisk(e)y tasting mentioned previously, the Pretty Little Wife and I participated in a cognac tasting led by our Turkish bartender, Selami. The format was very similar. Selami poured us five liquors and talked us through some of the finer points of cognac in somewhat imperfect English.
When you ferment grain, you get beer. When you distill beer, you get whiskey. When you ferment fruit, you get wine. When you distill wine, you get brandy. When you produce and age brandy in Cognac, France, you get cognac.
First up was Hennessy VS. the VS stands for “very special” and indicates that the cognac was barrel aged for a minimum of two years. The rich amber color belied the harsh alcohol burn in the glass. Selami pointed out that the sweetness and lovely color came from caramel added to the blend and not from the barrel.
The second pour was Courviorssier VSOP, which stands for “very special old pale”. To carry the VSOP designation, the liquor must be aged for at least four years. Selami informed us that Courvoirssier blends liquors aged anywhere from four to fifteen years for their VSOP. There was a notable jump in quality from the VS to the VSOP. It was much less harsh and was starting to develop a bit of smoke and fruit flavor.
Pour number three was Courvoirssier XO (“extra old”). In order to be labeled XO, it must be age at least six years. Courvoirssier’s XO contains cognac aged from six to twenty years. This was even smoother than the VSOP and gave more well-developed fruit flavors with a lingering finish.
The fourth pour was Remy Martin XO. This was, hands down, the best straight cognac we tasted. It was exceptionally smooth with gentle smoke and fruit flavors that lingered long after the liquor was gone. Drinking this, I can see why people enjoy cognac.
The final pour was Grand Marnier, which is a 50/50 blend of cognac and orange liqueur. Prior to the tasting, I don’t think I’d ever had Grand Marnier straight. I was pleasantly surprised with how good it was neat. It was a little on the sweet side, but otherwise nicely balanced.
I won’t be giving up my bourbon any time soon, but I may be picking up a supplemental bottle of cognac when we go out to get our New Year’s champagne.