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weekendwarrior

A question for cognac enthusiasts

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I tried cognac for the first time at a relative's house last week and I still have the taste in my mouth. He didn’t tell me what brand it was and all I know is it went down extremely smooth. I went home that night and did some research online and found out big brand companies like Remi Martin, Courvoisier, and Hennessy use grades like VS, VSOP, and XO but traditional cognac houses don’t use grades. The average price for a 750 ml bottle of big brand XO was between $110 and $130 US dollars. I thought to myself, OK, so if I want good cognac I’m going to have to spend $130 max. But when I found these forums and read some of the posts I was a bit puzzled. It seems like all of the cognac drinkers stay away from those big brand houses.

So my question is how bad or good is an XO grade Courvoisier, Hennessy, or Remy Martin compared to a traditional house brand with the same price range? I also noticed those big brands carry even higher grade cognacs, branding them "Extra" with prices ranging from $269 for a Courvoisier Extra, $325 for a Remy Martin Extra, and $399 for a Hennessy Paradise Extra. Is it worth spending that much money for a 750ml bottle of cognac? Will I be satisfied if I went with an XO big brand or should I shell out the extra money and go for Extra Rare?


Edited by weekendwarrior (log)

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I'm usually quite content with VSOP (5-ish+ years in the barrel) grade cognac in general; It's smoother than a VS (3-ish+ years) but still has some wildness in it. They tend to hit my personal preference in terms of balance, price and utility in both cocktails and on it's own.

This isn't to say a serious XO (6-ish+ years, frequently in the teens or higher) is inferior, far from it. I've enjoyed sipping XO cognac, I just have a hard time convincing myself that I could justify turning it into Sidecar.

For what it's worth, I've enjoyed my experiences with Hennessy XO and Delamain Vesper. I've also heard good things about Hine Antique.

Edit: Oh, and Welcome to Egullet :smile:


Edited by J_Ozzy (log)

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In that personal tastes vary anyway, this is really something that you'll have to learn by trial and error. Most people have a large collection of bottles, because for one it's rare that you'll hit the one you like on the first try, and for another, you'll need to learn by comparison. It's an expensive hobby but then, so is wine collecting.

I don't know where you live, but if you have a restaurant with a nice cognac collection, you could always pay them a visit at the bar and experiment by the glass.


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

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I don't know where you live, but if you have a restaurant with a nice cognac collection, you could always pay them a visit at the bar and experiment by the glass.

This is absolutely the way to go about finding out what kind of Cognac (or wine or whiskey or or or) you like, especially if you are wanting to invest at the levels you're talking about here. I have been priveledged to taste, side-by-side, $125 and $380 bottlings from Hennessy, and I will say that you can tell a difference, though to say one is way better than the other is a bit of a stretch, it all comes down to a style preference. If I were going to spend $100 on a bottle of Cognac, I'd probably go for a bottle of Martell Cordon Bleu; Martel is the other big house you didn't name, and my personal favorite, style-wise. If you ask me, Covoursier wishes it tasted as good as Martell, at all levels. I've only tasted low and mid-grade items from Pierre Ferrand and Delamaine, but if those are any indicators, then the high end stuff is definitely worth investigating. I've tasted $40 bottles that I thought outstanding and $250 bottles I found a little pedestrian; as in most booze, price is not always a good indicator.

Hope this rambling was useful in some way

-Andy


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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The best advice really is to taste around. If you happen to be passing through NYC, make a point of stopping by the Brandy Library on North Moore St and sampling some of their wares.

They do flights of various spirits, from a tour of America's bourbons to an exploration of different styles and ages of cognacs, that are well thought out and showcase the differences within the spirits. Once you've figured out the style that appeals, talk to the folks there about other spirits that are in the same style.


Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Lucky you! I still remember my first real taste of cognac, and it was indeed a revelation. Personally, I find that in the lower price ranges I find the money better spent on other spirits (some top rhums can be had for under $60, and there are a lot of superb single-malt scotches in the $50-80 range). I personally never find VS or VSOP worth it for sipping in this context (obviously, mixing is another matter entirely). The big name XOs are usually quite good (the one which I've had the most often is Rémi Martin XO) and I don't think you'd be disapointed with any of these. Whenever I go to France, I always pick up a bottle of Otard 55, which is probably my favourite (although I've never spurged on some Louis XIII :biggrin: ).


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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I tried cognac for the first time at a relative's house last week and I still have the taste in my mouth. He didn’t tell me what brand it was and all I know is it went down extremely smooth. I went home that night and did some research online and found out big brand companies like Remi Martin, Courvoisier, and Hennessy use grades like VS, VSOP, and XO but traditional cognac houses don’t use grades. The average price for a 750 ml bottle of big brand XO was between $110 and $130 US dollars. I thought to myself, OK, so if I want good cognac I’m going to have to spend $130 max. But when I found these forums and read some of the posts I was a bit puzzled. It seems like all of the cognac drinkers stay away from those big brand houses.

So my question is how bad or good is an XO grade Courvoisier, Hennessy, or Remy Martin compared to a traditional house brand with the same price range? I also noticed those big brands carry even higher grade cognacs, branding them "Extra" with prices ranging from $269 for a Courvoisier Extra, $325 for a Remy Martin Extra, and $399 for a Hennessy Paradise Extra. Is it worth spending that much money for a 750ml bottle of cognac? Will I be satisfied if I went with an XO big brand or should I shell out the extra money and go for Extra Rare?

I am a cognac novice, but I have splurged on a bunch of armagnacs and cognacs recently--to learn and to enjoy. I've decided I prefer the smoother taste of cognac to the rougher but potentially more complex taste of armagnac. (Cognac goes through an additional distillation step, which results in a significant difference in the two brandies).

Right now I'm drinking Courvoisier XO. In my office I have Courvoisier Napoleon. I have been very impressed with these. They cost roughly $90 and $75. I consider them much better to my tastes than VS/VSOP of any brand. I do not like Courvoisier or Hennessey VSOP--it is too harsh. (In this price range I have had better luck with Pierre Ferrand).

At a price around $100/750 ml, Courvoisier XO is a wonderful beverage and a great value in my opinion. I can't compare it to the full range of XOs because I haven't tasted any other XO. But I can say that Courvoisier XO is clearly very good, and seems to be a good value compared to other beverages in the $100 price range. It has a smooth, aged taste. There is plenty of sweet desserty complexity, but there are no harsh notes at all. (I think if you are accustomed to having liquor in your mouth, this is liquid dessert.) Maybe this is just a style I enjoy, but I doubt you'd buy it and think you didn't get your money's worth. I can imagine cognacs being substantially more complex, but I can't imagine them being significantly smoother or instinctively enjoyable. I would think that past this age (20-35 year old cognac elements) and price range, you're paying for prestige and novelty. Perhaps I'm wrong.


Edited by eipi10 (log)

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I agree with thirtyoneknots: Martell Cordon Bleu is a great choice, and my own personal favorite (along with Martell XO Supreme) among the Big Four cognac houses. One can never go wrong with Cordon Bleu.

For something a little different but just as delicious in its own way, I recommend Pierre Ferrand Reserve Cognac--a little untraditional in its lack of caramel but one that has a great nose and clean taste.

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Just last week I finished off a liter bottle of Martell Cordon Bleu, along with my last bottle of Pierre Ferrand Reserve. Of course, I have a back-up bottle of the Cordon Bleu along with Martell XO Supreme, but I want to try something along the same lines but from another house, if possible. Any suggestions?

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Just last week I finished off a liter bottle of Martell Cordon Bleu, along with my last bottle of Pierre Ferrand Reserve. Of course, I have a back-up bottle of the Cordon Bleu along with Martell XO Supreme, but I want to try something along the same lines but from another house, if possible. Any suggestions?

Much cheaper (about $45-50 locally) but the Kelt VSOP is my favorite for "affordable" sipping cognac. Not as rich but similarly layered fruit expression to the Cordon Bleu. I find the Kelt XO, oddly, to be very blah...hot and somewhat unfocused. I'd rather take the VSOP any day, even if I was buying it with your money.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Thanks for the Kelt recommendation--it is definitely on my short list, and I'll remember to buy the VSOP over the XO.

Has anyone tried the Hardy cognacs? I'm interested to try the Napoleon and possibly the Noces d'Or. Another one I would like to try sometime is the Hine Antique--I've only heard wonderful things about that cognac.

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Oh, +1 on the Kelt VSOP. Love that stuff, even if the "tour du monde" bit (what with the shipping around the world in barrels on ships) is perhaps a bit hokey in modern times. A great product in all events, and an absolute staple in my home bar.


Cheers,

Mike

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."

- Bogart

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Thanks for the Kelt recommendation--it is definitely on my short list, and I'll remember to buy the VSOP over the XO.

Has anyone tried the Hardy cognacs? I'm interested to try the Napoleon and possibly the Noces d'Or. Another one I would like to try sometime is the Hine Antique--I've only heard wonderful things about that cognac.

The Hardy VS is my got-to for mixing at home since it is delicious and goes on sale with some regularity. I confess to not having tried anything higher but they tend to go on sale quite often as well and I may snag a VSOP next time I see it. The way I look at it, Hardy is so inexpensive that even if the VSOP is "only" as good as the VS, it's still not really a waste of $25-30 since thats what it takes to get a bottle of VS from one of the bigger houses to begin with.

Speaking of which, I've seen Martell VSOP with a red label around latelf in the low 30s...anybody ever tried this? I've been thinking of picking it up since it's only a few $$ more than the VS and I love me some Martell. Seems to be a peculiarly low price for VSOP Cognac from a major producer but I'm certainly not complaining.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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It gets even more expensive, like the Hardy Perfection that's 150 years old and goes for $3000 a bottle. They have it on the menu at CityZen in DC for $450 a pour (a shot, maybe more?). I saw a guy order three of them. I think most of the major houses have bottles in this price range.

Anyway, that aside, have you tried armagnac and non-cognac brandy like Spanish brandy?

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Yes, actually I have tried both and find them to be superb, at least the ones I tried. Some twenty years ago I had a bottle of both Larressingle XO and Sempe VSOP armagnacs and really enjoyed the fire from both of those, although I thought the Sempe was a little more rounded. I really haven't drunk any armagnac since then.

Regarding the Spanish brandies, I have always had a couple of bottles of Cardenal Mendoza and Gran Duque d'Alba since trying them both after dinner one night at Brennan's in Houston. I can't imagine a better style of brandy to go with the fine Creole cuisine of Brennan's, or, for that matter, a fine cigar. Both brandies were delicious after the meal of buffalo tenderloin and turtle soup. I can't wait until Brennan's reopens this year--it burned down the night Hurricane Ike struck Houston in 2008 and its patrons have had a long wait!

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Thanks for the Kelt recommendation--it is definitely on my short list, and I'll remember to buy the VSOP over the XO.

Has anyone tried the Hardy cognacs? I'm interested to try the Napoleon and possibly the Noces d'Or. Another one I would like to try sometime is the Hine Antique--I've only heard wonderful things about that cognac.

The Hardy VS is my got-to for mixing at home since it is delicious and goes on sale with some regularity. I confess to not having tried anything higher but they tend to go on sale quite often as well and I may snag a VSOP next time I see it. The way I look at it, Hardy is so inexpensive that even if the VSOP is "only" as good as the VS, it's still not really a waste of $25-30 since thats what it takes to get a bottle of VS from one of the bigger houses to begin with.

Speaking of which, I've seen Martell VSOP with a red label around lately in the low 30s...anybody ever tried this? I've been thinking of picking it up since it's only a few $$ more than the VS and I love me some Martell. Seems to be a peculiarly low price for VSOP Cognac from a major producer but I'm certainly not complaining.

I've been disappointed in my bottle of Martell VSOP. It's a little too nutty, and not very round in flavour to my tastes, while being unnecessarily hot. It might be fine in a cocktail, though, and if you're a fan of the house then it's likely worth a shot. I think, more than anything, it's simply emblematic of the larger houses using younger & younger spirit to fill out their VSOPs.

The Hine Antique is superb; my friends and I rated it level with Hennessy Paradis. Another house that I would look into is Delamain; I've only had their Vesper, but it is excellent.

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Thanks for the Kelt recommendation--it is definitely on my short list, and I'll remember to buy the VSOP over the XO.

Has anyone tried the Hardy cognacs? I'm interested to try the Napoleon and possibly the Noces d'Or. Another one I would like to try sometime is the Hine Antique--I've only heard wonderful things about that cognac.

The Hardy VS is my got-to for mixing at home since it is delicious and goes on sale with some regularity. I confess to not having tried anything higher but they tend to go on sale quite often as well and I may snag a VSOP next time I see it. The way I look at it, Hardy is so inexpensive that even if the VSOP is "only" as good as the VS, it's still not really a waste of $25-30 since thats what it takes to get a bottle of VS from one of the bigger houses to begin with.

Speaking of which, I've seen Martell VSOP with a red label around lately in the low 30s...anybody ever tried this? I've been thinking of picking it up since it's only a few $$ more than the VS and I love me some Martell. Seems to be a peculiarly low price for VSOP Cognac from a major producer but I'm certainly not complaining.

I've been disappointed in my bottle of Martell VSOP. It's a little too nutty, and not very round in flavour to my tastes, while being unnecessarily hot. It might be fine in a cocktail, though, and if you're a fan of the house then it's likely worth a shot. I think, more than anything, it's simply emblematic of the larger houses using younger & younger spirit to fill out their VSOPs.

The Hine Antique is superb; my friends and I rated it level with Hennessy Paradis. Another house that I would look into is Delamain; I've only had their Vesper, but it is excellent.

Another vote for Delamaine. I have also only had one of their bottlings (Pale & Dry) but it is terriffic if you like the richer style like Martell. Only downside is they don't seem to have anything below the $60-80 range.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Another thing worth trying is armagnac. It's similar to cognac, except it's distilled in column stills instead of pot stills and it's a lot lower profile and usually a lot cheaper for the same quality. To me, Delord 25 year Armagnac was a revelation.

In terms of actual cognac, I like Maison Surrenne Petite Champagne Cognac. I use it, or Delord Napolean (depending on whats available) for mixing. I prefer the cognac for mixing and the armagnac for sipping, but your mileage may vary.

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I am no cognac expert, but I've had a few bottles from Pierre Ferrand at various price points ($40 - $120) and I've always been impressed, both with the quality in and of itself and with value for money at each level.


John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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I'll weigh in with a little bit of experience here. All of the big-name XO's I've had have been excellent. I don't think I've had a VS or VSOP I could sip with pleasure. One name I haven't seen in the thread yet (although I may have missed it) is Germain-Robin, out of California. They make excellent brandy that matches up well with Cognac. Everything I've had of theirs above their basic bottling is quite nice.

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Ferrand Ambre is a very good gateway cognac. My current favorite (as a treat) is the Germain-Robin XO from California, though.

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I ended up with a bottle of Courvoisier Cognac Erte, which now retails for $1,500. I'm down to the last four ounces or so, and don't know what I'll do when it's gone! It sells on eBay for ~ $400 and up.

Man, this is some wonderful, smooth, delightful Cognac! As I recall, some of the blend goes back to 1893 or so.


Carpe Carp: Seize that fish!

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