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The best XO Cognac – eight bottles to try

With its long ageing, XO is a quintessential style for Cognac lovers to enjoy. Richard Woodard recommends a selection of bottles including Hennessy, Hine and Frapin, as well as some great value choices

For many people around the globe, Cognac’s status as a luxury lifestyle statement –  and the world’s leading brandy style – hangs upon the quality of its XO expressions.

Until 2018, you could label a Cognac as XO after only six years of ageing, but now the minimum period of maturation is a decade. In reality, this made little difference to most quality-conscious distillers, because they were already ageing their eaux-de-vie for well over 10 years anyway.

Creating these XO styles is the point at which the great Cognac terroir of Grande and Petite Champagne comes into its own. Those deep, chalky soils help to create a distillate that rewards patience and long years in oak – whether produced by one of the big, multinational-owned Cognac houses, or by a small farm operation using only the fruit of its own vineyards.

Best XO Cognacs

Bisquit & Dubouché XO

A recently relaunched XO sourced from Grande and Petite Champagne, this is a Cognac to woo whisky lovers, with smoky oak, dried fruit and stewed plum, moving into slightly austere tobacco leaf, clove and liquorice. At the richer and more wood-driven end of the spectrum – and a fine example of that style. Alc 40%

Château de Montifaud XO

A family producer – six generations of the Vallets have farmed here – and an XO that showcases the sometimes overshadowed Petite Champagne sub-region. Limestone-rich soils produce a Cognac of finesse and delicacy – very fruity, undercut by savoury light spice and a beguiling nuttiness. Light rancio notes hint at the inclusion of some decades-old eaux-de-vie. Alc 40%

Delamain Pale & Dry Centenaire XO

A new incarnation of this 100-year-old classic, with a higher abv, a smaller bottle and notably more intense aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, merging into lip-smacking tropical fruit and citrus notes. Creamy Madagascan vanilla, a glorious texture and a supremely long finish. Retains all the harmony and charm of the original. Alc 42%

Frapin Château de Fontpinot XO

Frapin is something of an XO specialist – the roster of expressions runs into double figures – but this single property Cognac remains the house’s benchmark, and superbly encapsulates the house style. Pressed flowers, light dried apricot, then soft vanilla and gently roasted almond. Perfectly balanced and utterly seamless. Alc 41%

Hennessy XO

Maurice Hennessy is reputed to have created the Extra Old (XO) term more than 150 years ago, and this remains, for many, the epitome of the style. We’re leaving delicacy behind here and moving into powerful, rich and spicy territory, with lots of wood-driven smoke and tangy, dried fruit. Dark chocolate, clove and peppercorn come through on a robust and well-structured palate. Alc 40%

Hine Antique XO

Like Delamain’s Pale & Dry, this old favourite has recently celebrated its 100th birthday, and time hasn’t diminished its superlative quality one jot. Hine’s vinous style comes to the fore here: all delicacy and finesse, but with a deceptive structure and evolved character from the inclusion of decades-old eaux-de-vie. Alc 40%

Jean Fillioux Grande Réserve XO

An independent family domaine with a link to successive Hennessy Master Distillers, Jean Fillioux has about 20ha of vineyard in the heart of Grande Champagne. Bottled at an unusually high strength, this has great intensity and complexity, with more flavours leaping from the glass the longer you leave it: peaches in syrup, orange blossom, dark honey and cigar humidor. Alc 44%

Paul Giraud Vieille Réserve XO

Stunning value from a 42ha Grande Champagne estate that is farmed organically, distilling all its eaux-de-vie on the lees for greater fragrance and texture. This is pure tasting pleasure, with honeyed peach and apricot undercut by a little clove and ginger. The sweeter elements are always held in check by toasted, nutty notes and an unmistakable tang of rancio. Alc 40%

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