A good Cognac isn’t just for Christmas – and it isn’t only for after-dinner sipping either. A top-quality VS or VSOP is also an excellent base for a refreshing aperitif or a palate-sharpening cocktail.
You can keep it simple with ice and tonic, or dial up the flavour by mixing your favourite Cognac with ginger ale.
Cocktail lovers might want to move into more sophisticated territory by mixing a zesty Sidecar or replacing whiskey with Cognac for a twist on a Manhattan. Hell, if you’re feeling flush, use an XO to create a hedonistically rich and decadent Vieux Carré.
Whether you’re buying a gift for a loved one or restocking your own drinks cabinet for the festive season, it’s worth remembering that Cognac can also surprise in terms of its value for money. And not only among the lower VS and VSOP classifications.
The market forces that have driven up prices for aged single malt whisky have also made decades-old Cognacs from boutique producers suddenly appear affordable by comparison. What’s more, when it comes to sipping and contemplation, these great spirits are among the world’s best.
Best Cognacs for Christmas
Bache Gabrielsen American Oak
New-wave Cognac is now taking many forms, and Bache Gabrielsen is one of the more innovative houses out there. This spends several years in traditional Limousin casks before six months or so in new Tennessee oak, marrying conventional aromas of vanilla and hazelnut with sweet coconut and bright pineapple. A Cognac to woo whisky fans. Alcohol 40%
Bisquit & Dubouché VSOP
Previously known simply as Bisquit, this historic house has passed through a few pairs of corporate hands in recent years, before being given its original name of Bisquit & Dubouché by the Campari Group last year. Now in a swanky new bottle, this is a great all-rounder of a VSOP, combining warm citrus fruit, gentle spice and a honeyed mid-palate with more delicate aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle. Alc 40%
Camus Ile de Ré Fine Island
The concept of terroir in Cognac is simultaneously vital – think of the cachet attached to Grande Champagne – and underexploited. That’s slowly changing thanks to products like this. It’s not the most complex Cognac you’ll ever try, but it’s a fascinating exploration of vineyards and cellars on the Atlantic Ile de Ré. Showing great freshness, with elegant white stone fruit and lip-smacking salinity. Alc 40%
Delamain Pléiade Collection Apogée Ancestral
Delamain’s high-end Pléiade collection celebrates provenance and the sharing of every conceivable detail of how the individual Cognacs are made. Not this one though – all the house knows is that it’s a Grande Champagne cask that’s about 60 years old, and probably made of wider-grain Tronçais oak. But the liquid speaks for itself: elegance and power in equal measure, with red fruit, spice, leather and a big anise finish. Alc 45.4%
Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2012
The fifth and latest edition of Hine’s line-up of relatively youthful Grande Champagne Cognacs from the house’s own vineyard at Bonneuil. As expressive as ever, with fragrant vine flower on the nose, then apricot and peach on the palate, supplemented by drier notes of pecan and light coffee. Fascinating to compare with earlier bottlings, if you can track them down. Alc 40%
Ferrand Renegade Barrel No3 Jamaican Rum
Technically speaking, an ‘eau de vie de vin’, because (for now, at least) you’re not allowed to mature Cognac in rum casks. Get past the semantics and you’ll find an exuberant and appropriately tropical glassful. Notes of black banana, guava and tangerine zest, plus cinnamon, nutmeg and roasted coffee. Maybe not one for traditionalists, but still lots of fun to drink. Alc 48.2%
Hermitage 20 Year Old Grande Champagne
Cognacs from Grande Champagne sometimes need several decades in cask to reveal their full depth and concentration. But this superb example from Cognac hunter David Baker’s Hermitage operation shows what can be accomplished in a ‘mere’ couple of decades. A small still and a damp cellar help to create remarkable depth and a fabulous mouthfeel. The silky palate boasts ever-changing flavours of tropical fruit, tobacco leaf, candied orange, coffee and walnut. Alc 42%
Jean Fillioux Très Vieux XO Extra
Cognac Jean Fillioux has distant familial links to the Master Blenders of Hennessy. However this is a very different, decidedly boutique operation with a 25ha vineyard in the heart of Grande Champagne. Five generations have honed a character that is highly aromatic, but with great depth and concentration. Expect notes of poached pear, quince, rich spice and roasted almond. For an XO of this pedigree, it’s also ridiculously good value. Alc 40%
Martell Cordon Bleu
Edouard Martell’s 1912 classic was served on the maiden voyage of the RMS Queen Mary in 1936, and the first Concorde flight to New York City in 1977 – and it’s not hard to see why. More than 150 eaux-de-vie combine to create an endlessly complex, perfectly poised mingling of fresh orchard fruits with rich coffee bean, baking spices and dark honey. One of the great Cognac creations. Alc 40%
Rémy Martin XO
The bottle’s a bit bling for my taste, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The style is heavily influenced by Grande Champagne sourcing and the weight of some muscly but not excessive oak. The epitome of rich, opulent XO Cognac, with oodles of ripe tropical fruit, vanilla, drying tannin, festive spices and just a little anise to provide some lift. Alc 40%