Cognac boasts some of the most famous luxury brands in the world: Courvoisier, Hennessy, Louis XIII. But that, I suspect, is precisely why some epicures don’t feel drawn to it – it’s dominated by names so big and so lustrous they threaten to eclipse the drink itself. Which is a shame, as the best cognacs have as much variety, nuance and downright deliciousness as any single malt.
Hermitage Cognac is dedicated to ferreting out rare, single-estate cognacs from under-the-radar producers. You might not know the names of the houses they source from, but if you want to witness how beautifully a cognac can age, Hermitage is the place to go. At a tasting earlier this year I was particularly impressed by the Hermitage Segonzac 45yo (£343 for 70cl), a cognac that combines mature richness with those tropical/floral notes that often emerge, unexpectedly, in dark spirits several decades old. Hermitage Marie Louise (£1,732 for a one-litre decanter – only 50 decanters released), which is an amazing 60 years old, is aromatic and incense-y, with a finish that leaves your mouth feeling, in the words of managing director David Baker, “like it’s been lined with velvet”.
I’ve also been a long-time follower of Frapin, a family-owned house in Grande Champagne (arguably cognac’s top cru) that makes vintage and single-estate cognacs of great finesse. New for this winter is Frapin Millésime 1990 (£140 for 70cl), a 27yo cognac made entirely from grapes picked in Les Gabloteaux vineyard in its 314-hectare domaine. (Most cognacs are a – very artful – blend of vintages and crus, so this level of specificity is quite unusual.) This cognac’s bouquet alone is fabulous: musky jasmine, vanilla pod, golden marmalade, pink peppercorns, sharp Cape gooseberry. On the palate it’s fine but complex, with notes of ripe stone fruit, tea rose, almond and a dry, tobacco-leaf finish. It’s limited to just 1,300 bottles.
Cognac makes a very fine cocktail too. At the Corinthia Hotel’s Bassoon Bar, a deco-style lounge splendidly revamped by Marcis Dzelzainis, beverage director of Sager + Wilde, cognac is the backbone of a drinks list inspired by New Orleans classics, each one showing a different facet to the spirit. A Sazerac made with Maxime Trijol and laced with rose and ambrette, a seed with a floral/musky character, draws out its spicy notes; a hi-ball of Rémy Martin VSOP, citrus and sandalwood soda emphasises its fruitier side; and a cocktail made with brioche liqueur and Laurent Perrier celebrates cognac at its most toasty. Dzelzainis says he is also a “big fan” of Fanny Fougerat cognac, which he describes as “fresh, light and clean – a real antidote to the idea of cognac as a fusty spirit only drunk by old men with cigars.”