Pass the courvoisier // Short Cellar

Cognac isn't only for gangster rappers and dictators anymore

By Matthew Sullivan

On Thursday December 16th, 2010

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Short CellarWhat do dictator Kim Jong-il and hip-hop star Busta Rhymes have in common? Dyspepsia? Platform shoes? Anorexic hangers-on? Perhaps. But most importantly, both share a well-known love of cognac.

Since the time of Napoleon, cognac has been the drink of choice for plutocrats, despots, oligarchs and those who aspire to these admirable professions. And why not? Nothing tastes better at the conclusion of a successful meal and/or palace coup.

Cognac is simply the name given to brandy made in the exclusive Cognac region of western France. Brandy is wine that’s been distilled into a spirit, but it differs from other grape liquors like grappa because it is matured in wood, which gives it colour and complexity. For every year that a batch of brandy sleeps in the barrel, different flavours coalesce or fade. To create a full and well-rounded palate, the cellar masters of cognac blend various vintages together, but old barrels dominate the most expensive bottles.

Wherever there is conspicuous consumption, there is cognac. It’s being gulped down by the nouveau riche of Russia and China, not to mention wealthy a-list rappers. “It is true, when Monsieur Busta Rhymes featured Courvoisier in his video, with the many attractive ladies, our sales jumped by 20 percent,” said Pierre Szersnovicz, a director at Courvoisier, one of cognac’s four leading distillers.

If there is one positive sign for the world’s economic recovery, it is Courvoisier’s decision to release L’Essence, a new, ultra-premium cognac woven together from the oldest and best barrel selections that they could find. Treat yourself to a bottle; it’s about $3,000 and there are only 70 for sale in Canada. It is one of the gentlest and most graceful things I have ever sipped. At such an exalted price, however, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the raw taste of money.


The dos and don’ts of Cognac
How to treat a $3,000 bottle right

  • Don’t sip your cognac in a fishbowl-sized snifter; it distorts the bouquet and lifting all that heavy glass can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Cognac is best appreciated in a normal wine glass with a slight tulip shape.
  • Traditionally, cognac is warmed up by holding the snifter over a candle. This is alcohol abuse — heat gives the brandy a volatile burn that overwhelms the subtle flavours. Serve cognac at room temperature.
  • Once taken out of a barrel, cognac stops evolving. Since it doesn’t age, you can keep a closed bottle of cognac indefinitely and an open bottle for months. Store it upright and in a dark place.

Into the Short Cellar

HennessyHennessy Black Cognac
$75.65, LCBO #179457
Cognac is best after dinner, but it is also featured in some mean cocktails, such as the Sidecar (with orange liqueur and lemon juice). Black is designed especially for such mixes. With its light profile, it plays nicely with the other ingredients. This is a mellow, sweet cognac with striking notes of clove and blossoms. 90/100

CourvoisierCourvoisier XO Cognac
$219.95, LCBO #158865 [Ed. Note: No longer available]
An interesting by-product of Courvoisier’s release of the $3,200 L’Essence is that it makes the $220 XO Cognac seem inexpensive. In fact, the stupendous XO stands up to its big brother — it has a nearly perfect balance between youthful fruit and the mellow complexity of maturity. This is a silky triumph. 96/100