AGT Wine Magazine

Cognac Tasting 27th May 2005

Tasting Notes by Franz Scheurer


Our panel Andy Harris, Staris Latkas, Peter Thomson and Franz Scheurer meet on a Friday to taste and compare a balloon of Cognacs; a drink named after the Roman general Comnus.


Arranged by age, style and weight, scored with the 10-point system.


The region of Cognac is divided into six growing areas, with Grande Champagne having the chalkiest soil and the mildest sub-climate and producing the most sought-after spirits, followed closely by Petite Champagne. The Borderies area has clay soils, producing nutty spirits, whilst the Bois areas (Fins Bois, Bon Bois and Bois Communs/Ordinaires) have marl overlaying the chalky subsoil, producing more robust spirits. Cognac used to be aged exclusively in oak from the Limousin, but as this is rapidly becoming scarce, it is now predominately aged in oak from the forest of Tronçais northeast of Limoges.


The age of Cognac during maturation is measured by the ‘Compte’ system. This system measures the age in years, from the end of the distillation season (1st April, following vintage). Out of the still it is deemed to be Compte 0 and on the 1st April the following year it becomes Compte 1; Compte 2 the following year and so on to a maximum of Compte 10. A VS Cognac must be at least Compte 2, a VSOP at least Compte 4, and a Compte 6 may be described as a Réserve or Napoleon. XO is now a minimum of Compte 8 (prior to 2000 it was Compte 6).


All bottled Cognacs are a blend of a number of different distillation batches, and most-often a blend of ages.  Typically most value-for-money Cognacs will contain Cognacs between three and seven years old, VSOP Cognacs between five and fifteen years and XO Cognacs will contain spirits up to 40 years old.


Rémy Martin VS, 40%, $ 51.95, Score: 4.5

An entry-level Cognac from Petite Champagne

Colour: Honey with caramel highlights

Nose: Honey, stone fruit and strong caramel / burnt sugar aromas

Palate: Caramel is confirmed with a fierce alcohol at first, slowly softening into a burnt rubber and medicinal flavours
Comment: Use as a mixer or a flambé spirit


Rémy Martin VSOP, 40%, $ 69.95, Score: 5.8

Good value for money Fine Champagne

Colour: Dark honey with a plummy rim

Nose: An immediate hit of aeroplane glue transforms into egg yolk and ginger bread spice notes

Palate: Still quite alcoholic with some bitter elements confirming the spice and finishing with hints of green apple, spearmint and hazelnut
Comment: A beginner’s Cognac, best drunk as an accompaniment to a sweet, preferably chocolaty, dessert


Hennessy Cognac Privilege, VSOP, 40%, $ 79.95, Score: 5.6

A floral Cognac

Colour: Deep amber with a hint of orange

Nose: Floral notes with violets in the fore, suggesting at least some Borderies content finishing with Manzanilla sherry notes

Palate: The slightly woody, sherry notes are prevalent with some stewed apricots, finishing short and quite grassy
Comment: A Cognac too young to be very complex but quite enjoyable on its own


Les Antiquaries du Cognac, VSOP, 43%, $ 126.00, Score: 5.5

An austere and challenging Fine Bois

Colour: Gold with a steely edge

Nose: Grassy and herbaceous

Palate: Challengingly dry and alcoholic with hints of wormwood, gentian and root vegetables, finishing hard and dry

Comment: Not what you would expect from a typical Cognac


Hennessy Cognac VS, 40%, $ 69.90, Score: 5.7

Much better than its price point might suggest

Colour: Amber with a pink tinge

Nose: Sweet notes of citrus, boiled lollies and apricots give way to spicy, sandalwood aromas

Palate: Starting quite herbal with sage and lovage it’s a battle of fire and ice, hot and mellow, sweet and meaty, ending short and mellow - amazingly complex for its price point with an alluring sweetness
Comment: Popular and rightly so


Martell XO Supreme, 40%, $ 185.00, Score: 5.9

Beef jerky in a glass

Colour: Amber with red highlights

Nose: Very closed, needs time in the glass, eventually displaying caramel and brown sugary notes

Palate: Surprisingly crisp with hints of banana and coconut slowly finishing with meaty, savoury undertones akin to a Malaysian banquet

Comment: A meaty, satisfying Cognac


Camus XO, 40%, $ 169.00, Score: 6.0

Colour: Rich golden amber

Nose: Sweet, almondy with a hint of antiseptic

Palate: Fruit forward with lots of Iranian fairy floss, roses and orange blossoms, with a caressing, sweet and medium-long finish

Comment: Sweet, uncomplicated and approachable


J. Normandin Mercier, Vieille Fine, 40%, $162.00, Score: 6.2

Deserves to be more widely known!

Colour: Pale gold with a green tinge

Nose: Sweet, fruity with heady notes of raspberry

Palate: Dry and Vermouth-like at the start, slowly sweetening with boiled lollies on the back palate, mouth-filling with a textured, long and satisfying finish

Comment: Dry and sweet fight for attention and they both win


Jean Dubiny Vieux Cognac, 45%, $ 324.00, Score: 6.3

A clean, well-made Cognac but not for the uninitiated

Colour: Sparkling dark gold

Nose: Yeasty, Anzac biscuits with a slight hint of acetone and lots of pears, Harris finds Chinese gooseberry characters and Latkis detects barley

Palate: Surprisingly sweet, lots of citrus, finishing with a leathery, almost musty, dryness
Comment: An excellent Cognac for the contemplation of the universe


Paul Giraud Vieille Réserve, $ 180.00, Score: 7.6

A mouth-filling, textured, rich and rewarding Grande Champagne Cognac

Colour: Burnished light yellow gold

Nose: An immediate dustiness tries unsuccessfully to hide the soft apple, orange, maple syrup and Demerara sugar aromas

Palate: Rich and sweet, creamy and nutty with persistent hints of apple, prunes and nutmeg, finishing long, sweet and soft - I find this to be an unusually complex Cognac and worthy of inclusion in any line-up of good Cognacs
Comment: Smooth, complex and invigorating


Hennessy XO Cognac, 40%, $ 200.00, Score: 7.1

A serious Cognac to be shared with good friends

Colour: Liquid hazelnut

Nose: Woody vanilla aromas are broken up by bursts of leather, dried raisins and plums

Palate: An explosive opening of burnt toast mellowed by tropical fruits slowly metamorphoses into stewed apples and custard with a slow, cigar box finish
Comment: Please hand me a big glass-full and a slab of foie gras and some fresh brioche!


Rémy Martin XO Excellence, 40%, $ 199.00, Score: 7.7

A Fine Champagne par excellence

Colour: Light mahogany

Nose: Candyfloss with marzipan and white chocolate overtones

Palate: Thomson loves the immediate pepperiness of this Cognac; early jasmine floral notes transform into cedar, walnut and Christmas pudding flavours with sweet, palm sugar and dates to lead a balanced and harmonious finish
Comment: Enjoy in front of an open fireplace, in a comfortable chair with a cigar


Rémy Martin Fine Champagne Extra, 40%, $ 325.00, Score: 7.5

An expensive, smooth and balanced Fine Champagne

Colour: Rich jarrah with hues of rosewood

Nose: Quite closed with talcum powder, a hint of mace and some cigar box aromas

Palate: Sweet fried apple and vanilla with soft rose petal and cedary notes; the medium long finish is balanced and smooth but it lacks conviction and character
Comment: A little too smooth, a little too balanced and a little too unexciting


Richard Hennessy, 40%, $ 1,500.00, Score: 8.3

A rich man’s Cognac that delivers the goods

Colour: Rich and vibrant mahogany

Nose: A rich melange of vanilla, herby floral and spice notes overshadowed by red roses

Palate: Complex, rich and balanced, no one flavour stands out; it takes on a character of its own, alluring and with flavours that just go on and on; Harris detects cherries whilst I revel in the baklava-like oriental, languidly sweet finish
Comment: A connoisseurs Cognac living up to its presentation


Hennessy Private Reserve 40%, $ 250.00 Score: 8.8

A glorious Grande Champagne Cognac deserving of both the Hennessy and Fillioux signatures

Colour: Rich jarrah with light amber and orange highlights

Nose: The most floral in this line-up it also surprises with complex citrus notes solidly anchored in lightly scented wood

Palate: Citrus flavours confirm the nose and the creamy, soft, textured mouth-feel enables rich ginger and white chocolate notes to register. Thomson is particularly taken with the silky softness of this Cognac’s impact on the tongue; an impossibly long and balanced finish makes this Cognac live on, seemingly forever
Comment: An exquisite taste experience, once tasted, you will never forget it


Hennessy Paradis Extra Rare, 40%, $ 360.00, Score: 8.9

The sweet seducer!

Colour: Dark walnut with a distinct, deep reddish tinge

Nose: Wood and marshmallows vie for attention with gingerbread and Oolong tea aromas

Palate: Initially sweet, verbena-like aromas become heavy with chocolate, custard apple, slowly turning to mandarin peel, leathery, almost masterstock-like flavours finishing with sweet Pedro Jimenez notes; Latkas finds the finish long, honeyed and dry, a majestic end to a great Cognac
Comment: The sweetness and balances totally seduces; this would have to be your ‘last wish’ Cognac


Rémy Martin Louis XIII Cognac, 40%, $ 1,800.00, Score: 9.0

The ultimate Grande Champagne

Colour: Deep gold with rosewood hue

Nose: Toffee, mango, ginger, nutmeg and sandalwood with heather and lily of the valley high notes and distinctive ‘duck à l’orange’ bass notes

Palate: Starting of dry with hemp, Harris finds salt and briny notes and I perceive roast suckling pig; it continues with some elusive, fresh oyster and rancio notes, ending sweet with an exceptionally long cinnamon and rosewater finish
Comment: Deep, dark and mysterious this is an addictively gorgeous Cognac worth every cent of its asking price; it’s not hard to imagine that you are drinking a Cognac that incorporates Cognacs as old as 100 years…