Review: Hennessy V.S.

When I speak of cognac, I bet it conjures the same image for 84.2% of you; old wealthy industrialist by the fireside with an oversized snifter, lounging in his overstuffed chair, smoking jacket on, stock ticker rolling in.  Probably a bear skin rug.  That, my friends, is what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious.  Well, here I am folks, young and buried in debt, sitting by the woodstove with my normal sized snifter with the logo of my overpriced education.  I’m wearing a shirt with revolutionary implications and trying to decipher the Greek shipping information of the lot of the vintage sunglasses I desperately hope to turn a profit on.  It’s basically the same thing.  The sentiment is the same at least; cognac is good, damned fine on a chill night by the ambience of a fire.  The financial imagery is similar as well—the industrialist probably has a lot more to gain though—also probably didn’t buy his cognac because it was on sale though.  What can I say, the buried in debt thing is true–which is why I need this whole “buying a bunch of NOS 1950s French sunglasses to make money,” thing really needs to pan out, otherwise it’s back to E&J for me. So, right, score of the night: Hennessy VS.  I’m not going to go over the whole rating system of brandy again, we’re all on the internet, we can all read Wikipedia. But let us examine a secondary rating system, that’s right, I’m stuck on money.  See, I think cognac actually has a pretty ingrained rating, at least on its lower end.  Compare the V.S. Cognacs you see at your local: Courvoisier, Hennessy, Remy Martin being the most common.  The prices ascend correspondingly about $4 per name and, interestingly enough, I think that the quality ascends similarly.  Maybe that’s just how my tastes align, and to be honest I’m not doing a side by side because, well, given all you’ve already read do you think I could afford all three?   Screw you, I could. It would just be detrimental to my personal liquidity.  Right, back to the point.  I got this Irish sounding French cognac on sale for some $26 I think (live free or die!) and you want to know how it tastes.  Before I go into it, if you do hope to compare use the search function thingy and read my Courvoisier article, then come back.  Better yet, finish this, then read that.  Now, to indulge.

First off, let me state that with cognac, like with wine, I feel like there is a good deal of benefit to letting your pour sit a bit.  A magic 15 minutes really, to oxygenate, really open up a bit.  When you can smell it from 5 or so feet away, you’re probably good to go.  Also like wine, and probably like the image in our collective unconscious, it’s a good idea to use a snifter or similar aroma focusing glass.  Even doing the prick-like cognac swirl it good for that aroma. You smell it, dontcha?  You’re drooling on the keyboard you bleeding prole! Right, so pretend you’ve done all that— now you’re ready to drink.

Hennessy

Oh, that luscious aroma. Well rounded with light caramel and effervescent vanilla—just a hint of the dry oak, which gives it a buttery chardonnay note and I get of hint of something that maybe of bit of citrus, grape must even?

The mouth does not belie the nose, with a supple entry of warm sweet entry with almost a touch of baking spice and a somewhat woody foundation.  It’s soft and beautifully smooth, with not a touch of bitterness and a full finish that feels like a slick coat of honey from the tip of the tongue alllll the way down.  Ahhhh, that feeling after a long day of exploiting the masses and insider trading… now I can finally loosen my ascot.

Perhaps I made a snap judgement before in stating that Hennessy is better than Courvoisier, not because it isn’t subjectively true to me, but because it can’t really be objectively proven—and mostly because it doesn’t matter.  Lovely, affordable cognac is a thing of beauty, and at anywhere from $22-$32 you can probably afford to buy any number of lovely cognacs to take you through your fall evening—regardless of whether or not you’re a short sale millionaire, a waitress, or a disability claims case manager…and possible vintage sunglass mogul.

Review: Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac

Since I’ve started this blog, which must be at least a year ago now, one article has surged to the peak of popularity.  To date my review of E&J XO Brandy has somehow managed 3,043 views, which is significantly (stunningly) more than the blog homepage.  My review of that product is the 4th result that shows up when you search for it on google.  Seriously, go try it.  Freakin’ crazy.  Particularly freakin’ crazy as it may be the cheapest booze I’ve reviewed.  The funny thing of it all is that I have only bought E&J XO Brandy once, the bottle I reviewed.  That review may well be the farthest my voice has reached in this world, hell the first edition printing of Moby Dick was 3,000 copies.  They ended up burning the ones they couldn’t sell.  My article on a $14 bottle of booze has gained popularity quicker than Herman “the harpoon” Melville—probably because he didn’t have that badass nickname until now.  Anyways, to get to the point, I’ve made my impact on Google based on a product I don’t even really drink.  I do, however, drink brandy somewhat regularly, and tonight I come to review the brandy I actually do drink, Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac.

While I’m going to avoid going over the grading system generally applied to brandies, seeing as you already read it on my E&J post, I will give a little backing on what exactly Armagnac is.  See, brandy is basically a distilled wine hooch.  In France they like to name their brandy after the region in which it was made, the most famous of which is Cognac.  You likely know Cognac from rap music videos or rich old men in smoking jackets with oversized snifters.  Well, like Cognac, Armagnac is a brandy which is made in a specific region—what the French call an appellation.  There’s a vocab word for you, kids. Also, stop reading about booze you goddamn 4th grade lush.  Anyways, Armagnac is from the Southwest of France and is known for being a bit more robust, partly the result of being double or single distilled rather than the more commonly triple distilled Cognac, and partly because it is, quite frankly, a less refined product.  I mean that in the best of ways though.  You see, Armagnac is made almost entirely by smaller producers, some of which are essentially long running family farm businesses, and therefore they create a product that is less industrialized, less homogenized, more…passionate. To put it in terms more familiar to the average drinker, your Remy Martin and Courvoisier are like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada: big producers that make a well liked and high quality product.  Armagnac is more like one of the thousands of startup breweries that have exploded over this country, there’s more character, more drive, less money—I come back to it, more passion.  In some cases, centuries of passion, with the same family still on the same farm that has always just kept afloat.

Marie

Marie Duffau, according to my thorough research on the back of the bottle, was started somewhere about 1925 and is now run by the great grandson of Prosper Delord and Marie Duffau.  Granted, this is a bigger brand in their genre, given their US distribution, however you still get the feeling they aren’t that big a company.  Hell, the label looks like it was cut out with those craft zig-zag scissors you use for scrap-booking.  Now, what you want to know is why I keep coming back to this brandy, why I drink $45 Armagnac when I could drink $14 E&J or $23 Courvoisier?  One, because my dad likes it to, which means he buys it and I get to drink it.  Sharing is caring, I’m told.  The main reason though is a bit simpler.  It’s sublime.  So lush, complex, and warming you’ll think you’re suckling the teat of Aphrodite.  I admit, I may have gone too far, so I’ll shut up.  Notes:

Appearance: Beautiful, like a Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup and with long even legs that hang to the edge of the glass. Yes, I used Maple syrup as my reference point, I’m from New Hampshire.

Nose: Full of rich fruit, spiced apple, apricot and even a bit of citrus, backed with a dash more spice, maybe nutmeg, and a hint of vanilla from the oak with just a light wisp of alcohol.  My mouth is watering.

Taste:  Enter orgasm joke here.  Warm and sweet, fine and mellow with the baked apple and lush fruit the nose hinted at, backed by caramel or even honey, and finishing with a very light spice and vanilla that lingers effervescently on the tongue.  Liquid divinity—like my above asinine metaphor warned you.

I think you see now why, when I do drink brandy, I go for the Armagnac, and why I dearly love Ms. Marie Duffau.  Brandy is one of those beautiful luxuries of life that are worth more than $14, worth savoring when you can.  So while yes, you can get a fine cognac for the same price, there is something revelatory to drinking the single distilled family craft that is Marie Duffau Armagnac.

Review: E&J XO Brandy

I’m pretty sure I’ve loved brandy since my first sip of cognac Courvoisier. There are many reasons I loved cognac. It’s a brown liquor, and brown is my favorite color.  Besides, as Ron Swanson says “Clear liquors are for rich women on diets,” though I do like gin with breakfast personally. Now, I don’t remember when that first sip was, but I do know that I’ve spent a lot of money on cognac since then, and my dad has spent a lot of money on cognac’s sweet cousin of the south, Armagnac—which I promptly drank most of.  I’ve loved every drop, shit’s not cheap though.  Even regular VS Courvoisier, about as cheap as it gets, runs in the mid $20s—that money just goes further on bourbon, so that’s what I drink mostly.  However, while reading an article on another alcohol related webpage (this one) I determined, well, perhaps it’s worth trying American brandy.  After all, there are great California wines and brandy is made from grapes too.  The aforementioned article reviews Paul Masson brandies, and I had one of the one’s they mentioned some time ago.  Apparently my subconscious doesn’t remember that as a tragic experience because when I saw that E&J, a brand not known for great brandy, had an XO at around $14 my brain thought I could make a wonderful article out of this.  I’ll let you read the above article for why you should give American brandy a try.  I’m just going to talk about the stuff in the bottle in front of me because this is a review inspired by a concept piece that’s already been written by a far more respectable spirits journalist.  I’m a young guy who drinks hooch and babbles on a keyboard.

Before I get started here’s a brief primer on the rating system used for brandies, so you know what the hell XO means.  I’m stealing this from Wikipedia, as it appears every other article on the subject did.

  • A.C.: aged two years in wood.
  • V.S.: “Very Special” or 3-Star, aged at least three years in wood.
  • V.S.O.P.: “Very Superior Old Pale” or 5-Star, aged at least five years in wood.
  • X.O.: “Extra Old” aged at least six years in wood.
  • Vintage: Stored in the cask until the time it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date.
  • Hors d’age: These are too old to determine the age, although ten years plus is typical

So you see, XO is the high grade shit.  You’ll recall I bought this XO for $14, and yes, that’s insane.  There’s a reason for that.  This is not the kind of brandy that world conquerors drink by their fire while plotting the exploitation of the proletariat and smoking a Cuban cigar that was custom made for them by an old man they promptly killed.  Actually, it might be, I suspect Karl Rove is a cheap sonuvabitch. So what is this brandy like? First off, it has a sweet and slightly astringent nose that reminds me almost of apple jack, but when you sip it there’s a whole different thing going on.  First things first, props—this is quite complex for something so cheap.  The most dominant flavor is vanilla which arrives in shocking proportions, something I’ve never tasted in a brandy, though it makes sense because XO’s get a lot of barrel time.  Also present are brown sugar (demerara, as the fancy people may say) and shockingly something similar to a little maple syrup.  What’s good is this does taste like brandy, and it is quite smooth—it doesn’t suffer from that bitter burnt note that pretty much all cheap, and even some more expensive, brandies and cognacs can get.  But I suspect that’s because vanilla has a tendency to be pretty smooth.  I’m not being very clear here.  That’s because I’m not sure what my brain is thinking either.  On the one hand it’s nice to drink some brandy, it’s been a while and brandy is oh so pleasant and warm in my brain.  On the other hand, this isn’t the Armagnac of days gone by; it’s $14 dollar brandy.  Then again, it’s fucking $14 dollars—and it tastes reasonably good.  Sure, the barrel sweetness and vanilla seem to be masking some less savory flavors, and even distracting from some of the good distilled grape, but hell $14 dollar brandy.  At that price it’s acceptable to mix it with things.  College kids, go ahead, put sprite or some shit in with it. Me, I suspect this would even make a decent sidecar.  Wait; do I have the ingredients to test that theory? Damn, no lemons.  Anyways, the point remains the same.  You a little bit broke? You have $14, you can get a classic and wonderful bottle of Old Grandad, which is always a great choice–but if you want brandy, it’s $14.  Give E&J a chance, it’ll satisfy that brandy hankerin’ and temporarily cure your sobriety based problems.

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