101 — Cognac, Courtesy Of Hennessy
France might be synonymous with brandy, so why does the word seem out-of-place in the Francophone world? Perhaps because it is derived from the Dutch 'brandeuwijn' or 'burnt wine'—a fairly blunt term to categorise a wide range of spirits, including those distilled from grapes, but also those made from the fermented juice of other fruits, such as apples or pears.
Cognac, however, is a far more elegant and regionally-specific designation. This is brandy made from grapes grown within the Cognac region, a small-ish patch of land, north of Bordeaux and a little in from the Atlantic coast, covering roughly 75,000 hectares—that's about the same size as Austin, Texas. Vines grown here ripen slowly, thanks to the mild, dry summers. And those vines must be of one of nine particular grape varieties in order for their juices to make it into a Cognac bottle.
According to strict French regulations, Cognac makers must only use Ugni Blanc; Colombard; Folle Blanche; Folignan; Jurançon Blanc; Meslier St-François; Motils; Sélect and Sémillon vines in their drinks. The rules don't end there, either. Once the juice from those grapes is fermented, it is distilled not once but twice, to produce a robust, clear liquid, known in the industry as Eaux-de-vie, or 'water of life.' This remains transparent, until it is aged, or 'raised' to use the correct Cognac terminology, in oak barrels—the wood for which is also drawn from a designated region—for at least two years.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the finest bottles of Cognac would be made from one single source of Eaux-de-vie. However, the true skill in Cognac creation lies in blending the spirits from various barrels into a drink that combines a concord of fine tastes and sensations. At Hennessy, one of the world's oldest, largest and most prestigious Cognac houses, the in-house tasting committee reviews around 10,000 Eaux-de-vie each year—that's about 40 each working day—selecting and rejecting each according to an exacting set of standards.
Hennessy's reserve contains one of the largest collections of Eaux-de-vie in the world, with 380,000 barrels stored in 65 cellars. Founded by the Irish military officer Richard Hennessy in 1765, this distillery was instrumental in introducing the world to the drink, and today it isn't too exacting when it comes to how its customers enjoy its drinks. You can favour a balloon or tulip glass, or even a straight tumbler; ice is fine, as it can bring out some otherwise hidden flavours; and of course, it's excellent in cocktails—Cognac has been added to Mint Juleps for over a century.
However, when it comes to Hennessy Paradis Imperial, it's all a little different. This exceptional Cognac is made from the rarest ingredients; from any given harvest, the average number of Eaux-de-vie with the potential to one day join this blend are a precious few: only 10 out of 10 000. Hennessy's Master Blenders have managed to capture a certain elegance within every one of these Eaux-de-vie, to produce a Cognac that is decisive, fleeting yet also beautifully fragile. This highly nuanced, precise blend is best appreciated neat, by sipping between two to four centilitres of the drink from a crystal tulip glass, just as Hennessy's own tasting committee tests its drinks.
Hennessy also advises that the Hennessy Paradis Imperial's crystal-cut decanter, created by artist Arik Levy, is stored in a cool, dark place, and, once opened, is entirely consumed within a year. This final requirement shouldn't be too hard to abide by, once you've tasted Hennessy Paradis Imperial.
Want to get your hands on a bottle of Hennessy Paradis Imperial or other rare Cognac? Quintessentially's luxury lifestyle managers are here to help.