Imbibe Ice Awards 2008 - Cognac


The aim of this category was to single out the best generally-available digestif cognacs at the XO level.

Once the results were in, it was interesting to see that two of the three top-scoring cognacs were big-name blends, from Courvoisier and Martell. They were competing with a number of cognacs from small producers, who offered more individual brandies, usually from single vineyard sites. The latter are often favoured by sommeliers, bartenders and drinkers looking for something different, though on this evidence the big houses are successful for reasons that go beyond mere marketing muscle.

It was also interesting to note the blend in both the winning cognacs. In addition to brandy from Cognac’s most famous sub-region, the Grande Champagne in the heart of the Cognac region, founded on the deepest and rather special chalk soil, both contained brandy from the less well-known Borderies. Founded on a small rectangle of clayey-chalk just north of the town of Cognac, the Borderies produces brandies whose concentrated nuttiness is very useful when blended with those from the Grande Champagne – as the results proved.

The Judges

Nicholas Faith – journalist and brandy specialist, Hannah Lanfear – bar manager, The Hide Bar, Mickael Perron – bar consultant, Bar Now On, Chris Losh – editor, Imbibe, Ken Muspratt – head sommelier, La Cave Wine Boutique at Hush

ICE winners

Martell xo

The touch of Borderies, historically an important element in Martell’s brandies, was well-liked by our tasters. Nick Faith thought that it was ‘well-balanced, with serious fruit ‘n’ nut chocolate on the nose’, while Michel Perron described it as ‘elegant and warm with floral mouth feel... sweet vanilla and chocolate fudge’. Chris Losh chimed in with ‘rich, spicy orange peel’. The space-age bottle was a hit, too, with all the judges salivating at the kind of impression that it would make on a well-lit back bar.

Pernod Ricard UK, 020 8538 4484

Courvoisier XO imperial

Marked down a little on the look, compared to its co-winner, but a fine performance in the tasting glass, with the panel quick to appreciate the skill of the maître de chai. Like the Martell, this was a blend of Borderies and Grande Champagne, and it turned out to be a real crowd-pleaser. ‘Good balance and fruit on the nose,’ said Nick Faith, while Hannah Lanfear found it ‘well balanced, rounded, very well blended, with aromas of raisin, toffee and dates.’ Mickael Perron, meanwhile, enjoyed its ‘creamy and exotic banana nose.’

Beam Global, 01403 222771

ICE runners-up

3rd Raymond Ragneau 1988

Elegance, rather than sheer size, was the dominating factor for this classic cognac from a single vineyard on the finest chalk slopes in the region. ‘Great florality and lightness,’ said Nick Faith. ‘Soft and elegant on the palate,’ said Michel Perron, who added ‘this is elegant rather than powerful.’

Brandy Classics, 01225 863988

4th Remy Martin XO excellence

Like all the cognacs from Rémy this is Fine Champagne. In other words, at least half the brandy comes from the Grande Champagne region, the rest from the Petite Champagne. ‘Wonderful balance of flavour,’ enthused Hannah Lanfear. Ken Muspratt savoured its ‘aromatic, dry and spicy aromas.’

Maxxium UK, 01786 430500

5th Frapin Domaine chateau de Fontpinot XO

This cognac is sourced from a single vineyard in the Grande Champagne region near Raymond Ragneau. The average age of the spirit is an astonishing 35 years. Nick Faith was impressed and thought that it was ‘a classic 30-year-old Grande Champagne with good balance and some rancio.’ Meanwhile Hannah Lanfear thoroughly enjoyed its ‘delightful touches of honey and spice.’

McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

Best by taste

1 Courvoisier XO Imperial
2 Martell XO
3 Raymond Ragneau 1988
4 Rémy Martin XO Excellence
5 Frapin Domaine Château de Fontpinot XO

Best by design

1= Camus Fine Emporia Extra XO
1= Martell XO
3 Delamain Pale & Dry
4 Château de Beaulon
5 Courvoisier XO Imperial

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine - January / February 2008

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