If a good Cognac isn’t just for Christmas, it isn’t only for after-dinner sipping either. A top-quality VS or VSOP is also an excellent base for a refreshing aperitif or a palate-sharpening cocktail.
You can keep it simple with ice and tonic, dial up the flavour with ginger ale – or move into more sophisticated territory by mixing a zesty Sidecar or twisted Manhattan. Hell, if you’re feeling flush, use an XO to create hedonistically rich and decadent Vieux Carré.
Whether you’re buying for a loved one or restocking your own drinks cabinet for the festive season, it’s worth remembering that Cognac can also surprise in terms of its value for money – and not only among the lower VS and VSOP classifications.
The market forces that have driven up prices for aged single malt whisky have also made decades-old Cognacs from boutique producers suddenly appear affordable by comparison – and, when it comes to sipping and contemplation, these great spirits are among the world’s best.
Best Cognacs for Christmas
Château Montifaud L50 Héritage Louis Vallet
Aged Cognacs can offer fantastic value for money, and this bottling from an excellent family producer is the perfect example, combining Petite Champagne eaux-de-vie distilled between 1935 and 1982. The soft, creamy texture and fine structure provide the perfect vehicle for a precision palate of orange marmalade, white chocolate and butterscotch. Alcohol 40%
Cognac’s four dominant names run a gamut of styles, from Hennessy’s woody richness to Martell’s smooth fruit. Courvoisier is all about balancing finesse and opulence, allowing wood to bring complexity without overshadowing the fruit. Witness this benchmark XO, with its lip-smacking combination of tropical fruit, mocha, dark honey and antique leather – an example of great blending at work. Alc 40%
Delamain Pléiade Collection Plénitude Vintage 1991
A miraculous survivor of a frost-devastated year, this is a superb vintage Cognac from Delamain’s Pléiade programme of long-aged releases. Sourced from Verrières in Grande Champagne and matured for 30 years in an old Tronçais cask, it combines sumptuous orchard and tropical fruit flavours with complex notes of walnut, spice and vanilla. Alc 46%
Frapin Millésime 1989
Another 30-year-old vintage Cognac but, while Delamain is aged in dry conditions, this example from Frapin is matured (unusually) in a damp cellar. The result is a mellow, rounded expression of Grande Champagne with lots of light ginger and orange peel notes – plus that hard-to-define tangy rancio quality that only comes with long age. Alc 40.3%
H by Hine
This VSOP is the youthful trickster among Hine’s range of typically vinous, fine Cognacs. Its sheer exuberance – lime blossom, light citrus, restrained spice from judicious oak – makes it the perfect sharpener when combined with ginger ale or tonic, but there’s enough going on to make it enjoyable neat as well. Excellent in a Sidecar too. Alc 40%
Hermitage 50 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac
It’s frankly astonishing that a Cognac can be as vibrant and full of pep as this after five decades in cask, but David Baker’s Hermitage Cognacs are all about that kind of age-defying quality. From Segonzac in the heart of Grande Champagne, this softly spoken, quietly powerful Cognac is perfumed, structured and endlessly complex. Alc 44%
Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula
This is a rule-breaker from an unashamedly iconoclastic producer – a recreation of a 19th-century ‘three-star’ (VS) Cognac from Grande Champagne bottled at an unusually high proof. It shouldn’t work, but it does, thanks to a winning combination of honey, jasmine blossom, tangerine peel, tobacco leaf and allspice. A superlative mixing Cognac. Alc 45%
Ragnaud-Sabourin No 10 VSOP
The VSOP tag doesn’t really do justice to a rich, hedonistic Cognac that’s seen 10 summers, and that has complexity and generosity to spare: decadent, warming flavours of super-ripe tropical fruit, melding into evolved, oak-derived notes that shift between golden honey, baking spices and darker flavours of mocha, coffee bean and liquorice. Alc 41%
You might also like:
The best Cognacs to buy as a gift
The best Cognacs under £100 / $100
The best Cognacs under £50 / $50
Source: Best Cognacs for Christmas 2021