“Balance is the key to any cognac you taste.” Words to live by when you’re tasting with an expert like Maurice Hennessy, an eighth generation descendant of Richard Hennessy, who founded the Hennessy cognac distillery in 1765.

I got that very opportunity earlier this week as Mr. Hennessy was in the Bay Area for a number of engagements. I don’t do wine tastings very often but I imagine the experience was quite similar; sitting one-on-one with a bonafide expert describing each and every sense you were about to awaken. Overall, it was a wonderfully enlightening experience and I learned quite a bit from it.

We started off with a glass of Hennessy Privilege V.S.O.P. Mr. Hennessy has tried pretty much everything the cognac world has to offer so he let me taste on my own. But it worked out perfectly because we could talk about what to expect with each different pour. “The color is going to be a little darker with the V.S.O.P.,” he said. “You can really smell and taste the spices, almost a sense of vanilla.” True to his word, it was the darkest Hennessy poured that day. He said the color varies based on how long it is aged in the barrel and the type of barrel being used. It was a fine starting point but the best was yet to come.

Next up was the Hennessy X.O. Again, this was a darker cognac as it was “aged in young barrels.” Peppery and spicy were two words that Mr. Hennessy used to describe the X.O. While each type of Hennessy poured that day was very smooth, it seemed to go up in smoothness with each sip. You could really taste that hint of peppers and spices as well.

While the first two tastings were both excellent, the last two were the real treat of the day as I got to taste a glass of Hennessy Paradis and Richard Hennessy, both very high-end options in the company’s line. The Paradis was a bit difficult for me to describe. Mr. Hennessy said that you can really get a sense of fruits and flowers, maybe red berries and dry roses. It was definitely lighter in color, but really elegant to sip on. “Make sure you get that aftertaste,” he said. “Along with a balanced taste, some of the best cognac have a wonderful aftertaste that lingers for quite some time.” While I didn’t really get that fruit sense with the Paradis, it was an amazingly complex and beautiful glass. The grand finale was the Richard Hennessy. “This cognac really tells the history of our family. It really gives a sense of who we are and a culmination of the type of cognac we produce,” Hennessy said. This was one of the most complex and wonderful glasses of alcohol I have ever consumed. It truly was a mix of the three previous glasses, but with its own identity, its own unique qualities mixed in. Smooth almost buttery with flavors from tropical fruits to almost a smooth vanilla. It was truly something amazing to behold.

Mr. Hennessy said the company remains strong, growing worldwide over the last few years. Many people have the perception that cognac is just an after dinner drink, but Hennessy doesn’t agree. “It pairs very well especially with a lot of Asian cuisine. It also goes well with seafood,” he said. “While it cannot be consumed in the quantity that wine is consumed, you can still have a nice glass while eating a meal.”

Cognac is a truly complex and wonderful liquor unlike any other. Each different brand or type you taste may bring a whole new sensation for you to enjoy. This was definitely an eye-opening experience and one that gave me a whole new appreciation of the fine world of Hennessy and cognac.



Photo Credit: Hennessy