Hennessy XO Cognac
Traditionally, I haven’t thought much about money when it comes to food and drink; or at least, not as much as I should given what’s left once the bills have been paid. My chief focus has always been whether the thing I’m consuming tastes good or not. The cost is very much a secondary concern.
I couldn’t tell you how much I spent on my meal at The Waterside Inn – a restaurant generally considered to be ludicrously expensive – earlier this year. I couldn’t say how much I spent at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester – a place very much in the same price mould – either. The reason is that I simply don’t care. I had a great time at both, so however much they cost, it was clearly worth it.*
Nevertheless, in the last few months value for money is something I’ve been thinking about more often. The change in mindset, I’m sure, is almost entirely down to working my way through the Foods To Try Before You Die list.
Tasting a £50 bottle of Dom Pérignon 2000, for example, I couldn’t get its value out of my head. It wasn’t so much “have I made a mistake spending this amount on a bottle of champagne?”, more “is this bottle worth the £100+ a lot of retailers are selling it at and is the price I got it for the bargain it appears?”.
Money was a big thing again when I wrote my latest piece on potted shrimp. It was so good yet so cheap relative to almost everything else on my list, how could I not think about it? Am I wasting cash pursuing expensive items when there are simple things like shrimp that offer so much bang for my buck?
But I’ve never thought so much about the cost of food or drink as I have with the bottle of Hennessy XO Cognac I bought a few months back. At £92, it was easily the most I’ve ever spent on a single bottle of alcohol outside a restaurant, and I wasn’t even a big brandy fan! From the moment I bought it, right up until the moment I poured my first glass, “what the hell were you thinking?” ran through my head.
This wasn’t a case of ‘taste first, ask money questions later’; the price was always at the forefront of my mind. The cognac couldn’t just be good, it had to be at least £92 good, or I was going to kick my arse down to the bank to shed tears over all the money I’d pissed up the wall.
To be fair to Hennessy, they did a lot to put my mind at ease just with the appearance of the bottle. I’d read a lot of reviews online and been told it was a very special drink – the finest XO in its price range, according to consensus – but it wasn’t much of a looker. In photos it appeared plain and dull; a £20 slut instead of a £92 beauty.
But I spent a good 15 minutes marvelling at its magnificence after pulling it from the box; holding it up to the light and admiring it from every angle. The pictures had done scant justice to how handsome the bottle is, with the glorious maple-syrup-coloured liquid inside. I could imagine it behind the bar of a stereotypical private gentleman’s club, where well-to-do toffs sit in cosy, red-leather armchairs, puffing cigars and discussing the politics of the day.
It looked expensive enough to have cost £92. In fact, it could’ve pulled off £250. It was all very reassuring.
But as I left it on the shelf and waited for that special occasion to come along where I’d give it a try – my birthday, as it happened – doubts started to creep back in. Sure, it looks good enough, but can it taste good enough? They say with wine once you go beyond £20, prices tend to move further and further away from the true value – is it the same with cognac? And what if I realise that I’m just not a big fan of brandy? Money down the drain, that’s what!
I decided the time to bite the bullet was after a nice celebratory meal at The Lime Tree in Didsbury. I was in a good mood, I wanted a spirit to cap off the evening, the moment just seemed right. Following instructions read online, I poured a shot and a half into a brandy glass** and cupped my hands around it, allowing my body heat to warm it gently for around seven or eight minutes. I held it up to look at the colour – the liquid amber perhaps even more beautiful in the glass than in the bottle – and then stuck my nose in to gather the aromas.
I probably shoved my snout too close because all I got was burning alcohol at first, but eventually the bouquet came: heady, complex, brilliant. I’ve heard people say they’d buy Hennessy XO for the smell alone and I could see why. If I’d had the time, I could’ve spent as long sniffing it as I did staring at the bottle when I first took it out of the box.
However, I couldn’t wait that long. It was time to taste it; time to find out whether all the build up was worth it. More importantly, it was time to find out whether all the money was worth it.
It was. Oh dear god it was.
Ambrosia, soma, nectar; any deity’s drink you can think of would be a suitable descriptive term for the glorious elixir that passed my lips. In my heart, I hadn’t really believed that any drink could justify this sort of price tag, but it did, unquestionably. It was a seminal moment; with one sip, I became a huge brandy fan and began to realise just how good beverages can be. I’ve imbibed some very nice stuff in my time, but this was a world apart. It’s by far and away the best drink I’ve ever tasted.***
Hennessy XO wasn’t on my list of Foods To Try Before You Die, but I feel like it should’ve been. The only cognac on there is the £1,350 Rémy Martin Louis XIII and even though it’s meant to be the very best, somehow I can’t see it living up to its price.
To do so, it’d have to be 14.5 times better than the Hennessy XO. And I don’t for one second believe that’s possible.
*I should stress that had either of these restaurants delivered a terrible meal then I’d probably still be bitching and whining about the cost on my deathbed. I care a lot more about price when I have a bad time!
**I fear connoisseurs would complain about the large balloon glass, with its wide mouth – snifters are preferred as they hold the aroma in. But the glasses were a wedding gift, gorgeous LSA glassware that match our collection, and they’d spent a good month sat next to the cognac helping it to look pretty. It would’ve felt wrong to drink from anything else.
***I’ve said before I don’t really do tasting notes. But these from the manufacturer seem right on the money:
Aroma: The first wave, rich in dried fruit aromas such as prunes or dried figs overcomes you. The aromas evolve to more dense notes of chocolate & black pepper, mellowed by cinnamon, clove & cardamom spices.
Taste: Very balanced on the palate, X.O confirms the aromas discovered by scent: dried fruit & chocolate. Elegant & robust, it reveals balance, roundness and harmony among aromas underlined by the strength of peppery notes & vegetable fragrances from the oak. A lovely long after taste is enrobed in velvet, conferring the last sweet notes of cinnamon & vanilla.