Now...this is what a wine consultant should be doing at a tasting - some actual tasting. The interesting portion of the Courvoisier Exclusif event.
There was a placecard at each table, with positions for two Cognacs - left, the Courvoisier Exclusif and right, Courvoisier XO Cognac. The Exclusif is being marketed as a mixing spirit, for any and all kinds of cocktails. Cognac brands have been feverishly targeting a younger crowd for their products, as the image of a connoisseur drinking out of a huge snifter by a fireplace is just, well, bad business for them. As a wine drinker and purist, I can't say that I agree with this strategy - great Cognac, like great Islay scotch, like great vodka, does not belong in a mixed drink. No matter how high-brow the drink is. Like great wine, you must learn to appreciate a great drink for what it is. And if it isn't a good drink.............well then, you shouldn't be drinking it anyway, in any form.
The Exclusif was round, oaky, toasty, harsh, alcoholic - lacking subtleties, which in fact, make it suitable for a mixed drink. The XO Cognac, on the other hand - this is what established Courvoisier as a grand producer. Minerally, stony fruits, elegant, incredible length. Was I prejudiced because this wasn't a blind tasting, of course I was. I don't drink a lot of Cognac - I don't drink much liquor at all. And if I was, Islay scotch would be my first choice. It's puzzling, for me to appreciate a drink who's primary flavour comes from oak. All accounts indicate that the wine Cognac is made from, primarily ugni blanc grapes, is dreadful.
I sound like a sour, stuffy Englishman. My apologies - this was a fantastic event, thoroughly enjoyed it. Cognac is a fascinating subject, with lots of history. Unfortunately, we don't have access to a lot of the smaller growers and producers from the region, and the ones we do see are frightfully expensive. But on a quiet, contemplative winter evening, I can't imagine a more well-suited drink.