Our ABC staff wine and spirits classes recently had the pleasure of spending a little time with Allison Larkin, who is a member of the US division of Hardy Cognac. We tasted through the Hardy VS, VSOP and XO line-up as well as the Cognacs from their sister brand Maison Rouge. The thing that impressed us deeply was that despite the prevalence of the four recognized name brands which make up 90% of the US market, Hardy Cognac was equal or superior to these brands and usually at a lower cost. The reason for this, Allison informed us, was that while the big four spend millions every year on advertising and promotion, Hardy prefers to put their money back into the quality of their product.
But before we go any further, let’s answer a few questions.
First of all – what is Cognac? Cognac is a brandy (aka eau de vie) named after the town of Cognac and must come from the specific areas of Charente and Charente-Maritime. It must also be made from the white wine of specific grapes of which Ugni blanc (known locally as Saint-Émilion) is the most widely used. Furthermore, it must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais. (Most quality producers, it should be noted, age their Cognac for a much longer time.)
What do all those letters on the bottle mean? Because Cognac is a blend of eau de vies of varying ages there is no specific vintage date and so the classification is based on the age of the youngest. The major classifications are –
- V.S. which stands for “Very Special” and is sometimes known as 3-Star. This is a blend in which the youngest brandy has aged at least two years in cask.
- V.S.O.P. stands for “Very Superior Old Pale.” Here the brandy has aged at least four years in cask.
- X.O. stands for “Extra Old.” This is a classification that is currently in a state of change from being aged six years to being aged ten years.
And by the way, the reason these initials have their meaning in English is because historically the British played a significant role in the development and marketing of Cognac. They currently rate third in total Cognac consumption, being beaten out by China in second place and the US in first.
Hardy Cognac was established by a London gentleman named Anthony (later Antoine) Hardy in 1863. Knowing the British predilection for Cognac and his own love of France, he set out to create Cognac of superior quality. Today, Hardy is headed by his fifth generation descendant Bénédicte Hardy and her namesake quality cognac is exported to the five continents of the world.
Hardy V.S. has an elegant pale color with golden reflections, floral notes, and excellent balance, and is aged for five years instead of the two required by law. It was recently awarded a Best Buy! from Wine Enthusiast magazine.
Hardy V.S.O.P offers a warm and deep golden brown color. On the nose, aromas of fresh pear give way to warmer notes of nuts and cinnamon, and it is aged for eight years instead of the required four. It was awarded 92 points in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
Hardy X.O. Rare seduces with a delicate fragrance of rose petals and dates, and is aged for twenty-five years instead of the required six to ten. It was awarded 93/100 points by Wine Spectator, was Highly Recommended by Spirit Journal, won Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and garnered 98 points and the Chairman’s Trophy at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
All of these cognacs come also highly recommended by all of us at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits. Come and be seduced!
Bill Stobbs, ABC Wine & Spirits supervisor
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