My Night with Henny – A Foodwriter’s Introduction to Hennessy Cognac

Having a chauffeur-driven Cadillac whisk you off to the airport to catch a flight destined for one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and having dinner and fine wine on the terrace of a hotel’s presidential suite in that city would be a dream for many. On May 30, this is my reality.  Food and travel writing does have its perks.

But it is not all champagne wishes and chauffeur-driven dreams. No. This is business. A night of nose-to-the-grindstone eduction where food writers from across the nation gather together to learn about Hennessy Cognac—arguably one of the highest regarded cognacs in the world. The fact that it is served alongside foie gras, lobster, duck breast, Canadian artisanal cheeses is mere icing on the cake.

photo credit: kunaphotography.com

Our entry in to the world of Henny (as fans call it) starts with the Hennessy X.O., and I am surprised by two things: 1) it is served as an aperitif, and 2) it is served on ice. Two myths dispelled at once: cognac is not just an after dinner drink, and, go ahead, add some water—frozen or not.

The enlightenment begins.

Hennessy X.O. – photo credit: kunaphotography.com

At $180 (CDN), the X.O. impresses with its sweet, spicy undertones and hints of chocolate and lingering oak. It is a lovely aperitif with flavours revealing themselves under that slow melting block of ice. Could it get better? Yes. Oh, yes.

Paradis – an extraordinary version of pure indulgence

Hennessy Paradis – photo credit: kunaphotography.com

We leave the posh confines of the presidential suite and take our places at a candlelit long table inside a white tent on the rooftop patio of the Fairmont Pacific Rim.

photo credit: kunaphotography.com

And while the string trio serenades us with one adagio after another, Jean-Baptiste Rivail, Hennessy’s Vice President of Business Development (Americas) introduces us to Paradis, the blend of amber elixir created in 1979 by Maurice Fillioux, and named for the Paradis cellar in the Hennessy Maison used exclusively for the aging of this exceptional eau de vie.

photo credit: kunaphotography.com

The Paradis ($875) is elegant and intensely provocative with a soft floral essence, alongside warm spices, ripe fruit, and honey notes. The decanter is worth noting as well, designed by Ferruccio Lavianni, and as voluptuous as the liquid it holds; the bottle’s curves reflect the sensuality of the cognac.

Dom Perignon, Hennessy’s sibling in the LVMH multinational luxury conglomerate, is also at the table. The 2006 blanc joins us in the second course of poached Nova Scotia lobster, and the 2004 rosé accompanies seared duck breast in the third, because Hennessy for all four courses would be over the top, don’t you think?  No, me neither, but regardless, a little restraint now and then only helps build anticipation for what’s to come.

Hennessy Paradis Imperial  – History, knowledge and expertise

Hennessy Paradis Imperial – photo credit: kunaphotography.com

The Hennessy Paradis Imperial ($3,000) is served next, paired with artisanal cheeses in course four. The Imperial is a project spearheaded by 7th generation Master Blender, Yann Fillioux. In this recipe, the best of the very best eaux de vie aged between 30 and 130 years are selected for this exquisite melange, and it is here you benefit from the talent and experience of someone like Yann Fillioux, for only 10 of 10,000 eaux de vie of any harvest show the potential to use in this blend. Those selected are brought together in an act of art, science, and patience.  This is the most exotic of the three cognacs with citrus fruit and floral notes of jasmine and orange blossom, warm spices and subtle smoke.  The gallery-worthy crystal bottle, designed by Stephanie Balini features an 18-karat gold plated label.

The Richard Hennessy – la crème de la crème

Richard Hennessy – photo credit: kunaphotography.com

The rarest and most exquisite eaux de vie ranging from 40 to 200 years old are selected and blended in this homage to Richard Hennessy who founded the company in 1765. The Richard (spoken with a French accent, bien sûr) embodies the cultural greatness of the 17th century and acts as a bridge, therefore, between the past and the present. This is a liquid to savour with all the senses: raise your glass and feast your eyes on its golden beauty, inhale the perfume of flowers, mixed spices and fennel, and savour the warmth of cinnamon, nutmeg, leather and stewed fruits as it lingers on the tongue. Nothing should be rushed with the Richard. Perhaps the description on Hennessy’s website says it best: “It cannot be explained. It simply must be understood.” And, at $3,250 (CDN), cherished.

To sample such exquisite wines is an honour, and though I won’t (can’t) be rushing to purchase the Richard, I will cherish the bottle of Hennessy X.O.  tucked under my arm—a thank you gift from our hosts—and wonder if  it will serve as well as a nightcap as it did an aperitif.

But, of  course it will. I know that already.

photo credit: kunaphotography.com