Hennessy: The nectar of gods

Hennessy tasting in Nairobi Kenya (Susan Wong Nov 2011)

Fresh off the plane and after braving the chaotic roads of Nairobi, before Cyrille Gautier-Auriol can even think about exploring the flora and fauna of Kenya, the Global Ambassador of Hennessy has already been escorted into the first of four Cognac tasting sessions of the day. Tomorrow, Gautier-Auriol will start the day in Tanzania and then find himself in Nigeria by the end of the week – the life of a jet-setting Cognac Ambassador.

Cyrille Gautier-Auriol, the Global Ambassador of Hennessy, has traveled the world the last decade to share his knowledge and traditions of the exclusive spirit to ensure that the heritage of Hennessy is passed on to the next generation. Born and raised in Cognac, France, Gautier-Auriol lives and breathes the full personality of Cognac and his passion of the spirit is infectious.

So what does a Global Ambassador of Hennessy do aside from traveling and drinking alot – teach others, including myself, to appreciate Cognac.

Hennessy’s Cognac

If you’re not an avid spirit drinker, Cognac is one of those drinks that may be quite intimidating. Cognac is expensive, French and usually glistening on the very top shelf of displays at bars or are seen locked up in personal consignment cupboards for those lucky enough to have access to the keys. But, there is good reason for that – as French writer Victor Hugo said, Cognac is really the “nectar of the Gods.”

Just as Champagne only comes from France’s Champagne region, Cognac only comes from Cognac, a scenic area in the country’s southwest. Hennessy is a Cognac made from Ugni Blanc, an aromatic grape variety specifically suited for distillation. From the Ugni Blanc, hundreds of different “eaux-de-vie,” a clear, colourless and highly potent product of the double distillation process, will be chosen to be aged in oak barrels.

The Hennessy brand first started in 1765 when Richard Hennessy, an Irish officer working for the King of France, commercialized the spirit. Eight generations and 250 years later, the Cognac region’s most famous brand is still run by the Hennessy family and is distributed to more than 130 countries worldwide.

Hennessy Ambassador Cyrille Gaultier in Nairobi Kenya (Susan Wong Nov 2011)

Hennessy Ambassador Cyrille Gaultier in Nairobi Kenya (Susan Wong Nov 2011) b

Hennessy Ambassador Cyrille Gaultier in Nairobi Kenya (Susan Wong Nov 2011) Sankara Hotel

Hennessy Ambassador Cyrille Gaultier in Nairobi Kenya (Susan Wong Nov 2011) Sankara Hotel for tasting

The Cognac tasting

My novice palette and nose sensors didn’t detect as many aromas and flavours that Gautier-Auriol did, naturally, but it was fascinating to learn how different and unique each Hennessy blend was – V.S., V.S.O.P., and X.O.

V.S. or Very Special, is a Hennessy that has been aged for at least two ears in oak barrels. Very Superior Old Pale, V.S.O.P., is an older Cognac but is paler in colour compared to the VS, which is a result of first aging the spirit in young oak barrels for a few months and then finishing the process in older oak barrels. Finally, the X.O. or Extra Old, designates a blend that has been aged for a minimum of six years but on average for upwards of twenty years.

It was refreshing to hear that even a Cognac connoisseur enjoyed mixing his spirit sometimes; not only taking his Hennessy neat.

“I like to mix my Cognac with a little bit of tonic or even Sprite sometimes, depending on how I feel.” Gaultier also explained that one ice cube is enough to “freshen” the Cognac for the perfect sip.

Aside from pairing a glass of Hennessy X.O. with a robust cigar, Gautier-Auriol also enjoys pairing a glass of Hennessy V.S.O.P. with the delicate custard dessert, crème caramel.

“The sweetness of the crème caramel is accentuated perfectly with a bit of smoky and woody tones of the Cognac. It is a wonderful way to end the evening.”

I took Gautier-Auriol’s word for it and indulged in some creamy crème caramel and Hennessy Friday night, truth be told, it was a wonderful way to end the evening.

TIP: Always store a bottle of Hennessy upright, unlike wine, to ensure that the spirit won’t react with the cork.

Hennessy tasting in Nairobi Kenya (Susan Wong Nov 2011) bottle Hennessy tasting in Nairobi Kenya (Susan Wong Nov 2011) bottle shaped like grapes
FACT: The famous curvacious design of Hennessy’s bottle, when inverted, resembles the shape of the grapes.

Photo Credits: Susan Wong 2011 © All rights reserved.

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