Two years ago, the XO—Extra Old—Cognac category got a little extra older. More specifically, Cognac producers typically blend together brandies (eau-de-vie) of various ages. In April 2018, the age classification was changed so that for a Cognac to carry the XO designation, the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend must have been aged in barrels for at least 10 years, instead of the six years previously required.
This was done to help bolster the perception of XO Cognacs as high-quality products, as well as to eliminate confusion between the XO and Napoleon category. For the latter, the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend remains at six years old, yet both often incorporate brandies that are much older than the minimum.
Though XO has a reputation as luxurious and expensive, there are signs that Cognac is slowly becoming more accessible.
Though XO has a reputation as luxurious and expensive—to be fair, both aspects can be true—there are signs that Cognac is slowly becoming more accessible. For starters, some producers are moving away from age-specific designations altogether, including the XO status symbol, such as Ferrand’s Sélection des Anges.
Another signpost is a democratically blended XO put together by Flaviar, a self-described “club for spirits enthusiasts.” A collaboration with Cognac house Frérot encouraged hundreds of Flaviar members to weigh in on their ideal blend. The blend incorporates eau-de-vie from all six Cognac-making regions.
Perhaps the next stage is to find more unexpected ways to consume often-precious XO. Speaking in June at the Radical Xchange Gimme Brown conference, Shanghai-based bartender/spirits expert Micaela Piccolo observed that in South China, XO is a casual pour, “a bottle of XO plunked on the table,” often alongside fresh, local seafood.
Here in the U.S., XO is likely to remain a special-occasion sipper—especially now that the category is specified as a longer-aged blend. But even the oldest spirit exists for one key reason: to be opened and enjoyed.
XO Cognacs to look for
Gilles Brisson XO Cognac; $105, 97 points. An enjoyable mix of fruit, cocoa and spice makes this ideal for sipping or dessert pairing. Dried fig and plum aromas are echoed on the notably silky palate. It finishes long, with rich cocoa accented by cayenne and clove notes. Aged 18-22 years.
Park XO Cognac; $107, 96 points. Look for a deep amber hue and bold, sweet aromas suggesting dried fig and baked pear. The palate is equally bold, folding cassis, dried cherry, and port notes into dusty cocoa and walnut. It finishes long with a hint of clove. Aged a minimum of 20 years.
Drouet Ulysse XO Cognac; $150, 95 points. This single-estate Cognac is copper-penny in color and fragrant with vanilla and dried apricot tones. The bold palate shows plenty of oak, baked apple and charred orange peel, finishing warm and mouthwatering with plentiful baking spice.
Chateau Montifaud XO Cognac; $150, 94 points. Dried figs and dates lead the nose. The bold palate opens with vanilla and oak, finishing elegant and complex, with stone fruit, barely-there hints of vanilla and cocoa, and a long, dusty cinnamon fade. A blend of brandies aged at least 30 years.
Branson XO Cognac; $250, 92 points. Delicate vanilla and apricot perfume this Cognac. The palate is more forward, showing mouthwatering butterscotch, golden raisin and maple, finishing with baking spice warmth.
Distillerie du Peyrat XO Classic Cognac; $92, 92 points. Golden in the glass, the dried apricot aroma includes a smoky tinge. The palate echoes the dried apricot note, layering it with vanilla, cinnamon and clove. It finishes rounded and mouthwatering.
Merlet XO Cognac; $90, 92 points. Look for a dark gold hue and aromas of golden raisin and almond. The palate opens with baked apple, baked pear and cinnamon bun, finishing long and mouthwateringly spiced with a burst of intense alcohol heat.
Frapin Chateau Fontpinot XO Cognac; $140, 91 points. This burnished gold Cognac offers aromas of red fruit and baked pear, plus a floral hint. The piquant palate opens with cayenne, cinnamon candy and black pepper, followed by concentrated vanilla. It finishes on a juicy baked apple tone.
Frérot XO Assemblage de Crus Cognac; $130, 90 points. This blend was selected via a crowd-tasting exercise orchestrated by Flaviar, and incorporates all six Cognac-producing regions. Copper in hue, is has a mild vanilla aroma. The dry, spiced palate opens with sarsaparilla and oak, finishing with marmalade and bitter orange peel, plus a zip of alcohol heat. Brandies in the blend range from 20 to 35 years old.