Last Night’s Cognac Tasting: The $50 Sip of Louis XIII

The moment most of us were waiting for at last night’s cognac tasting at the Brandy Library in TriBeCa was the pouring of tiny shares of a $2,000 bottle of Rémy Martin Louis XIII cognac.

The event, organized by Liquor.com, showcased cognacs from six producers, including Rémy Martin, but the bottle of Louis XIII came from one of the personal collection of one of the hosts. Why, some of us wondered, was he sharing it with strangers? Scanning the room, I figure there were about 40 of us clamoring for a taste, which would make each pour worth about $50. If this were a normal night at the Brandy Library, ordering a full pour of Louis XIII from the bar would run you $298.

Anyway, we swarmed against the bar, three and four deep, waiting for a thimble full. Some made snide comments (“It’s like somebody dropped chum in the water.” This guy had clearly already gotten a glass.), while others slipped through narrow openings in front of my girlfriend (“Oh, did I just cut in front of you? I heard someone say ‘rude,’ and I’m Canadian, so I’m horrified at the thought of being rude.”).

I’d had small sips of some exceptional cognacs already. An amiable French rep at the Bache-Gabrielsen table was kind enough to give me and my girlfriend an extra pour of the heavenly Hors d’Age. With so many other cognacs to try, we’d very nearly burned out our taste buds, despite the friendly recommendation from our host to pace ourselves.

So when my glass of Louis XIII finally came, I was nervous. Would I be able to taste it? Would an enthusiastic but uneducated palate such as mine appreciate the difference between a $200 bottle and a $2,000 bottle?

Well, it was exquisite—how could it not be? But for the price, I was hoping it would buckle my knees with its deliciousness, and it didn’t. I don’t know why. Probably a combination of the reasons above (deadened tongue, unrefined palate). It reminded me of a story the novelist and sometime wine critic Jay McInerney once told at a reading. He said that as a wine drinker, he had started cheap when he was in college and worked his way up to expensive wines over the years. His brother, a banker or some such thing, hadn’t started drinking wine until he could afford to drop a bundle on a bottle. Consequently, the brother had little real appreciation for wine—only for price and what people told him. This is me with the $2,000 cognac: too big a leap in quality without the years of working up to it. I’m not saying the Louis XIII was completely wasted on me—I was grateful for the taste—but close.

The single biggest lesson I took from those three amazing sips was that I wouldn’t have to spend more than, say, $130 (for Louis XIII’s young cousin, Rémy Martin XO), to get a really stellar cognac experience. I could truly discern the difference between a $50 bottle, a $100 bottle, and a $200 bottle. The $2,000 bottle? I have to be honest, it tasted a lot like the $200 stuff.

In my next post, I’ll talk about my favorites from the tasting.

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5 Responses to Last Night’s Cognac Tasting: The $50 Sip of Louis XIII

  1. Ines says:

    I couldn’t agree more regarding wine (and whisky) – cognac is still a largely unfamiliar teritorry for me.
    I also noticed the same thing happening with perfume – for some things you need to work through the more basic stuff and then upgrade towards more complicated (sophisticated?) creations.
    I can tell a difference between a cheap bottle of wine and a good quality, but I can’t say I would appreciate more a bottle of wine for 200$ than the one for 30-50$. They would both be excellent but I’m sure the better excellence of the more expensive one would be lost on my taste buds. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the comment, Ines. I think there is a point of diminishing returns with a lot of sensory things. To appreciate the subtleties between a $200 cognac and a $2,000 cognac, I’d need a lot more experience with everything in between. But like I said, the good news is that I can be completely dazzled by a mere $200!

  3. Pingback: Trying to Rank Great Cognacs |

  4. joe says:

    Such an aware and informative post. I was thinking of getting a shot for my 30th birthday coming up, but I don’t even like cognac, I certainly don’t know it to any degree, and I was thinking this would be some magic elixir that would change my night and change my life going into my 30’s haha. I think I should rethink that.

    Thanks, glad I found the blog.

  5. Thanks, Joe. It’s definitely not the way I’d treat myself on a special occasion. If I wanted to celebrate a milestone of some kind, and I had $298 to spend (the price of a glass of Louis XIII at Brandy Library), I’d rather buy a bottle of something at a liquor store and share it with friends.

    And if you did like cognac, I might suggest trying armagnac instead. It’s another French regional grape spirit that’s been around for a few hundred years longer than cognac, and it because it isn’t as big in America (France consumes 80% of it), you can often get a better armagnac for your money than you can a cognac.

    Choosing an expensive celebratory drink is tough. I was treated to a glass of Dom Perignon once at a dinner out, and I found to my surprise that I didn’t really enjoy it. I’d had much cheaper champagnes that tasted a lot better to me. Price is seldom a guarantee of quality, much less enjoyment. I guess if I had to pick a single drink to splurge on at a fancy bar, it might be a great single malt scotch that I couldn’t afford normally.

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