Hennessy Paradis Rare Cognac
Review: Hennessy Paradis Rare Cognac (90/100)
A review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published October 18, 2016
Jas Hennessy & Co., is the largest Cognac producer in the world today with sales that exceed 45 million bottles per year. The company was founded in 1765 by Richard Hennessy who was an Irish Officer in the army of Louis XV. Fifty two years later, in 1817, Hennessy Cognac was so highly regarded that the Prince of Wales, (who later would become King George IV of Great Britain) asked the Hennessy House to produce what was termed a “very superior old pale cognac“. This was apparently the genesis for the initials V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Pale), and these initials have become a labeling standard used throughout the industry to this day.
Hennessy’s eaux di vie spirit is produced from the fruity Ugni Blanc grapes which have been harvested from the four great crus of the Cognac region (Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois). The grape wine produced is (of course) double distilled upon copper pot stills and then set down to age.
Hennessy’s Paradis was the creation of Maurice Fillioux, the sixth generation of his family to act as chief blender for Hennessy Cognac (succeeded by his nephew Yann Fillioux) who in 1979 chose to blend eaux de vie which had been selected by his grandfather specifically because they displayed the temperament and structure which would lend themselves a long period of maturity. The result of his efforts was Hennessy Paradis Rare Cognac which is composed of up to 100 blended eauz de vie aged for between 25 to 100 years.
In the Bottle 4.5/5
I sampled the Hennessy Paradis for the first time at a Hennessy Cognac Tasting event hosted by Fabien Levieux (Ambassador de la Maison) when he was in Edmonton on an educational/promotional tour for Hennessy Cognac. After the tasting, I was allowed to pour off a small sample from the very expensive bottle which had been opened for the event. I tried to snap some photos at the event, however the lighting was rather dim and my skills as a photographer failed me.
The jpeg image to the right does not really do justice to the actual bottle which houses the Paradis spirit. It is a heavy glass decanter with a heavy cork topper which looks quite elegant in its display box. The labelling is a rather simple affair, as if to say that surely the name ‘Hennessy’ upon the front of the bottle is enough to arouse excitement.
And, ‘Hennessy’ is probably enough to arouse excitement in the traditional cognac markets where consumers are familiar with Cognac; however, where I live in the in the hinterlands of Canada (well, not quite the hinterlands), we do not really know a lot about Cognac, let alone about Hennessy. A little information about the company’s place in history and why their Cognac may be special would be helpful if placed within easy reach of the consumer.
In the Glass 9/10
The Paradis Rare Cognac displays itself as a deeply tanned spirit with a rustic brown colour well past copper and perhaps even past bronze. When I tilt the glass and give it a twirl, I am somewhat surprised by what I see. Rather than big fat stubborn droplets at the crest, I see medium fat droplets which turn into medium-sized legs which able at a moderate pace back down into my glass. The spirit shows abundant complexity with woody oak aromas playing the starring role, and the fruity and floral eaux de vie aromatics complementing the oak as supporting actors.
The breezes above the glass are oak stained with strong woody aromas accented by light baking spices (vanilla, nutmeg, cardamon and cinnamon) and hints of dark Demerara sugar. There is a firm underlying floral element with impressions of lilac, menthol and subtle reflections of blue iris. As the glass breathes, pipe tobacco seems to form from the aromatic constituents in the air.
In the Mouth 54/60
At the tasting hosted by Fabien, we tasted the Hennessy Very Special (VS) Cognac, the Hennessy Priveledge (VSOP), and the Hennessy X.O (Extra Old) Cognac, in a vertical flight with the Hennessy Paradis serving as the finale. I have to admit that I was disappointed with the Paradis that evening. It seemed over-oaked and somewhat one-dimensional at that time. I am certainly glad that I was allowed to pour off a larger sample to analyze at home in the comfort of my private tasting room.
As is often the case when one samples spirits in tasting flights, my palate had become overwhelmed by the previous spirits. In particular the Hennessy X.O. with its firm robust flavour (which we tasted only minutes previously) left enough of its imprint upon my palate such that its oaky profile served to camouflage the subtleties within the Paradis Rare Cognac which was tasted immediately afterwards. I suspect that the original eaux de vie chosen by Maurice Fillioux were particularly subtle spirits full of delicate nuance. These spirits would have been set down in older oak barrels where they would mature with the oak building slowly over time such that the delicate nature of the eaux de vie would not be lost.
I was not able to taste those delicate flavours at the tasting event; however when I tasted the sample the next day with an uncluttered palate they shone through clearly. It is not that the oak is not present, it is, and it is the dominant characteristic of the Paradis Rare spirit. However there is much more. Light fruity flavours of apricot and raisin; herbaceous mint, camphor, and dark tobacco; as well as a light but firm floral element which seems to permeate the taste experience. There is also a light nutty quality with roasted pecans and almond lying underneath. The overall result is very enjoyable indeed.
In the Throat 13.5/15
The finish is brings oak and baking spices which gently heats the palate followed by a long lingering persistence of licorice and menthol. We can taste hints of cinnamon and nutmeg well after the cognac is gone.
The Afterburn 9/10
This is a sipping cognac, and even though I have a predilection to mix great cocktails with even the most expensive of spirits, this is not a spirit I would be tempted to build a cocktail with. The Hennessy Paradis Rare Cognac despite its apparent maturity is nonetheless a spirit full of delicate nuance. Although oak is at the forefront of the flavour, subtle flavours of fruit, herb and flower serve to complement the oak. Those subtleties could easily be lost even in a classic cocktail such as the Old Fashioned.
Although the spirit is a true sipping spirit, it is not a spirit I would choose to sip regularly (even if I could afford it). It is rather a spirit I would sip on those evenings when my mood was reflective such that my appreciation of the nuances within would be at its greatest.
You may click this link to read some of my other Brandy and Cognac Reviews
As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)