Like a priapic monument to financial excess jutting through the city skyline, the Gherkin is simultaneously impressive and ostentatious, symbolising much that is wrong with our modern culture, despite offering fantastic views.
Cognac, in contrast, is a symbol of all that is right with olden day values. It has connotations of elegance, refinement and sophisticated taste. Rare is the time when I will turn down a good cognac. Honestly, I doubt I would turn down even a middling one.

The old and the new collided when I was invited to learn more about the Courvoisier’s new range of cognacs at a tutored tasting at the top of the Gherkin in an intimate private room, allowing uninterrupted indulgence. The occasion was the launch of the first range of cognacs to publicise their ageing time: Courvoisier 12 and 21 year old.

Cognac is normally classified as XO or VSOP. Unsurprisingly, people are often confused by these seemingly meaningless acronyms. VSOP stands for ‘very special old preserve’ whilst boringly, XO merely means ‘extra old’. Knowing this, I can see why an acronym is used, ‘extra old’ being exactly the image most people have of cognac and brandy drinkers. Courvoisier’s decision to put the statement of age on the label, in a manner reminiscent of whiskey, is an attempt to cut through this confusing jargon. However, adding ’12 year old’ and ’21 year old’ to the XO and VSOP already on the market may be counter productive.

First I tasted the 12 and 21 year-olds, followed by the XO and the VSOP. The twelve was light and bright with a nice round citrus and vanilla flavour. As with all of the cognacs I tasted, it was very smooth. The 21 had a longer finish and a spicier more complex mouth feel whilst the VSOP was light with a floral nose. My first experience of the XO was enhanced through the use of a blindfold and an aroma diffuser, which pumped the three main aromas into my face whilst music played. Whilst finding the whole thing a little ridiculous, it made it surprisingly easier to pick up the hints of crème brûlée. Without this, I fear I would have been reduced to waving my arms about and using the word complex lot.

Next on this ladder of extravagance was the Initiale. This was a much drier drink with a mouthfeel similar to a tannic red wine. It was my favourite so far, proving I have more expensive taste than I thought.The event culminated with a rare treat: L’essence, an ultra premium blend created by the previous Master Distiller. It was exquisite, although it left me somewhat lost for words. All I can say is that it was outstandingly complex.

For me the event was an excellent way to gain some insight into Cognac, and to experience the variety of styles available. Whilst the 12 and 21 may be younger than the XO or the Initiale, they still had an excellent character. It will be interesting to see if the other cognac houses follow suit and how successful the move is.