A Double Gold winner at this year’s San Francisco International Spirits Competition, Bache-Gabrielsen’s XO is a relative newcomer to the Cognac world, launched officially only in 1996, a wee babe in this rarefied industry.
Blended from 72 percent Grande Champagne grapes and 28 percent Petite Champagne, then aged for about 20 years, this is a gorgeous looking brandy, dark amber fading to orange at the base of the glass and full of both color and promise.
The nose doesn’t disappoint: It immediately strikes one as hot and very woody, but there’s so much depth underneath that. It’s hard not to take a sip immediately, and that’s when the surprises begin: The body is far lighter on the wood than you expect it will be, as a caramel, apple, and cinnamon-like spice character hit you like a truck. Almost like apple pie, now that I type that all out, with a good slug of vanilla on the finish along with hints of cedar and sage.
It’s not quite perfectly in balance, as hints of bitterness seep through here and there, but on the whole it’s quite an exceptional Cognac and one well worth trying out… if you can find it. (It’s not distributed in California presently, which is a tragedy for brandy enthusiasts.)