Review: Hennessy Cognac VS and XO


We’ve reviewed countless special editions from iconic Cognac producer Hennessy over the years, but its core line has strangely eluded our pen. Today we begin to rectify that with a look at two stalwarts of Hennessy’s core line: VS and XO.

Both are 80 proof.

Hennessy VS Cognac – The entry level Hennessy is by law aged for at least two years in oak barrels, but the distillery doesn’t make any claims beyond that. For a brandy that is probably consumed mostly alongside a mixer like cola, it does the job. Never harsh or bruising, the nose is light and fresh, representing a greatest hits of Cognac expectations: gentle raisin, incense, mixed flowers heavy on lavender. Lightly sweet on the palate, the brown sugar character up top drifts into notes of clean linen, more lavender, jasmine, vanilla, and a light reprise of juicy raisins. Clean and gentle on the finish, the brandy may offer the lowest level of overall sweetness of any major VS bottling that I’ve encountered, which helps to make it arguably the best entry-level expression of Cognac on the market.

Hennessy XO Cognac – XO Cognacs must be aged for at least 10 years as of 2018, and again Hennessy offers no added details on this, which is probably its most highly regarded expression this side of the $1200 Hennessy Paradis. You can smell the difference vs. the VS from the moment you open the bottle, where you are greeted by notes of darker raisins, almost plum-like, a stronger alcoholic punch (though it’s also 40% abv), and a bolder lavender-floral laundry character. Aromatic hints of orange peel and grapefruit come along with a bit of time in glass. The palate showcases all of this and more, starting with a fruit note of raisin and citrus, then a soothing note of vanilla-laced milk chocolate that helps temper some of the punch from the considerably more aggressive body. As the finish builds, the impact of the barrel comes more into focus, pairing well with the cocoa powder elements and some of the cinnamon notes that find purchase here. Deftly balanced but sweeter than the VS on the finish, yet far from overwhelming, the dusting of sugar leaves you ready for another sip, and another, and another.

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