Behold… An XO-vaganza!
Growing up, I saw my older relatives drink a lot whenever we had get-togethers. No matter the occasion, there would almost always be bottles of Johnnie Walker Black Label. If there weren’t, Hennessy XO or Rémy Martin XO would be present. For some reason, these two brands are the bestselling Cognacs in my local market.
Aside from being foreign premium aged spirits, I never understood why my older relatives chose the bottles mentioned above. When I was a teen, Black Label cost around USD $16, while any of the XOs were at least USD $80. This confused me, since Blue Label was also close to this price.
So, the only sensible conclusion would be “it’s a Chinese thing.” I was told that Cognac has always done well in China, after all. We were most likely influenced since a lot of us have business ties and keep in touch with our relatives there. Also, according to some local distributors, the majority of XO sales goes to the parts of the Metro with the high concentration of immigrants and visitors from China. (I’m not sure how COVID has affected this.)
Upon hearing that revelation, the idea of comparing the Rémy XO with XOs from smaller brands came to mind. Think of it as comparing Johnnie Walker Black Label with peated blends from more boutique brands. Receiving samples of Park XO and Giboin XO from Cognac Expert made this possible. Upon receiving these samples, I immediately bought a sample pack of Rémy Martin, which included a Rémy XO. Luckily, a sample bottle of Camus XO Elegance was also available for sale online.
Being the largest and best-known brand in this lineup, Rémy will serve as the benchmark. Because Camus has a considerable presence in Asia, I’m more familiar with it, so I have a better idea of how big they are. My unfamiliarity with Park and Giboin makes me think that they don’t have a large presence in the US and Asia. In my opinion, their sticking to the EU market leads me to think they’re small compared to Camus and Rémy.
I’ll be skipping the Rémy introduction, since everyone already has an idea of who they are. Camus was also already discussed by me in a previous review, if you want to know more about them. So, I’ll just talk about Park and Giboin in those sections.
Rémy Martin XO – Review
Fine Champagne blend of Cognac from (85%) Grand Champagne & (15%) Petite Champagne. 40% ABV. £155 from The Whisky Exchange.
On the nose: Initially, I get light and long aromas of pepperiness, coffee, French Oak, leather, roasted chestnuts, milk chocolate, orange peels, floral tea, and white grapes.
In the mouth: Like on the nose, I taste light and long notes of pepperines, coffee, French Oak, milk chocolate, roasted chestnut, orange peel, jasmine tea, caramel, cinnamon, vanilla, honey and leather.
It’s refreshing to try this again. I’d liken drinking this to having a blast from the past, since I’d partake a little in the drinking even before I reached drinking age, but I used to drink everything on the rocks.
I find this to be dominated by the cask influence, but I wouldn’t call it over-oaked. The distillate flavors are there but they’re just trampled on by the wood flavors. Sadly, I don’t know if this sample is an updated XO. The XO designation was updated to 10 years old minimum from six years old in 2018. So, I can’t say if this is over oaked for a six year or a 10 year. If this is a 10 year XO, I wonder if the strong oak flavors are intentional since many aged spirits consumers prefer the taste of wood these days.
Aside from the comments on oak, I don’t find anything wrong with this. This is a good and easy drink for any occasion. The flavors are all pleasant and consistent all the way. It lacks the layers and complexity of Cognac I’ve had from smaller producers. Safe to say this is due to blending with a large volume that comes from different producers and dilutes the character of the different Cognacs.
Cognac from the big four are said to use boise, but this doesn’t taste sweetened. If Rémy added boise to this, I’m curious if they added less since this is an older Cognac, while they add more boise to the younger expressions to artificially improve them.
This is good enough to be a 6 on its own merits, but the price doesn’t make it worth it.
Camus XO Elegance – Review
40% ABV. £150 from The Whisky Exchange.
On the nose: Light aromas of pepperiness and white grapes. It’s enveloped by slightly bolder aromas of coffee, French Oak, roasted chestnut, hazelnuts, floral tea, orange peels, cinnamon syrup, honey, and milk chocolate. In between the above are random bursts of ethanol heat.
In the mouth: Immediately a slightly peppery sensation followed by light tastes of milk chocolate, cinnamon syrup, coffee, cloves, herbs French Oak, hazelnut, cappuccino, leather, French Oak, and honey.
A very easy and enjoyable drink, but lacks complexity and layers. This has flavors that would appeal to everyone, but I feel like this is also dominated by the oak flavor. I even get less distillate character in this compared to the Rémy XO.
There’s a certain round and sugary texture mixed with the French Oak flavors such as milk chocolate and cappuccino that make me think this has added boise. Granted, the back of the sample bottle says 2015, so this is surely a six year old XO Cognac. I’m guessing there’s added boise in this to make this “better.”
I’d also give this a 6, with me finding the Rémy slightly better. Keep in mind that the price from TWE is for the new 10 year XO. At that price point, I still think it’s expensive for the age and quality.
This isn’t my first time to review a Park Cognac; I reviewed their Cognac Park Borderies Mizunara before, but wasn’t really conclusive, since Cognac finished in ex-Mizunara casks is a modern style of Cognac. Hence, it’s not a good way to experience the house style of Park.
Cognac Park is owned by a group called Tessendier & Fils, who are known eaux-de-vie wholesalers. The Tessendier family’s eaux-de-vie producing days were began with Gaston Tessendier, who planted vineyards in Cognac’s Borderies region in 1880.
In 1993, Jerome Tessendier and Dominique Park, a Scotsman, collaborated in the development of Cognac Park. According to their website, they were the pioneers of “handmade” cognacs. In 2008, Dominique Park passed the torch, which made the Tessendier family the owners of Cognac Park.
The grapes Park uses are all Ugni Blanc coming from Petite Champagne, Grand Champagne, Borderies, and Fins Bois. But, for this XO, all the grapes are from Grand Champagne. It’s also said to be around 20 to 25 years old.
Park XO Grand Champagne – Review
40% ABV. €117 on Cognac Expert
Color: 1st steep Pu-er tea.
(Because of the age, I let this breathe in the glass for 30 minutes before taking notes.)
On the nose: Immediately light and long aromas of gingerbread and Christmas cake. There’s a little pepperiness and ethanol sensation as well. After are even lighter aromas of walnuts, nutmeg, dates, sultanas, white grapes, vanilla, honey, cinnamon, dark chocolate, cherries, and leather.
In the mouth: A mix of a round and silky texture. At the front is a light pepperiness. After that are medium tastes of cinnamon syrup, vanilla, pears, honey, leather, ripe plums, sultanas, chocolate, toffee, nutmeg, and cloves. The gingerbread is still here, but it’s more like a thin but enveloping taste.
Comparing this Cognac’s price point to the previous two, I say this is a steal. The prior two are at least 10 years old, while this is cheaper and around 20 to 25 years old. Much like going for lesser-known whisky often offers a better deal, this a good example of what it’s like to explore Cognac.
Despite the low ABV, there’s a certain boldness and depth to this. I also like the balance. None of the flavors really stick out. Because of the age, I can understand why I get more varieties of oak influence. The fruit flavors have been mostly taken over, but they’re still noticeable.
This may be something Bourbon lovers will appreciate due to the oakiness, but it will take time for them to really like this due to how less sweet this is. French oak is also different from American oak. Cognac producers tend to move their Cognac from new casks to old ones during maturation.
Maison Giboin is currently managed by Francois Giboin and his two sons. His great great great grandfather started the Maison in 1830. Initially, they only made Cognac, but they eventually started making white, red, and rosé Pineau de Charentes.
They’re currently based in the Borderies region of Cognac, where they tend to 12 hectares of Ugni Blanc vines and 2 hectares of Merlot. Adding to that, they also have 8 hectares over at Fins Bois which are renowned for their clay and limestone soils. The vineyards from different regions came into Giboin ownership thanks to a marriage in 1953 between the Lambert family, from the Borderies and the Giboin family from Fins Bois.
The Giboin XO Royal is a blend of Cognac distilled with its own and added lees. The youngest Cognac component is 15 years old; this has some components dating as far back as 1962.
Giboin XO Royal Borderies – Review
40% ABV. €87 from Cognac Expert.
On the nose: Very lively. The ethanol bite here is stronger but I don’t mind it. I’m reminded of the bite that I get from purely Jamaica aged Hampden rum. I also get gingerbread but the ginger aromas are stronger. There’s also an assortment of dried fruits that remind me of Christmas cakes. More spices like nutmeg, cloves and vanilla appear. I get a hint of tobacco and muscovado syrup. They’re immediately followed by honey, vanilla, sauteed mushrooms, orange peels and peeled pear skin.
In the mouth: Not as lively as the nose but everything just lingers. The gingerbread is weaker here. But it’s complemented by light tastes of muscovado syrup, chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla, honey, tobacco, sauteed mushrooms, Mandarin orange peel oil and dates. Inbetween are light tastes of burnt onions, more gingerbread, nutmeg and leather.
This is my favorite among the four. I still get a lot of oak influence here, but I like how this is more lively compared to the others. There’s less fruit here compared to the Park XO, but there’s more variety and the intensity of spices are stronger. For me, the spices are a good contrast vs the oak influence. Despite being 15 years old, everything here repeats and keeps on going. How long this goes on and on compensates for its lack of complexity.
Due to the strong spice flavors and abundance of oak flavors, I think rye whisky drinkers will appreciate this.
I should be giving this a 7, but being 15 years old with a blend of Cognac going back as far as the 1960s then looking at the price point, this deserves a plus 1.
Tasting these Cognacs is a strong reminder that I have much more to learn about Cognac. Due to a lot of producers being at least a century old, history won’t be lacking; there’s just so much to learn. Off the top of my head, I can only think: What does Ugni Blanc-based Cognac from each region taste like? What are their characteristics at a certain age? Is there a sweet spot for different brands and regions? How much is a good price for a certain age? When can I expect less or more rancio?
I’m sure there are other factors I don’t consider at the moment. The bottom line is: Cognac is worth exploring.
Rémy Martin and Camus images courtesy of The Whisky Exchange. Park and Giboin images courtesy of Cognac Expert. Samples courtesy of Cognac Expert, which does not impact our notes or scores.