TORONTO — Sitting at the Home Smith Jazz Bar in Toronto’s Old Mill Inn was intimate, inviting and festive as jazz music romantically played faintly in the background. A grand piano sat handsomely on the right, while a warm fireplace to the left kept the bar toasty. A fresh scent of pine trees filled the space that even the exposed bricks appreciated its company. The smell of Christmas was undeniable. Whilst awaiting the arrival of Mr. Cyrille Gautier-Auriol, Hennessy’s Ambassadeur de la Maison, I admired the set up at the round cherry wood table and upholstered chairs to match. In front of me were three very attractive Hennessy Cognac bottles: Hennessy V.S, Hennessy V.S.O.P, and Hennessy X.O. whom were accompanied by three Riedel Vinum Cognac Hennessy glasses; one for each range. Alas, perfect timing; the man of the hour had arrived.
Gautier-Auriol is the ninth generation to uphold a title in the number one Cognac business as the official Hennessy Ambassadeur de la Maison. With that being said, we were given a thorough history lesson whilst learning the appreciation of the art of blending (and indulging) the various blends of Hennessy Cognac. With a swirl, a sniff from each nostril, a dive of the nose to glass, and a subtle taste— your five senses are awaken and your taste buds are thankful.
On the nose, the Hennessy Very Special (V.S) brings together an intense and fruity character with oaky notes. On the palate, powerful flavours suggest grilled almonds, supported by notes reminiscent of fresh grapes and vines. Upon the sniff of the nose, the immediate fragrance from the Hennessy V.S.O.P is soft with spices such as: vanilla, clove and cinnamon followed by toasted notes arising from the maturation in oak barrels. The Hennessy X.O is the most festive and appreciated of them all with flavours of candied fruit and its subtle and lightly spicy nose create a complete harmony. To taste, a smooth, velvety, full sensation gives a simultaneously powerful and soft tonality with a hint of cocoa and a warm fruity presence. The long finish expresses all the complexity of the cognac’s art of blending and its long aging process.
As part of our exclusive 1LOVETO interview with Mr. Cyrille Gautier-Auriol, we got the inside scoop of his all time favourite Hennessy cocktail that only his team knows about, and well, now we do. What is it exactly? It’s called the Hennessy Paris, which consists of either Hennessy V.S. or Hennessy V.S.O.P with triple sec and lime juice. According to Gautier-Auriol, it’s originally called “Zyka”.
In addition, to gaining a new found appreciation for the art of blending and indulging Hennessy Cognac, Gautier-Auriol gave us the approval with 1LOVETO’s concept of the art of blending through music and culture with our on-going Hennessy and Artistry events. “So, if music continues to revolve, Hennessy’s market will revolve as well. That’s why I can tell you that Hennessy Artistry is a good idea. Basically, Hennessy and the relation with the music will stay a long, long time.” According to Mr. Gautier-Auriol himself, when one gravitates toward a Hennessy Cognac, it is because one enjoys themself, one is happy with themself, and with the people which they are around. In short, this is why he says, “Hennessy blends with life.”
Hennessy V.S is considered the “Champion of the World” when it comes to the preferred cognac. What gives it its title?
It is the “Champion of the World”— it’s the best well known and the most consumed quality cognac around the world, specifically in North America. In Ireland we are huge for a small country; we are very well known, very appreciated by the Irish people. Hennessy Cognac is an Irish name and the Hennessy family immigrated a long time ago in France and that’s when they created their company in 1765. So Hennessy V.S in Ireland is very strong, also in Eastern countries of Europe. There’s also a new image and huge market in Africa with five markets and two dominant markets which are in: Nigeria and South Africa, where the V.S is very well represented and very well consumed.
Hennessy Black is said to be the preferred cognac for mixed beverages. Do you agree? If so, why is that?
Yes, Hennessy Black is a cognac which is a contemporary cognac. It has been created by the current master blender of Hennessy. Hennessy has a lot of culture and heritage and the master blender, Fillioux, is the seventh generation of the same family. So, we’ve noticed, especially in North America, that the Hennessy Cognac product of spirits was consumed in the nightlife with bar lounges. So Mr. Fillioux proposed a blend which is floral and fruity which means it’s not passing through a deep blend of woody structures and colour, so Hennessy Black is a pale colour but floral and fruity. The goal was to make this contemporary cognac to mix with everything: with Red Bull, with Coke, with Orange Juice, with Cranberry. And if you question me about what I love with Hennessy Black, it’s with ice cubes and the cranberry fruit. Why cranberry? Because the fruit itself is acidic and it’s paired less with the V.S tradition which is woody and spicy, so the floral and fruity note is much better and this is why I prefer to blend with Black instead of V.S. Black is very much a contemporary cognac for the nightlife; for the people who want to drink and to be seen with something that is quite different than the current options like vodka and tequila. So you make a difference in choosing something a little bit more unusual, and with a brand such as Hennessy.
Hennessy X.O is proven to be the favourite amongst the other two cognacs because it’s blended with over 100 eaux-de-vie (water of life) and aged for about 30 years. How would you justify it being the most favoured of the three?
Yes. Hennessy has a huge, huge, stock of eaux-de-vie batches and eaux-de-vie is an unblended cognac. Cognac is the result of many eaux-de-vie which has been matured more or less for a long or short amount of time— depending on its potential. The master blender and tasting committee choose the batch to make the Hennessy cognac branch quality and so with the X.O, the selection is made with 100 different batches aged at roughly 30 year’s old. The Hennessy X.O is a fantastic, high-end cognac made with 100 different batches, and when I say 100 it’s more or less what we call “the art of blending” from one year to another or from one blend to another of the same quality. The Hennessy X.O is beautiful in taste and has notes of dark chocolate, toffee, candied fruit, cinnamon, cloves and cigar leaves. This is what we call the complexity in the cognac. The palate releases from the spices and the texture is velvety. We’re close to Christmas time and it’s perfect.
The Hennessy XO was originally created for the personal use of friends and relations of the Hennessy family in 1870. When did this change and become public?
At the beginning it was very discreet and respondent to the need of the family and friends but very soon after, through the archives we discovered that from 1971, the first shipment was in the United States. XO, though it’s something exceptional, it’s a super premium brand and a high-end quality cognac. Hennessy X.O was the only cognac available on the market for more or less 100 years. Because it was apart of the Hennessy DNA, the gene of Hennessy X.O was very creative. The idea of the Hennessy X.O bottle is engraved in grapes and vines to remind the consumers that Hennessy Cognac is in fact, made with grapes and vines. It’s very much important because many, many, many consumers don’t know that we are made in Cognac located in the middle of Southwest France. They know that cognac products are consumed all around the world but they don’t know for instance that in the Cognac region there’s a city called Cognac as well. So, that’s very much important to deliver the message that we come from a small region where God decided for us. Sometimes we have good harvest, sometimes there’s very bad harvest so we need to compose all the time the decision of the sky.
Where do you see the future of Hennessy going? Do you seeing it remaining the same or do you see some changes possibly happening?
To be honest, I’ve been travelling around the world for Hennessy and it’s a very promising brand for the future. I had dinner here last night at the Old Mill with a group of young professionals and I’ve realized that Hennessy is a great, great name and consumers love our style of cognac, which is a different style than others, and also the culture and heritage of the brand fascinates consumers who love and are enthusiastic drinkers of our cognac. So honestly, it’s not a secret, Hennessy cognac and the board of Hennessy has ambitions for the near future to become the number one players with the spirits in terms of value, not necessary in terms of volume, but in terms of value. This means we will work more and more toward the quality to enjoy the palates of millions and millions of fans of Hennessy but also to create something different in order to seduce the consumers by new ideas of how to promote and upgrade. Last night with a group of young adults was purely the best example. There is no reason why Hennessy will not be a well-known brand and more and more so in the future, I’m very much confident. Specifically in Canada, due to the system of distribution (which is not so much free), with the control of the states, the job of how our team and the brand ambassadors here today are working is totally unbelievable. I never thought they would achieve such a performance today and it’s not finished.
1LOVETO is a proud supporter and brand ambassador of Hennessy Cognac and we hold multiple Hennessy and Artistry events, which are fitting because Hennessy is said to “blend with life,” and we hold such events to focus on blending music and culture as an outlet for talents in the community. Do you see Hennessy providing more support and sponsorships for collaborative events such as this?
For sure, Hennessy and Artistry is a good concept and we need to always improve, of course, because the World changes. This comes back to Hennessy’s creativity which is apart of our I.D. and of course we will make an evolution of this program which is absolutely fantastic. It makes pure sense between the blend of pure creation with the music, the DJs and the singers. We can’t speak only of the modern music which is the rap today, the hip-hop and the RnB, because Hennessy since a long time ago, especially in North America, Hennessy started with the classical music and after it moved to jazz and after that we served to the trendy music like hip-hop and RnB. So, if music continues to revolve, Hennessy’s market will revolve as well. That’s why I can tell you that Hennessy Artistry is a good idea. Basically, Hennessy and the relation with the music will stay a long, long time.
If you had to explain Hennessy in one word, or one phrase, what would it be?
In terms of quality from Hennessy V.S, V.S.O.P, and X.O, I would qualify them to be very well balanced and very well harmonious with one another. My motto today is the more you appreciate, the more you know how to appreciate and that’s very much what my job is. To educate people and to drive people to discover something that’s an experience for them. Also I would say, Hennessy is a pleasure and an enjoyment with indulgence.
Posted by Christina Cheng
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