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Cheers: Carousing through Cognac

Located just 79 miles from France’s famed Bordeaux wine region, Cognac makes a fascinating trip for premium-spirit lovers. It’s where centuries-old tradition meets modern innovation in the gorgeous rolling hills and black-roofed cellars of Western France: Here, the spirit is double-distilled from eau de vie and aged for years—sometimes, for over a century—before being painstakingly blended into the liquid gold that rappers and world leaders alike have come to love. Here’s your sip-by-sip guide to exploring Cognac.

Tasting Tips
In addition to sipping water between tastes, most distilleries offer spit buckets, so don’t be afraid to use them to avoid an embarrassing event of overindulgence. Also, ask questions. All Cognac houses have full-time employees knowledgeable about everything Cognac—let them share their passion. A word to the wise: their English might be as rocky as your French, so bring a pocket translator. And don’t forget to take notes. After tasting through several flights of Cognac in one day, things may start to get (pleasantly) blurry.

Learn about Cognac production and history at Hennessy’s ( sleek, glass-walled headquarters, perched on the banks of the scenic Charente River, or tour D’Ussé (, located in the enchanting Château de Cognac, where King Francis I was born in 1494. At Martell (, visitors can explore period-decorated rooms that give a flair for the 18th-century life of founder Jean Martell, who founded the Cognac company in 1715. Don’t miss a jaunt to the quaint town of Jarnac (approximately 20 minutes away by car), where Courvoisier ( is located—it boasts an excellent education center that breaks down the production process and contains artifacts tied to Napoleon, a famous connoisseur of the spirit.

Bottles to Score
Whether you pick up bottles at the distillery gift shop—Hennessy has a particularly expansive collection—or peruse the duty-free selection before hopping a plane home, you’ll want to bring back a taste of the region. Must-try Cognacs include Courvoisier XO Cognac Imperial, with its rich aromas of vanilla, cocoa and white flowers; Louis Royer’s Force 53 High Strength VSOP, a powerhouse in mixed drinks; and D’Ussé Cognac VSOP, which boasts a woody nose and a rye-like bite. Who doesn’t like a spirited souvenir?

Since you’ll likely be starting your trip in Paris—Cognac has no airport, so the best way to get there is via high-speed TGV rail from the capital—cushion your travels with a night at the glamorous 138-room Mandarin Oriental, Paris ( The hotel’s ultramodern Bar 8, featuring a dramatic brown marble bar as its centerpiece, offers nine Cognacs by the glass. Once in Cognac, book a room at the Hôtel François Premier (, ideally situated in the town’s center, a stone’s throw from quaint cafés, a bustling marketplace and patisseries galore. It offers modern amenities like an in-house pool, tasty breakfast and free Wi-Fi.

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