Newcomer D’Ussé gets to have it both ways—and for fans of cognac, that’s a very good thing.
Lucky man, that Michel Casavecchia, master distiller of D’Ussé cognac.
“Traditionally, the cellar master in a cognac house is just continuing what his predecessors started,” he says. “He is there to replicate, year after year, the style of the house. He is the keeper of the style, making sure the VSOP [Very Special Old Pale] does not change and so on. He is not there to innovate or create. When D’Ussé came about, it was a totally different proposition.”
Indeed. The brand started only six years ago but out of the gate enjoyed the abundant resources of the actual Château de Cognac, the cellars of which held aging eau de vie going back as far as 1820. Casavecchia’s charge was to construct a sip more in line with today’s drinkers. “We wanted to create a great cognac for drinking neat,” he says, “but also one that was going to be used in a more complementary way—in craft cocktails, for example.”
The result of that complex requirement is actually two bottlings, extremely different in character but united under Casavecchia’s sensibility. The VSOP ($50) is a lightbodied beauty, with a bright fruitiness up front and a pleasant spiciness on the long finish. “You can use it for a drier cocktail like a Sazerac or Manhattan, and you will have the intensity,” he says, “but you can also use it in a long drink like a French 75.” When the bottling made its debut at the legendary Tales of the Cocktail gathering, it was voted best cognac for use in a Vieux Carré.
The XO ($230)—a blend of at least 100 different eaux de vie (“It’s difficult to be precise,” Casavecchia notes), with the youngest aged 10 years—offers a profile more familiar to cognac fans. There’s warm fruit on the nose, but it gives way on the palate to a hint of burnt orange and whiffs of truffle and undergrowth— the much-desired, difficult-to-describe rancio.
The Château de Cognac sits on the banks of the Charente river, its walls 3 feet thick. King Francis I was born there, in 1494, quite possibly in the space D’Ussé uses as its dining room today. Whether the king or Casavecchia will enjoy the most enduring fame is up to history to decide.