Enjoying your favorite Cognac as an appetizer or digestif is a familiar pleasure. But a Cognac for every course? Yes—it really is a thing!

food preparation in kitchen
Meal planning with Cognac for each course? Yes—it’s a great idea!

A Cognac Food Pairing for Every Course

Cognac food pairing opens up an avenue of sensory experiences that brings a decadent angle to any dinner party. The nuances of individual eau-de-vie can be selected to complement all types of foods: from spicy meat dishes, delicate fish cuisine, right through to rich desserts and cheese boards.

As the saying goes—the world (of Cognac) is your oyster…

Appetizer Tease

The appetizer, or hors d’oeuvre, is designed to stimulate the appetite. So the key for a great choice of Cognac is lightness—one that doesn’t overpower and that perfectly matches the anticipation of the meal ahead.

Think about the nose, the palate and, most importantly, the texture (mouthfeel) as well. Rather than a neat Cognac, you may prefer a young VS and mixer of your choice. Such a combination is ideal at this early stage of the gastronomic experience. 

pour cognac in glasses
Every aspect of a Cognac plays its part in food pairing: eye, nose, palate, & mouthfeel

The multi-award winning Camus VS Elegance Cognac is a great choice, perhaps with tonic or soda over ice.

Enter the Entrée

We continue the theme of lightness as we move to the entrée (or starter). Consider what’s being served. Fish, such as oysters, salmon, or shrimp, pair deliciously with very refined and floral Cognac, particularly those from Grande Champagne.

salmon with herbs and sauce
Fish and Cognac—a match delicious food pairing match

Top tip: With oysters, caviar, or prawns, try serving the Cognac chilled—or even frozen—for an incredible sensation. The first sip, followed by an oyster, will taste completely different to the second.

Smoked fish dishes are well-complemented by an older offering, such as the Jacques Denis Grande Champagne VSOP.

Finally, pair cooked seafood with a floral Cognac, like the Normandin Mercier Grande Champagne 10 Years 2009.

Main Course Mayhem: From vegan to meat-eater delights

The purists will tell you that as the meal progresses, so should the age of the Cognac. However…. While we love tradition, we’re also keen ambassadors of doing it your way.

Therefore, the age aspect should be regarded as more of a loose guideline than a rule to be rigidly enforced. After all, many classic red meat dishes (lamb, beef) are well complemented by a VSOP. But as main courses often tend to be richer, the older, more developed tones of an XO can be a good choice, especially with intense flavors of dishes such as game.

De Luze XO next to filet steak
Classic meat dishes can be enjoyed with a VSOP or an XO

Spicy Cognacs make for the perfect partner in crime. Consider the age-old classic, Martell Cordon Bleu or, if you prefer a Cognac from a smaller house then we can recommend the Braastad XO Fine Champagne.

Cognac Food Pairing a la Carte
The iconic Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac has a spicy profile that goes perfectly with meat dishes

Vegetarians and vegans, don’t worry—we haven’t forgotten about you. Cognac pairs beautifully with mushrooms, especially those with earthy flavors.

Mushrooms
Earthy mushrooms are pair well with a good VSOP

As many vegetarian dishes are, by nature, lighter in tone, then a quality VSOP is often a great choice. The award winning ABK6 VSOP Single Estate Cognac would be well worth your consideration.

Vegan Barbecue
Vegetarian dishes are beautifully complemented by a carefully chosen VSOP, such as the ABK6 Single Estate

Delectable Desserts

If you only choose to pair Cognac with a single course, then we recommend saving it for dessert. The classic combination of eau-de-vie and sugary sweetness is, quite simply, exquisite. Dark chocolate dishes call for a rich, older Cognac, whereas fun desserts, such as crunchy hazelnut praline or those with white chocolate, can be enjoyed with a vibrant VS straight from the freezer.

Dessert with nuts and fruits
Be a devil! Pair a nutty dessert with an Uber-chilled VS straight from the ice box

The Louis Royer VS is a great option, and has been the recipient of many industry awards.

various desserts
We recommend experimenting with a mix of older and younger Cognacs to pair with dessert

Tarte Tatin, on the other hand, pairs beautifully with the maturity of an XO, thanks to the sweetness of the sugar. The same applies to nut-based desserts. But if going for a less sweet, more fruity option, then a good VSOP works well.

Exquisitely Cheesy: We save the best ‘till last…

Cheese and Cognac are the ultimate bedfellows; the saltiness pairs like a dream. The delights of cheeses such as Mimolette, Camembert, Emmental, Parmesan, and Manchego will all be intensified by the intricacy of a truly old XO palate or, ideally, an even older Hors d’Age.

Cognac and Cheese
Cheese & Cognac is the perfect combination

While we love the classics (Louis XIII, Tesseron Extreme, etc.) looking to the smaller Cognac houses for extremely well-aged Cognacs can bring extraordinary rewards. The multi-award winning Deau Louis Memory (opens in a new tab)” rel=”noreferrer noopener”>Deau Louis Memory is a perfect example of how refined an Hors d’Age can be, without costing the earth.

Make it a Shared Experience

The best thing about pairing Cognac with food is the communal experience. The beauty of sampling certain dishes and eau-de-vie is the discussion that it promotes. Different flavors and aromas will emerge for each person. It’s entirely subjective, yet a wonderful moment shared between friends and family.

For the host, using pauses between meals gives the chance to introduce a Cognac and explain why you’ve chosen to pair it with this dish in particular.

Using our pairing guide and blog, we recommend doing some history on the bottle itself. Aspects you’ll want to include in your explanation include the age, terroir, and the aromas, flavors, and tones your guests might expect to experience.

covered dinner table
It doesn’t have to be grand— 2 or 3 friends, delicious food, & great Cognacs set the scene for a fabulous lunch or dinner party

Experimentation is Fun!

One of the things we love so much about Cognac is that there really are no rules. Sure, there’s plenty of advice from experts. But in all reality, it’s all about personal preference—and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

The takeaway from this is to try, try, and try again. Think about the food on offer and how a Cognac’s personality will combine and complement. Strong food flavors might need a robust Cognac—but to flip that rule on its head, would a lighter Cognac be the best companion to showcase two different aspects of flavor? It’s all about trial and error, and that’s what makes Cognac food pairing such a roller coaster journey to be savored. Quite simply, introducing a fine Cognac makes for a fantastic culinary experience, not to mention being a real talking point.

We’re off to enjoy some sushi washed down with a Borderies blend, a particularly cherished combination…

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Jacki has been with Cognac Expert from virtually the beginning. She's the senior editor of the blog, and has spent much of her life living in rural France. Today she's based back in the UK, where she splits her working life between writing for Cognac Expert and working as a Paramedic at a large regional hospital.

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