Tasting Cognac is always a joy. Not only because you get the time to sit back and enjoy something truly precious but also because you learn a lot about your own taste and palate. 

When the lockdown in 2020 started across the world, we took the time to sit back and become more aware of the time we have and how to spend it. That’s how the idea of an XO Family Tasting developed. Little did we know at the time that it would become one of the most widely read blog posts on Cognac Expert. 

Winners of the XO Family Tasting

Many readers have appreciated the 2020 XO Family Tasting and enjoy reading about the recommendations given. Jump over to the article to see who made the race in 2020.

The XO Family Tasting is Back 

Today we are not exactly in lockdown anymore. A lot of restrictions are no longer in place, but the XO Family Tasting was appreciated by so many of you, that we decided that it was time to get back together for a second round.

Seeing that XO Cognacs are good value for your buck and that there is an XO for literally everyone, we decided to stick to XO quality cognacs for this second Family Tasting. To mix it up though we had a new batch of Cognacs than for the first XO Family Tasting and agreed that it was crucial to conduct the tasting blind. 

Family tasting top 10 bottles

The more the merrier, so we extended the participants of the Family Tasting across the Cognac Expert team and were in total 7 people: Sophie, Max, Brian, Mathieu, Taylor, Malte, and Virginia. All taking the time on a weekend to sit together in our headquarters and the home of Sophie, Brian, and Max: Logis de Beaulieu.

Method of the tasting 

The most important matter was to set the entire Family Tasting up as a blind tasting to eliminate any bias towards a particular brand. Precisely, this was a single blind tasting in that each taster knew many of the 21 Cognacs that would be poured, but the order and flight number were entirely secret. In fact, there were no bottles in sight during the actual tasting.

To proceed in such a manner, we needed a tasting master who would pour the glasses behind the scenes and place them in the same order in front of each participant. 

3 flights of cognacs

Given that 21 Cognacs all at once can be overwhelming, we decided to stretch the tasting across an entire weekend and have three flights of seven Cognacs, with one fourth and final flight for each participant to hone in on the top Cognacs of each flight and to ultimately determine the final ranking. We started on a Saturday evening, with the first flight of 7 Cognacs. 

To help us orientate between all the flavors and smells, each taster was given a tasting sheet where we noted down comments and gave points for nose, mouth, taste, finish, and overall impression, similar to our review platform. See for yourself what insights are shared on the platform and who our top reviewers are. 

Cognac Blind tasting sheet

Having a sheet for notes and comments in front of us was very beneficial and helped each person keep a clear head. This also allowed each taster to evaluate his or her personal favorites after each flight.

After the tasting master aligned 7 glasses of the same Cognacs in front of each participant, we also were equipped with a glass of water and a reference Cognac. The role of the reference Cognac was to have a reference smell/ taste – just like the name indicates – to be able to return to at any time and use for a sake of comparison.

We all love a good (heated) discussion and because Cognac, in general, is one of our favorite topics, it was just clear that all exchanges about the Cognacs in front of us were allowed during the tasting – that way it was more fun for all.

Flight 1

  • Cognacs: 7 different XO cognacs
  • Reference Cognac: Fevrier VSOP  
  • Equipment: Review sheet, pencil, a glass of water, crachoir
  • Date: 19th of March 2022
  • Time: 9:00 pm

Once everyone had their glasses ready, we started nosing the Cognacs from left to right. During the first round of smelling them, a lot of comments were already dropped and the color of the eaux-de-vie was analyzed. 

Once the first round of smelling was over, the second round of nosing followed. During that round, each of us displayed early preferences in pushing the glasses in imaginary rows. 

Cognac preferences

Imagine seven glasses arranged horizontally in a perfect line in front of you. As you smell and taste, Cognacs that are to your liking are pulled slightly towards you, Cognacs which do not sit well with you are pushed slightly away, and Cognacs that you are unsure about are kept on the original line to be retasted and reconsidered. This push-pull technique, in addition to the scoring sheets, helped each taster more easily rank the seven Cognacs on the table. 

After exploring the nose of the unknown Cognacs we moved on to the best part, the tasting. We took our time and did several rounds of tasting from left to right until we filled out the sheet and distributed points. In between it happened quite often that preferences changed and glasses were moved from closer rows to further rows and vice versa. 

The tasting master noted some of the best comments during the tasting to enhance the experience and wanted to highlight what one of the participants said while nosing one Cognac:

“This one is a little shy but quite nice.”

and when tasting that same Cognac said:

“Nice one! Love it! Bravo!”

At the end of the flight and when all points were given, we summed the points up for each Cognac and passed the results on to the tasting master. Still, nothing was revealed to the tasters.

As we took our time and enjoyed the exchange around the blind tasting very much, we only finished the first flight around 11 pm. Seeing that it was already quite late, we agreed on calling it a night, even though we were all very curious about what Cognacs were tasted. To be continued the next day.

It was safe to say that all of us dreamt about tasting Cognac and the big reveal of that first flight.

Flight 2

  • Cognacs: 7 different cognacs
  • Reference Cognac: Lheraud VSOP  
  • Equipment: Review sheet, pencil, a glass of water, crachoir
  • Date: 20th of March 2022
  • Time: 11:00 am

Sunday morning after having a good night’s sleep and a rich breakfast we all met up again to continue the XO Family Tasting. 

The time of the day can be considered early for the faint-hearted but for us, it was just logical to start that early. Tasting Cognac in the way we did takes time. Plus, we still had two flights of seven Cognacs to taste, so we had to start early to get through all of them. 

Everything was set up the same as the night before. The only difference was the Cognacs in the glasses. The reference Cognac changed as well. 

Malte during XO Family Tasting

Interesting was that during the flight from the day before and on that morning, comparisons were made between Cognacs. One taster said about cognac number 12:

“I quite like this cognac, it’s similar to 10.” 

Guesses and bets during the flights were also made, such as:

“That’s Doussoux, young and crispy. A laser beam of fruit.” or “I bet my bank account that number 2 is Chainier.”

As you can imagine, the tasting master was very amused by the feedback of the participants. Keep in mind she was the only one who knew what Cognacs were tasted at the time, and in what order.

Taylor during XO Family tasting in grand gite

To keep it simple we stuck to the same procedure as for the first flight. All tasted Cognacs were rated on the sheet in front of everyone. In the end, the calculation was made and everyone had their personal favorites again, for that flight. 

After the second flight, we had a little stroll around Montmoreau where the annual Foire aux Vins was held. We do have to mention that we were curious which of our neighbors and friends would have a stall there selling their Cognacs.

Flight 3

  • Cognacs: 7 different cognacs
  • Reference Cognac: Gautier VS  
  • Equipment: Review sheet, pencil, a glass of water, crachoir
  • Date: 20th of March 2022
  • Time: 3:00 pm

After a stroll around Montmoreau and a lunch break, including Canneles (traditional pastry from Bordeaux), we were ready to pursue our mission to find the best XO Cognac.

The reference Cognac changed to the Gautier VS for this round and the remaining 7 cognacs were placed in front of us. We were very surprised by the different hues of mahogany on this flight and all agreed it was the most interesting one out of the three, in terms of color at least.

“Nicely done.”

and

“Similar to number 2.”

were comments made on the taste of cognac number 15.

“It doesn’t really know what it wants to be.”

was said about cognac number 16 a couple of times. 

Then there was a big moment where we tasted cognac number 20. The reaction was similar but our Cognac Expert team member Taylor was blown away by it. 

His exact words were: 

“Great! Beautiful! Winner! This is on fire! Fantastic! Singular and a bit outrageous, but I am really enjoying this!”

We finished the third flight and quickly wanted to know after calculating the points given, which Cognacs we tasted across the three flights. The tension was so high that we considered revealing the Cognacs straight afterward.

The tasting master though, decided it would be even better to select the two individual winners of each flight and do a fourth round. This would give more insights into each taster’s personal flavor profile, and it would give each taster the opportunity to put his or her favorites from each flight on the table at the same time.

Flight 4

  • Cognacs: 6 different cognacs
  • Reference Cognac: Lheraud VSOP  
  • Equipment: Review sheet, pencil, a glass of water, crachoir
  • Date: 20th of March 2022
  • Time: 8:30 pm

This flight was different from the previous ones as each participant of the XO Family Tasting had different Cognacs aligned on the table. Each had their top two highest-ranked Cognacs from each flight in the glasses, which were of course most of the time different from the other participants. There were only some of the Cognacs that made it across a couple of participants’ final lists.

blind tasting flight

The procedure of the final round was the same as the earlier ones. The Cognacs were examined, nosed, and tasted. Preferences were made clear during several rounds of smelling and tasting until the final points were given. The calculation of points marked the end of the tasting as such.

After evaluating the top 10 winners from all points given, the moment we all waited for was about to happen – the big reveal. Bets and guesses would be confirmed or crushed. This was the most exciting part of the entire set-up and followed just minutes after the final tasting.

Newcomers

Two Cognacs stood out during the XO Family Tasting. These are newcomers, one of which we never tasted before, and were entered by the tasting master in the blind tasting. These turned out to be crazy discoveries and Cognacs that may have not yet seen the light outside France, which is especially interesting to us at Cognac Expert as it’s our mission to emphasize the diversity of Cognac. Because we were all blown away by them, we agreed on featuring them in a special section. Let us present to you: 

Lembert XO and Chainier XO

Lembert Xo and Chainier XO bottles with cognac glass

The Cognacs that were hiding behind number 20 and number 10, respectively. Not only did they appear three times in the top lists of the tasters, but they are also great value for your money. It doesn’t get more authentic than these two.

With passionate people behind both houses, straight from the Petite Champagne and Grande Champagne, these two amazing newcomers have very unlikely been seen anywhere outside of rural France. 

Get yourself a bottle of Lembert XO,single cask distilled in 1991, and don’t miss out on the Chainier XO to experience the discoveries of this spring. 

The Result (in reverse order)

10. Prunier 20 year old

Prunier 20 year old

An XO Family Tasting - 21 cognacs blindly tasted

The slim and gently tapered bottle of the Prunier 20 Years Old Cognac contains eaux-de-vie that was described as oaky and Rum-like during the blind tasting. After letting it breathe for a bit it revealed decent hints of coconut resulting in a quite dry and fresh Cognac.

Head over to our online shop to get yourself a bottle of Prunier 20 Years Old

9. Tiffon XO

Tiffon XO

An XO Family Tasting - 21 cognacs blindly tasted

The fine and distinct flavors of dried fruits together with an elegant and lengthy finish, make the Tiffon XO Cognac a great experience. More so during the XO Family Tasting. 

Get yourself a bottle of Tiffon XO and experience this elegant Cognac with friends and family.

8. Hine XO Grande Champagne 

Hine XO

An XO Family Tasting - 21 cognacs blindly tasted

This Hine XO Cognac has not only made it into the top 10 in the XO Family Tasting but it is also reviewed with 94 points on our shop which make it an exceptional Cognac. 

You can encounter Hine XO on our online shop.

7. Chainier XO

Chainier XO

An XO Family Tasting - 21 cognacs blindly tasted

Chainier XO: This crazy newcomer deserves a spot in the top 10 as it is exclusively produced from eaux-de-vie from the Grande Champagne and reflects all the complexity and elegance the region is known for. 

Experience this unique Chainier XO Grande Champagne Cognac on our online shop.

6. Godet XO Terre

Godet Terre XO

An XO Family Tasting - 21 cognacs blindly tasted

A unique decanter displaying the heritage and craftsmanship of the Godet XO Cognac inside. Something truly outstanding with fruity and spicy notes, a blend of the best that all 6 growing regions have to offer. 

Discover a harmonious medley of all cru of the Cognac region with Godet XO Terre.

5. Lembert XO

Lembert XO

An XO Family Tasting - 21 cognacs blindly tasted

Unknown until the day of the blind tasting, this 30 year old Lembert XO has seduced each and every one of us. Light colors of honey meet fruity aromas on the nose and palate and become something truly outstanding – a real treasure. 

See for yourself why Lembert XO made it in the top 10 of the XO Family Tasting.

4. Audry XO (last times winner) 

Audry XO

An XO Family Tasting - 21 cognacs blindly tasted

It was quite interesting to note the strong performance of the Audry XO once again – a solid fourth place finish. In fact, no one in the tasting group had any indication that this Cognac would be included in the tasting, since we were each under the assumption that all Cognacs were different from the first lockdown XO Family Tasting. Fun and surprising and perhaps a telling validation of the previous 2020 result!

Enjoy a bottle of Audry XO to commemorate last time’s winner. 

3. Frapin XO VIP

Frapin VIP XO

An XO Family Tasting - 21 cognacs blindly tasted

Out of 21 Cognacs Frapin XO VIP made it up into the top 3. Aged 35 years this eaux-de-vie convinces with a deep mahogany color and the interplay of fruity and spicy notes, typically for the Grande Champagne region.

With a bottle of Frapin XO VIP you get to taste something truly memorable.

2. Francois Voyer XO Gold 

Francois Voyer XO Gold

An XO Family Tasting - 21 cognacs blindly tasted

This exceptional Francois Voyer XO Gold Cognac made it on the top lists of everyone during the blind tasting. Complex but round and easy to drink are just a few comments made on this specimen. A Cognac that should be in everyone’s house bar. 

Find out more about Francois Voyer XO Gold and buy now.

1. Marancheville XO

Marancheville XO

An XO Family Tasting - 21 cognacs blindly tasted

Drum roll. The winner of the 2022 XO Family Tasting with a fabulous 91 points makes this unbelievable round Marancheville XO Cognac. A wonderful buttery nose with a smooth but spicy palate and a long round finish. No wonder this beautiful bottle made the race and conquered all hearts. 

Curious about the winner of the race? Discover why we adore Marancheville XO on our online shop now.

Personal Favorites

Based on the individual points we also set up a list of personal favorites. Here is the result: 

  • Sophie: Audry XO 
  • Virginia: Audry XO
  • Max: Lembert XO 
  • Mathieu: Voyer XO Gold
  • Brian: Chainier XO 
  • Malte: Marancheville XO
  • Taylor: Lembert XO 

Honorable Mentions

The above made the top 10 out of the 21 Cognacs we tasted over the weekend. The other 11 Cognacs that were part of the tasting should also be mentioned here. They might not have made the leader board, but they were still very good Cognacs in their own right. In alphabetic order we present you: 

Original Cognacs such as these are the star feature of the Cognac Expert Recommendation Assistant. Do the quiz here to find your individual preferences.

Conclusion

21 cognacs, 7 participants, 2 full days of tasting, 1 result. 

Family Tasting bottles in a lign

Even though there can only be one winner, we realized again throughout the days that each of us has an individual taste. 

Some of us like the fruitier notes more than others, some like their Cognacs spicy and on the oaky side and this is perfectly fine. Even though there have been some similarities in taste between some participants, in general, we can say that each of us enjoys different Cognacs. 

Aren’t we lucky that Cognac has to offer so many different flavor profiles? During this XO Family tasting, we truly reexperienced that there is literally a Cognac for each and every palate no matter if you are a beginner or a connoisseur.

Another valuable piece of learning was definitely to understand one’s palate better, not only one’s own palate but also that of the others. We enjoyed the tasting weekend a lot and hope you enjoy reading about it. Who knows, maybe we will be doing more of them in the not too distant future.

 

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Virginia has been managing the blog content team across the different blogs as well as the print Magazine. Originally from the Alsace region, she discovered Cognac to be a divers spirit with a lot of insights to explore.

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