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Posted by Robert Whitley on May 18, 2017 at 10:33 AM

Cognac on the Rocks?

If you've ever ordered a cognac at a trendy restaurant, you've no doubt witnessed the bartender making a show of heating a snifter with hot water before filling it.

It's a dirty little secret (at least it was) that the renowned cognac house of Hennessy prefers to serve Hennessy X.O on the rocks. I learned of this firsthand a number of years ago when I had dinner with Maurice Hennessy and, to my amazement, he handed me a tall glass full of ice and Hennessy X.O as an aperitif.

He had a good laugh at my shocked face, and then explained, "Cognac and ice was the first long drink, even before scotch on the rocks."

Before I could even ask about the tradition of heating the cognac snifter before serving, he had another good laugh.

"That's not the best way to enjoy cognac," he said of the glass-heating ritual. "Do that and what you get when you put your nose in the glass is a big whiff of alcohol. The wonderful complexity, especially of an older cognac, is completely lost."

He went on to say that the ice served to tame the smell of alcohol and allowed the nuance of fine cognac to shine. Over ice, the cognac exhibited a floral note with aromas of dried fruits and spice. And the fire on the palate was subdued, reducing the burn on the finish.

In the years since I've kept my dirty little secret, sharing it only with close friends I thought might appreciate the beauty of aged cognac. But I've just learned that Hennessy recently commissioned architect Paul McClean to design a Hennessy X.O ice bucket, which was unveiled at an event last week in Beverly Hills, California.

Now that the word is out, you, too, can shock and amaze your dinner guests with that most surprising cocktail.

Luce, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($110, Folio Wine Imports)
Luce della Vite, usually referred to as “Luce,” initially was a joint venture of the Mondavi and Frescobaldi families but is now owned solely by Frescobaldi.  A Super Tuscan blend of roughly equal parts Sangiovese and Merlot grown in the Montalcino area, it does not conform to Italian winemaking regulations and therefore carries the IGT designation.  In 2003, Frescobaldi started making a Brunello di Montalcino from the Sangiovese on the Luce property.  (Luce Brunello was, and still is, distinct from Frescobaldi’s other very fine Brunello di Montalcino, Castelgiocando.)  So therein lies the potential for confusion when speaking of Luce.  Are you referring to the short hand of Luce della Vite or the Brunello di Montalcino?  While both are easy to recommend, they are very different wines because the Merlot adds fleshiness to the more austere Sangiovese.  The 2012 Luce Brunello di Montalcino shows why Sangiovese by itself, grown in the right place -- Montalcino -- is revered.  Floral aromatics give way to an elegant, sleek and racy wine with a dark mineral-infused core.  Tightly wound at this stage, it has incredible energy, like a horse in the starting gate.  Polished -- it is a Frescobaldi wine -- it should evolve beautifully over the next decade.
95 Michael Apstein

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Canadian Pinot Noir: Who Knew?
Michael Apstein

When I told friends that I was going to Edmonton to taste and judge Canadian wines, the predictable response was, 'Oh, icewine.' Having tasted Canadian wines during trips to Ontario and at a previous edition of the Northern Lands Festival Canadian Wine Competition in Edmonton, I knew that Canada made more than just icewine. What I didn't know at the time, but know now, is that Canada makes sensational and unique Pinot Noir that reflect the diversity of sites where the grapes grow.
A Choice White for Summer: Picpoul de Pinet
Jim Clarke

With about 1,300 hectares planted, Picpoul de Pinet is a tiny appellation in the grand scheme of things, nestled in among a number of the Languedoc's predominantly red wine appellations but nonetheless responsible for more than 60% of the Languedoc's white wine production. The appellation's vineyards lie southwest from Montepellier along the Mediterranean coast, across the Bassin de Thau lagoons from the picturesque resort town of Sète and its attendant oyster farms, which almost seem to exist solely to prove the 'grows together, goes together' cliché -- oysters are an excellent pairing with Picpoul.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Pasta Primavera with Shrimp and Salmon

In Italy it is generally served in May and June, but many of us savor one version or another of pasta primavera year round. In the summer we might dress the pasta up with juicy cherry tomatoes, slivers of zucchini and perhaps fresh corn. Fall calls for bites of butternut squash and leeks, while the winter version might feature spinach, shallots and shitake mushrooms. Still, there is nothing quite like celebrating spring--'primavera'--with the bounty of the season's vegetables. Add a few scallops, a handful of shrimp, and/or a little fresh salmon and the dish is even more special.
On My Table
Gorgeous Pinot Noir from Heaven-and-Earth
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

When I visited South Africa a few years ago, one of my most memorable days was spent in the region known as the Cape South Coast, southeast of Cape Town, and its Walker Bay wine district. I can still recall walking the beach outside the town of Hermanus, looking for whales in the distance and snapping photos of two children cavorting in the white sand. I can also recall the wines of the area --especially Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, grown under cool Atlantic Ocean influences and showing vibrant acidity with stylistic restraint. I recently compared three Pinot Noir wines from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley ward, the most important area for Pinot Noir in the Walker Bay district. (Poetically, the name translates as 'Heaven and Earth.') This is a historic area for Pinot Noir in South Africa because it is the place where Tim Hamilton-Russell planted the country's first cool-climate Pinot Noir vines in 1975, winning rave reviews for his Burgundy-like Pinots and Chardonnays. Today the area is home to more than a dozen wineries.