Time travel is a rare job perquisite, but it's one that Yann Fillioux, a seventh-generation master blender of Hennessy Cognac, enjoys when he makes Paradis Extra. Working in the 225-year-old Founder's Cellar, Fillioux finds himself amongst the world's largest reserves of eau-de-vie aged for 50 years or more. Choosing from a range of Cognac laid down as recently as 50 years ago and as distantly as 1800, Fillioux comes about as close as one can to visiting ancestors long gone. When his uncle, master blender Maurice Fillioux, created Paradis in 1979, one express purpose was to blend a Cognac from spirits put into the cask by his grandfather. And now, it is his nephew's turn to tour the years of Hennessy.
Yann's goal, or maybe rather his responsibility, is to review the spirits library of a company that is responsible for a little more than a third of the world's Cognac, and blend perhaps 100 vintages into one exquisite brandy that perfectly matches the standard that Paradis has set through the years. After blending, the Cognac is further aged as the components are allowed to marry inside a cask for as long as two years before making it into the teardrop-shaped bottle.
The result is sublime. Maurice Hennessy, a seventh generation descendant of the founder, describes the effect as "a fireworks of dozens of flavors," and certainly that is an apt metaphor. But the allusion to pyrotechnics shortchanges the balance that Paradis achieves even while seeming to explode. Perhaps it's more like an orchestration, with a range of solos taken by instruments working on a common harmony. The nose is floral and perfumy, but with whiffs of walnuts, ginger, apple and orange. Dried flowers and light spices as well as the fruit flavor play through into the mouth. But also comes anise, chalk, sweet grapes, macadamia, coffee and nutmeg, all which build to a crescendo. The finish is a kind of reprise that goes on and on before fading on a sustained loamy note.
Whatever your take -- fireworks or music -- it may be best to just get into the Hennessy time machine and let the years roll over you.
Available at better liquor stores. Retail price: $250.