Tesseron, the Cognac house that bills itself as "XO and beyond," has taken a couple of steps in the latter direction with a triple release, its new Signature Collection aimed at showcasing three distinct styles.
Until 2003, the house with its 12th-century cellars was little known beyond the trade as it acted as an exclusive supplier of Cognacs to other houses in the region. In that year, it began releasing product—all ranked at least XO—under its own label. Cognac maintains three age designations: VS (very special), VSOP (very special old pale) and XO (extra old). The last is the most matured: at least six years with some being decades old.
Alfred Tesseron, the third-generation custodian of the family-owned house created in 1905, regards the collection as the opportunity to savor "the style of Cognac established by my grandfather Abel, who secured our family's reputation." This set, however, really is a chance to try three different approaches. As Alfred Tesseron personally blended them, the first, XO Passion, is meant to show zest and fruit. The second, Extra Légende, is blended for elegance. The last, Trésor, is made to reflect richness.
XO Passion is made with a blend of 30 eaux-de-vie, created from Ugni Blanc grapes (the most commonly variety grown in Cognac) and aged for at least 10 years. The Extra Légende is made from a combination of Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche grapes, with 50 eaux-de-vie. It is designated Grande Champagne as all its contents arise from the Grande Champagne, a region of Cognac marked by its chalky soil. Without putting a number on it, the company maintains that the blend is at least two generations old. Trésor is also a Grande Champagne, this one made up of Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanc and Columbard grapes. It is described as coming from eaux-de-vie stored in the family paradis (prized cellar) for two generations.
Tesseron is also known for its attention to elegant bottling. This collection's packaging was created by the French design agency Linéa to reflect small sample bottles traditionally presented to the company's prospective clients.
While it's odd to describe products of such high prices as bargains, it is often thought that Tesseron's decision to offer Cognac directly to the market as well as marketing to other houses as a merchant has created exceptional values because of their rarity and high quality.
Tesseron XO Passion (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $300 a 750 ml bottle)
APPEARANCE: Light, sparkling color. Thin, slow legs.
NOSE: Quite floral, with a bit of honey and some tropical fruit as well as walnuts.
PALATE: Perfumy notes are followed by complex fruits: some meaty, some tropical, some berry-like. Then comes the surprise with a burst of spice: pepper, licorice and cinnamon.
FINISH: Finish proceeds from peppery to fruity to a bit creamy at the close.
Tesseron Extra Légende (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $500 a 750 ml bottle)
APPEARANCE: Rich, amber color, with slow, medium-fat legs.
NOSE: Markedly fruitier aroma than the above Cognac. Flowers are tempered and the nuttiness is amplified with a bit of leather.
PALATE: Hits the tongue with the berries and pears of hard candy. Then notes of nuts and chocolate enter and transform it into a confection. Chew away at this candy and be rewarded with toast and slight Stilton cheese note.
FINISH: This Cognac takes many curtain calls, showcasing each element with each bow, until it fades into the bank of pleasant memories.
Tesseron Trésor (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $1,200 a 750 ml bottle)
APPEARANCE: Rich, dark amber—almost copper—color. Begrudgingly gives up its teardrop legs.
NOSE: A huge nose with elements of fruit, flowers, spices and herbs. Starts out as berry candy with honey. Moves onto to some rose attar. Then plays out with light spice with cinnamon and graham cracker.
PALATE: Spice jumps out at the opening with licorice and pepper. Chunky cereal, with raspberry and blueberry, follows. That morphs into a hard candy, which then picks up nuts, cocoa and a bit of leather.
FINISH: The spice hangs on for a moment, but then relinquishes itself to heartier, richer flavors with notes of honey, leather, saffron, toast and nuts. Despite its blockbuster character, it maintains the finesse Cognac is known for. (Note that savoring each selection over time reveals interesting changes as the flavors develop.)
CIGAR PAIRING: Fuente Fuente OpusX Double Corona (Dominican Republic, 7 5/8 inches by 49 ring gauge, $16.00, 91 points, December 3, 2013, Cigar Insider) This long cigar imparts a tasty balance of brown sugar and cinnamon notes against a spicy core of red pepper and leather. Hints of salted caramel appear on the finish.
With XO Passion: Excepting the fruit flavor, this cigar already possesses most of the flavors in the Cognac trio, and we endeavored to see how a note-for-note pairing would fare. The XO especially accelerates the leather on the Opus X, while the spice—especially cinnamon and licorice—comes to the fore on the Cognac. The once-delicate XO gets an extra oomph and heartiness. A certain cereal taste also appears on both elements.
With Extra Légende: The Cognac gets a similar leather boost here, but also shows off its fruit character. The brown sugar steps up on the cigar, with more of its spice in the bargain. The cigar gets chewier as well with some nougat compounds. As you happily go back and forth between the two, an herbal vestige shows itself on both.
With Trésor: The Tesseron literature suggests pairing this expression with a cigar (specifically a Montecristo No. 3) and the advice is spot on, even while we used a different smoke. The caramel on the Opus fairly sings now. The Tresor's price is justified for those with the big wallets, as it opens up beautifully, with huge flavors of vanilla and spice. The two play along note for note, with saffron and leather growing to a crescendo. A bang-up ending to a bang-up evening.