When I was a young man, I was fond of a restaurant called Le Coupe-Chou in Paris. It was located at the foot of a blind alley, had an almost medieval ambiance, and served a spate of southwestern French specialties, most notably goose fat fried potatoes.
But what I really found cool about it was the salle one retreated to for a post-prandial cigar and a snifter of rare Cognac, a spirit also from the southwest of France, distilled from a nasty grape called Ugni Blanc, a grape with a high acid level that renders it poor for winemaking but perfect for distillation.
Our best French restaurants weren’t conceived with such rooms, and indeed, there is a no smoking policy in all of them. Master Chef Guy Savoy, however, has amassed a rare Cognac collection, which he has decided to display, and pour. It’s a truly civilized idea if you like that after dinner digestif, which I do, and the list of Cognacs is quite impressive.
The price range, generally for a 2 oz. snifter, starts at a modest $20 for a Courvoisier Napoleon, and ends at Hine Talent, served in a 1 oz. snifter for $700. This stuff is quite rare, so much so that the house sommelier has only smelled it. It was bottled in ’30, and has an ambrosial aroma, but is anything worth that kind of ticket? Hey, if the casino will pick up the tab, what the hell!
A few of us gathered in the lounge with Chef Savoy, who has just turned a robust sixty, to sample three very different styles of spirit. I should mention that Cognac is classified according to how long it is aged, and the categories are VS, VSOP, XO and Napoleon.
We first sampled Leopold Gourmes Age des Fleurs ($30), a lovely spirit with loads of butterscotch on the palate, and a smooth finish. Next came Kelt XO ($45) with finesse to burn, and a lean demeanor. Finally we sampled some Remy Martin Extra ($65), the best of the three, in my opinion, extremely complex for the price.
Those three rare Cognacs pictured in their art glass bottles are the stuff dreams are made of. Hardy Perfection is 140 years old, and the vines that produced the grapes to distill it don’t exist anymore. The bullet shaped bottle in the center is Hennessey Ellipse, unusual in that it’s 100% French Colombard, usually a blending grape in Cognac. By the way, it is a mere $450 for a 1 oz. pour. And the lovely etched glass bottle is Hine Talent, yours for only $700 an ounce. The Hardy Perfection is practically gone from the Earth. If you drink the last shot, you’ll surely never see it again.
Incidentally, Restaurant Guy Savoy will give the bottle of any of these rare cognacs to the person who orders the last shot. Keep an eye out. As one member of the group said after remarking that she saw a bottle on ebay, you could theoretically order the last shot and make money.
Guy Savoy, at Caesars Palace. Call 731-7110 for reservations.
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