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As good as it gets: Courvoisier l’Succession J.S. Cognac

Courvoisier l'Succession J.S. Grande Champagne Cognac
Courvoisier l'Succession J.S. Grande Champagne CognacHoke Harden

Why write an article about a spirit most people will never get to try?

Why indeed? While it may be interesting for a moment to read about a precious new scotch whisky or a limited edition special-release brandy, the excitement fades a bit when the reader realizes he or she will probably never get a chance to see the article of desire, much less taste it. While we covet the grand and rare, we harbor a small amount of resentment when it will never be ours.

But that never stopped people from reading about Ferrari and Lamborghini, did it? And some things…well, some things are just so good, so special, so impressive, they deserve to be acclaimed.

Courvoisier l’Succession J.S. Grande Champagne Cognac

In the land of luxury, nothing is more esteemed than a special, limited-edition, no-longer-produced, collector’s box Cognac. The l’Succession by Courvoisier is just such a coveted dream of a golden-amber liquid, legendary in the world of brandy. The original release, “J.L.,” was exceptionally rare, with only 595 bottles released to celebrate the bi-centenary anniversary of Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor of France.

Succession J.S., the second edition released in 2004, is also hard to find and expensive to acquire, though somewhat more available because 2,500 bottles were released: it’s currently valued at between $3000 and $4000. A bottle. Sure, you get a lovely wooden case in a gorgeous commemorative presentation for that. But still…$3000 a bottle (and up to $4900 for the J.L.!). Could anything be that good???

Yes, it could.

Recently, in a special tasting at the palatial home of Courvoisier in Jarnac, Cognac, a small group of B.N.I.C. Certified Cognac Educators from around the world was treated to a signal tasting experience. Courvoisier’s new 12 Year Old and 21 Year Old cognacs were offered for tasting, followed by a small sampling of the l’Succession J.S.

The 12 and 21 year old cognacs were impressive in their own rights, and gave an excellent showing of relative ages, each required by law to contain at least the stated age on the bottle, although it was possible to add even older cognacs if desired to round out the blend. Both are now available throughout the world.

But the inevitable attraction, the allure that could not be resisted, was in the final glass: l’Succession J.S., Bottle No. XI.

And glory of glories: it lived up to its hype.

As with all things truly great, there is a tale of provenance; a backstory, if you will. In the land of Cognac it is not uncommon for small landholders to occasionally offer older barrels from their family cellars, and some years ago Courvoisier was approached by two elderly sisters from one of their long-term grower-distiller suppliers in a coveted portion of the Grande Champagne who were interested in selling off some barrels laid down by their grandfather. In this cache were barrels from 1929 and, as the story goes, upon tasting these barrels the representative from Courvoisier immediately bought the entire offering.

After further long consideration and repeated tastings, the Master Blenders of Courvoisier remained impressed with those 1929 barrels. The more they considered them, the more loath they were to incorporate them into a blend and the more they wished to maintain the unique nature of the 1929. This is somewhat startling, in that most cognacs are carefully assembled blends of thirty, forty, or over a hundred different barrel sources. But sometimes…sometimes…rarely…there are singular examples of cognac that are so exceptional as to defy blending and fiercely maintain their own integrity. So it was with the 1929. Courvoisier decided to leave the cognac intact and release it as a special limited-edition, and l’Succession was born.

L’Succession J.S. in the glass is wonderful in all ways. The color is a soft, muted, golden nut brown, and the aroma is enticing with heady notes of warm fruit breads, roasted nuts and subdued spices teasing the nose and memory.

On the palate it is sublimely rich, soft, velvety and pervasive, expanding gently to entirely fill the mouth, engaging the senses, with the overall impression of a spirit fully resolved in all its elements, fully agreeable in all ways, with surpassing warmth, as if with some sort of internal perfusion that emanates slowly and with focused persistence.

There is absolutely no harshness or bite or sting to this cognac; it is suffused with warmth, rounded to perfection and all aromas and flavors and textures are fully integrated and harmonious. Hedonism wars with restraint here: the cognac is so enticing you want to devour it, but you sip slowly and savor it in your mouth, letting the aromas trickle up into your olfactory bulb to lavish the senses. This is a superb cognac to linger over, to relax and let the flavors come, to resonate with the harmony of the spirit.

Curiously, the more you engage with the l’Succession J.S. the less you concern yourself with the advanced age. Yes, it is indicative of its 1929 heritage, but not only that: it is an entirety in and of itself, a profound and singular thing, no matter the provenance. And of course the French have an expression for this, as they seem to have for all things inexplicable, an expression that doesn’t translate easily and efficiently to English, but which seems to say everything that needs to be said: Hors d’Age (pronounced ‘Ohr-dahzh’), which means, loosely, “beyond age.”

L’Succession J.S. is truly Hors d’Age.