France, which is well known for its wine, is also home to many great spirits like Cognac, Calvados, and Vodka. During my spirit tasting journey from Toronto to Vancouver, I had the opportunity to taste some wonderful cocktails paired with delectable dishes.
My first stop was Vancouver, for the Hennessy Prestige dinner. The evening began with a social cocktail hour in Fairmont Pacific Rim lobby, followed by more conservation and Hors Oeuvres paired with Hennessy XO on the rocks in the Presidential suite.
If you’re new to cognac, you may be surprised to learn that it is made with grapes, of which the Ugni Blanc accounts for 98 per cent of the plantings. The “grape juice” does form a wine but this is only the beginning. the wine then goes through a double pot still distillation and then maturation and blending – this is a very simplified version of the process. Further complications arise in adhering to the laws and regulations that apply to the production of cognac <perhaps we’ll discuss this some time in the future.
Dinner was hosted outside on the terrace, followed with an exquisite four course meal and champagne and cognac pairing.
We started with the first course of Foie Gras Bulee paired with Hennessey Paradis, the second course was poached Nova-Scotia Lobster paired with Dom Perignon Blanc, the third was seared Duck Breast paired with Dom Perignon Rose the fourth course was Artisanal Cheese paired with the Hennessey Paradis Imperial. The Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Chef did an outstanding job as did Hennessey.
The food and the drink pairings … well you know what I mean … can’t spend too much time, we should move on.
During the dinner and subsequent special tasting of the Hennessy Richard, we were treated to information on the History of the House of Hennessy. It was founded by Richard Hennessy, an Irish Officer serving in the army of Louis XV, in 1765. In the present, it is the number one Cognac in Canada and the World with it’s nearest rivals being closer to each other than the House of Hennessy. Unfortunately, the article word count works against me in getting into much detail about all of the great history, including how hip-hop in the ‘80s is said to have brought Cognac back … today its Cranberry and … I’ll dare not say it.
Hennessy XO Cognac (LCBO $299.40), described as a blend of 100 eaux-de-vie, its deeper amber colour is sign of its intensity. At once rich and robust, it constantly reveals layers of flavors with distinctive persistence on the palate – candied fruit, wild cocoa, bold complex spices, and pepper
Hennessy Paradis (LCBO, currently out of stock), described as Possessed of rich successive aromas that only a great Cognac can obtain, Paradis reveals its delicate and velvety character, hinting at the silky texture that will follow. Its subtle texture allows it to gracefully blossom with a deep and fragrant persistence – dried rose petals, honey, flowers, and delicate spices. It should be noted that Paradis is named after the special section in the Hennessy aging cellars where the finest, rarest, and oldest eaux-de-vie are carefully guarded.
Hennessy Paradis Imperial (LCBO $3,664.00), described as the unprecedented alliance of age & finesse, this is a Cognac of magisterial complexity, balance, and the finest texture, continually revealing new tones of expression and delicate floral essences on the palate – jasmine, orange blossom, spring essences, subtle smokiness.
Hennessy Richard XO Cognac (LCBO $6,585.00), described as Rare and precious, this Cognac is a product of man’s mastery over time. An unparalleled range of aromas gives Richard Hennessy its unique complexity. Powerful and unexpected, Richard Hennessy reaches heights that approach Cognac perfection – candied fruit, nutmeg, hints of pepper, delicate flowers, blanched fennel – this is truly history in a glass, a unique blend of exceptional and rare eaux-de-vie aged from 40 years to nearly 2000 years old. An exceptional treat to end the dinner.
Courvoisier is a brand that has been rebranding over the last year for the “entire Canadian range along with its national marketing campaign, inspired by the vibrant art and architecture of the Paris Golden Age… The new pack and bottle updates are supported by a marketing campaign titles The Toast of Paris.” I was invited to a couple of these rebranding tastings, of which the most interesting was the launch of the bartender competition <Toronto edition> where competitors would submit videos and recipes to compete in the Finals in Paris. I’m looking to feature some of the insights as to building cocktails in the future.
Courvoisier VS (LCBO $32.10), described as a youthful and lively blend of cognac, delivering a spectrum of sensations. On the nose, Fruit and spice ranging from ripe fruit, new oak sawdust and spring flowers, with the vigour of a young cognac; with a palate that is powerful and fruity, but delicate.
Courvoisier VSOP (LCBO $90.15) described as a blend of several crus with a perfect balance between Fins Bois, Grande and Petite Champagnes, at the peak of their aromatic potential. The result is an exquisitely balanced cognac. On the nose Caramel, pear, apple, peach, toasted almond, gentle hint of vanilla and jasmine; with a palate that is sweet, caramelized flavour resembling toasted almonds.
Courvoisier XO (LCBO $240.15) described as a selection by the Master Blender of beautifully matured eaux de vie, aged from 11 to 25 years, to highlight the complexity and richness of cognac aromas.On the nose Vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon, Iris flower, honey, candied orange and crème brulee;
with a palate that is Fine and velvety.
Courvoisier Canada Cocktail Recipes
Small brown sugar cube / Two dashes of Angostura bitters / 2.5 cl of Courvoisier VSOP / Champagne
- Put the brown sugar cube in a chilled coupette glass, cover the sugar cube with two dashes of Angostura bitters, add the cognac, top-up with chilled champagne
50 cl Courvoisier VSOP / 2 cl of Triple Sec / 2 cl of fresh lemon juice
- Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake well and strain into a martini or coupette glass
Midnight in Paris
2.5 cl Courvoisier VSOP / Ginger ale /Half an orange slice
- Fill a highball glass with ice, pour the cognac, top-up with ginger ale, stir gently, garnish with orange slice.
Imagine a place too cold to grow grapes in France, we’re off to the Normandy the home of Calvados where it is noted for its apple and pear orchards. Calvados can be made from either apples or pears but apples are far more abundant.
I received a few samples of this spirit that is great “after dinner” from Calvados Boulard and have been waiting for the right time to spread the word about this Calvados which I was first introduced to about two years ago. If you’re travelling, it’s worth it to look for the VSOP and the XO.
The Calvados Boulard was founded in 1825 by Pierre-Auguste Boulard and past down from generation to generation. The samples tasted ranged from a minimum 2-6 years of age.
Calvados Boulard Pays d’auge Grand Solage (LCBO $50.20) is described asa product from a blend of Calvados varieties from the Pays d’Auge aged minimum 2 years, the Boulard Grand Solage is characterised by its apple fragrance and its amber colour. A nose that is mainly apple (so characteristic of the Pays d’Auge) with vanilla also discernible. A taste that is smooth and fruity with an incomparable elegance and aromatic richness.
Calvados Boulard Pays d’auge VSOP (LCBO, currently not available) is described as blendings of different Calvados Pays d’Auge that are a minimum of 4 years old. They will stay in the casks for the necessary time to obtain a perfect dissolve. A nose that is rich and fruity with a light woody touch, toasted nut notes and hint of brioche. Well balanced harmony between vanilla, wood and ripe apple compote purée and a finish that is velvet, elegant and delicate lingering, balancing fruit and vanilla.
Calvados Boulard Pays d’auge XO (LCBO, currently not available) is described as
Obtained from blending several Calvados varieties from the Pays d’Auge aged for a minimum of 6 years, with a nose of Harmonious apple and vanilla, with elegant hints of oak; palate of ripe apple, spices, nuts. Very smooth and then an aftertaste of Spicy with an exceptional persistence.
Let’s start off our two French Vodka’s with Ciroc Ultra Premium which is distilled from fine French grapes and distilled four times in column stills and the in the fifth it is “created in a traditional, tailor-made copper pot still at the historic Distillerie de Chevanceaux in the South of France, giving it a distinctive flavour with an exceptionally fresh, citrus taste.” We finished talking about Hennessy with a mention of Hip hop but when it comes to Ciroc, I cannot think of it without the associated mogul Diddy and his former names… so let’s start off with a Diddy, and Cheers!
The Diddy (a twist on vodka lemonade)
1.5 oz. CÎROC™ Vodka / 1.5 oz. Lemonade
- Combine ingredients in a Highball glass filled with ice. • 2. Stir. • 3. Garnish with lemon wheel.
1.5 oz. CÎROC™ Apple • 0.75 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice • 0.75 oz. Simple Syrup
- Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. • 2. Shake well and strain into a chilled coupe glass. • 3. Garnish with apple slices.
Grey Goose Crafting the Extraordinary
The creation of Grey Goose Vodka begins with the finest soft winter wheat grown by three local farming cooperatives in the Picardy region of France. Only the highest grade of wheat, ‘Ble Panifiable Superiour’ – is selected – the same grade used in the finest French breads and pastries.
The wheat is sent to a dedicated mill and distillery, where it is transformed in to a high-proof spirit by being distilled once using a continuous-column distillation process. This wheat spirit is then perfectly blended with spring water from an exclusive well in Gensac-la-pallue, in the Cognac Arrondissement (Region), where the water is naturally filtered through limestone. Once approved, Grey Goose Vodka is bottled and receives the signature cork that serves as its seal of quality.
Let’s finish with another dinner, this one was the Grey Goose Sunset Soiree in Toronto’s Bridal Path. A unique idea, being that they partnered with Chef Justin Kent, founder of The Elevated French Picnic to Canada. The dinner experience consisted of individual baguette and charcuterie; farm fresh salad; Poulet Au Moutard; and baby summer vegetables. Various cocktails through the evening complimented the event very well. Two of the cocktails, particularly the Grey Goose Espresso martini, that you’ll enjoy are included below together with Chef Kent’s Poulet au Moutard recipe. Enjoy, I did!
Poulet au Moutard Recipe:
By: Chef Kent’s Poulet
An easy yet decadent chicken recipe, Poulet au Moutard is a perfect main course to bring on your next summer picnic. Picnic packing tip: the sauce on the chicken acts as an insulator to keep the meat warm for a longer period of time, so you can enjoy a warm meal wherever you place your picnic basket.
Ingredients: (makes 5 servings)
• 1 0 chicken thighs (skin on, deboned)
• 1 cup white wine
• 1 cup cream
• 150g grain mustard
• 150g lardons
• ½ banana shallot (diced)
• ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme
• Fresh parsley (chopped for garnish)
• Salt & pepper (to season)
1. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper.
2. In a pan on medium-high heat, sear the chicken thighs, skin side down in oil until crisp and golden brown. Flip and sear on the other side until lightly caramelized.
3. Remove the chicken thighs from the pan and set aside on a plate.
4. Add lardons to the pan and cook until crisp.
5. Add shallots to the pan and cook until translucent.
6. Add the grain mustard and stir for 30 seconds being careful not to let it burn.
7. Deglaze the pan with white wine, bring to a simmer and reduce by half.
8. Add cream and bring to a simmer.
9. Add the smoked paprika.
10. Place the chicken thighs back in the sauce and cook on medium to medium-low heat, covered, until fork tender.
11. Remove from the sauce and place onto the plate to serve.
12. Spoon sauce over the top of the chicken and garnish with chopped parsley.
Grey Goose Cocktails Recipes:
Grey Goose Le Grand Fizz
1 ½ Parts GREY GOOSE vodka
1 Part ST-GERMAIN elderflower liqueur
2 Parts chilled soda water
½ Part freshly squeezed lime (Approximately 2 wedges to taste)
Build ice into an oversized cabernet wine glass with lots of ice. Add GREY GOOSE vodka, then squeeze fresh lime and discard. Top with ST-GERMAIN and chilled soda water. Garnish with fresh lime wedges and a GREY GOOSE stirrer.
Grey Goose Espresso Martini
1 1/2 parts Grey Goose Vodka
1 part Single Origin Espresso
3/4 parts Premium Coffee Liqueur
Shake hard and long, then double strain. Garnish with grated single origin chocolate and a vanilla bean rim.
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