Produced in the French region of the same name, Cognac has graced the snifters of discerning brandy lovers for centuries. Typically made from the highly acidic Ugni Blanc grape, no other spirit evokes both Old-World tradition and luxury quite like Cognac.
Houses Hennessy, the world’s best-selling Cognac brand, and Rémy Martin, the third-largest seller of the liquor, have played a major role in its production. Each company boasts a large portfolio of products that vary in quality based on the specific blend of eaux-de-vie and the minimum time spent aging in oak (defined by the categories V.S., V.S.O.P., X.O., etc.).
Largely thanks to North American drinkers, Cognac sales are expected to continue soaring, with a projected increase of more than $300 million over the next four years. Despite the disruption posed by the pandemic, Hennessy and Rémy Martin continue to be prominent influences within the category.
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While Hennessy and Rémy Martin share some common traits, the sheer diversity of each brand’s Cognac catalog provides plenty to compare. Keep reading for everything you need to know about these two iconic houses.
Ironically, French royalty played a part in the origin of both Hennessy and Rémy Martin.
In 1724, a young French winemaker by the name of Rémy Martin started selling Cognac in his name. King Louis XV took note of Martin’s talent and in 1738 granted him a rare license to plant new vineyards. Today, the 1738 Accord Royal Cognac pays tribute to this very special gift.
Thirty years later, an Irish expatriate would found the Hennessy dynasty. After leaving his homeland, Richard Hennessy joined the French army as an officer under King Louis XV. After his military service ended, he settled in Cognac permanently and established the House of Hennessy in 1765.
Cognac is known for its versatile range of potential flavors, with notes of fruit, oak, earth, and spice. So even two expressions of similar age and quality will have variations. For instance, Rémy Martin V.S.O.P. is full of ripe fruit, floral notes, and licorice, while Hennessy V.S.O.P. Privilège features pronounced vanilla, oak, and spices.
A VinePair review of Rémy Martin X.O. gave it high marks, describing it as full-bodied with orange bitters and under-ripe bananas on the palate. An entirely different flavor profile was found in Hennessy’s Master Blender’s Selection No. 3, which had hints of purple fruit and orange peel, with creamy, peppery flavors.
To ensure the quality and balance of every one of the spirit’s expressions, both houses rely on the meticulous rigor of dedicated tasting teams. Hennessy’s tasting committee samples 50 to 100 eaux-de-vie every day, while at Rémy Martin, which prides itself on using grapes grown in the premier Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne subregions, blind tastings can yield up to 2,000 eau-de-vie samples in one season alone
Use In Cocktails
From the Vieux Carré to the Brandy Crusta, Cognac has featured prominently in America’s cocktail culture. Though some aficionados believe the best way to appreciate the spirit is to sip it neat, Cognac’s flavors perfectly blend into a range of cocktails.
According to Rémy’s company website, the 1738 Accord Royal complements citrus-based drinks such as the Sidecar and Sazerac, while its X.O. shines as the main feature in an Old Fashioned. Hennessy touts using Cognac in a Manhattan recipe, replacing the more traditional whiskey with its V.S.O.P. Privilège. Further showcasing Cognac’s impressive versatility, try the Hennessy V.S. with spiced rum in a Piña Colada.
Hennessy vs. Rémy Martin: Why the Pros Love Them
While both Hennessy and Rémy Martin have received numerous accolades from celebrities, athletes, and even world leaders, their combined market dominance and dizzying range of options mean that there is a Cognac out there for everyone.
When certified sommelier and Cognac enthusiast Jeremy Fowler compares the brands, he prefers to take a sweeping view of their entire lineups. “I’ll go for Hennessey as a staple brand and the undeniable industry benchmark for the V.S.O.P. category. However, Rémy Martin not only delivers the classic styles but has added creative styles like Tercet and the incredibly luscious N°16,” he says. To Fowler, it’s no surprise that this innovation lends itself to Rémy’s rapidly increasing popularity.
Most Popular Expressions
Even though Hennessy sells more Cognac overall, it seems that when comparing the two collections, they both win big. According to brand ambassador Maurice Hennessy, an eighth-generation family member, the company’s V.S. expression is the most consumed Cognac in the world. And as for Rémy, its V.S.O.P. reigns as the best-selling V.S.O.P. worldwide.