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A Life Spent in the Service of Cognac

Hennessy master taster Renaud de Gironde reveals the passion and commitment behind the label.

Published: April 16, 2014 (Issue # 1806)



  • Hennessy brand ambassador and master taster, Renaud de Gironde.
    Photo: for SPT

Like many things in Russia, drinking cognac is not as straightforward as it first appears. For starters, you could be drinking cognac, or find yourself drinking konyak. While both are popular alcoholic drinks enjoyed across the country, the differences between the two go much further than just the spelling.

Konyak is a general name for brandy in Russia, with the country having the legal rights to sell under the same name. Armenian brandy, Ararat, or Armenian konyak as it is known in Russia, was especially popular during the Soviet era. Even Winston Churchill was a rumored fan with claims that he requested Josef Stalin to send him cases every year after tasting the tipple during the Yalta conference in 1945. In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated a similar gesture last year, giving British Prime Minister David Cameron a bottle of the same Armenian brandy Stalin supposedly gifted Churchill. While konyaks popularity in Russia could be attributed to its lower price point, it is more widely known for its questionable ingredients, with the media regularly reporting police seizures of counterfeit bottles around the country.

Cognac, on the other hand, has stricter production rules. Not only must it be produced from the vineyards surrounding the French town of Cognac, the spirit must be distilled twice and aged for at least two years to carry the cognac appellation. It also has a trendier fan base with its praises sung by rappers such as Busta Rhymes, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg. While rapping royalty may have helped catapult both the popularity and sale of cognac in recent times, praises for the brandy were sung long ago, especially in Russia for one particular brand.

According to archives by cognac brand Hennessy, in 1818 Empress Maria Federovna asked cognac distillery Maison Hennessy to produce an exceptional cognac as a birthday present for her son Tsar Alexander I, after which point, the royal family continued making regular orders.

Now, almost 200 years later, Hennessy brand ambassador Renaud de Gironde has arrived in St. Petersburg for the first time on a whirlwind press tour, launching a collectors edition of the distillerys Hennessy X.O. in a bottle by Tom Dixon at the Four Seasons Lion Palace hotel. If living in Cognac, France, surrounded by vineyards and being a descendant of the Fillioux family, master blenders for seven generations, wasnt enviable enough, de Gironde also holds the coveted title of being one of Hennessys few master tasters. Thats right, de Girondes is paid to taste some of the worlds best cognac every day.

We believe that you need ten years of daily practice to be a good professional Hennessy taster, says de Gironde. Practice means that every day, except when I am travelling, I spend about an hour to an hour and a half tasting our various eaux de vie. Every morning, every day of the year.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Sunday, Dec. 21


The Zenit St. Petersburg basketball team returns to the northern capital this evening for a matchup with Krasny Oktyabr, a Volgograd-based basketball club. Tickets for the game, which tips off at 6 p.m. this evening, can be purchased on the clubs website or at their arena, Sibur Arena, on Krestovsky island.


Satisfy your sugar cravings during Sweet New Year, an ongoing seasonal festival at the Raduga shopping center. Each weekend of December will welcome hungry visitors to taste hundreds of different kinds of desserts. Workshops are open to visitors and seasonal gifts can also be purchased for those rushing to finish their New Year shopping.



Monday, Dec. 22


Pick out the latest fashions as holiday gifts for loved ones or as early presents for yourself during the Christmas Design Sale at Kraft on Obvodny Kanal, starting on Dec. 20 and continuing through Dec. 27. Designer clothes will be on sale every day of the week or you can buy something more festive to decorate the home while sipping on hot coffee and perusing the various master classes.



Tuesday, Dec. 23


Meet Arctic explorers Fedor Konukhov and Viktor Simonov during SPIBAs and Capital Legal Services event Arctic Expedition this morning in the Mertens House business center at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. The meeting will discuss the explorers ongoing eco-social project and how companies can use the project as a unique marketing opportunity. Email office@spiba.ru by Dec. 22 if you wish to attend.



Wednesday, Dec. 24


The Anglican Church of St. Petersburg we will be holding a Christmas Eve service at 7 p.m. led by Rev Wm. Shepley Curtis of the Episcopal Church. The service will be held at the Swedish Church at 1/3 Malaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa.



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