Ahhh. Cognac; a favorite on a cold winter night. Apropos for a well-crafted flask, or served simply straight-up in a snifter, this spirit never fails to serve and delight.
For those interested, Cognac is named for the region in France from whence it came. (Interesting fact; only products from Alsace are excused from including the town or region name in the title. French law. Kah-razy stuff.) It is rated into several different grades by marketers; they use brandy grades, but the conversion is not always accurate. But, it's a good starting point.
VS (very special, three stars); the brandy is stored at least two years.
VSOP (very superior old pale, or Reserve); the brandy is stored at least four years.
XO (extra old); the brandy is stored for at least six years.
I prefer XO-grade Cognac; the taste mellows significantly as it ages, and allows for much more depth to come through in the palete.
Particularly, I favor what I am sipping now; Tesseron Lot N° 76, X.O Tradition. It is complex and delicious. If you like a Cognac now and again, this is a great bottle to try. It's my standard 'house Cognac,' if I can have one without sounding like an a-hole. It sells for around $80 a bottle, and a bottle typically lasts me 2-3 months.
As for what to have with it, I suggest complimenting it's peach, almond, or candied fruit flavors. Here is a recipe for a dee-lish Portugese honey bread.
Portugese honey bread
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for buttering pans
3/4 cup dried cranberries or dried sour cherries
3/4 cup chopped mixed fine-quality candied fruit such as pear, citron, and candied orange peel 1/4 cup Port
1 1/4 cups walnuts (4 1/4 oz)
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3 teaspoons active dry yeast (from two 1/4-oz packages)
1/4 cup warm water (105–115°F)
3/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
1/2 cup mild honey
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Butter loaf pans.Bring cranberries, candied fruit, and Port to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and set aside, covered.Pulse walnuts in a food processor until just coarsely chopped. Add flour, salt, baking soda, and spices and pulse to combine.Beat together butter (2 1/2 sticks) and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes in a stand mixer or 6 with a handheld. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.Stir together yeast and warm water in a small bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, discard and start over with new yeast.) Add one third of flour mixture to butter mixture and mix at low speed until combined, then add molasses and mix until incorporated. Add half of remaining flour mixture and mix until combined, then add honey and mix until incorporated. Add yeast mixture and remaining flour mixture and mix until combined, then stir in candied-fruit mixture.Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops. (Do not let batter rise.) Bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in centers of loaves comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in pans on a rack 10 minutes, then remove loaves from pans and cool completely on rack.
(recipe courtesy of www.gourmet.com.)