Spirits: Cognac's Premier Clan
Hennessy may count itself extremely fortunate to have had as its master blenders seven generations of the Fillioux family, who have established the consistent sense of lineage and tradition for which the venerable firm and its Cognacs are known. One of the earliest traditions this single line of cellar masters initiated was for each master blender to note the most exceptional vintage-dated eau-de-vie of his time and highlight it in the firm’s tasting notebook as a gift to the future. The Fillioux family has carried on this custom throughout its tenure, and the carefully guarded spirits that, over two centuries, have accumulated now are assembled in a truly rare and historic blend called Hennessy Ellipse.
After Jean Fillioux started with the company as chief cooper, Hennessy promoted him to cellar master in 1800, the same year that Napoléon Bonaparte rose to become first consul of France. Jean was succeeded, in turn, by Christophe Fillioux (1838 to 1859), Emile Fillioux (1859 to 1890), Alfred Fillioux (1890 to 1941), Raymond Fillioux (1941 to 1958), and Maurice Fillioux (1958 to 1991). Hennessy’s current master blender, Yann Fillioux, entered the company in 1966 and trained alongside his uncle, Maurice. To evaluate, select, age, and blend the various eaux-de-vie that go into the Hennessy blends, a blender must practice tasting for at least 10 years, and members of the Fillioux clan have apprenticed diligently to ensure their succession.
Yann Fillioux has led the company in new directions, creating the prestigious Richard Hennessy (a composition of more than 100 eaux-de-vie, some of which are nearly 200 years old) and overseeing the release of the limited editions of Hennessy Private Reserve 1873 and 1865. Ellipse represents his most recent coup de maître—a blend of seven historic eaux-de-vie, each selected by one generation of the Fillioux family.
Although chosen solely for their intrinsic qualities, the eaux-de-vie that compose this superb Cognac also provide a lesson in French history. Their vintages correspond to significant years for French politics and culture: 1830 (Louis-Philippe ascends to the French throne), 1848 (the Second Republic is established), 1875 (Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen debuts in Paris), 1932 (Céline’s Voyage au bout de la Nuit causes a literary scandal), 1947 (Christian Dior introduces his New Look in women’s fashion), 1972 (Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris opens), and 1995 (Jacques Chirac becomes president of France).
Such a magnificently conceived Cognac deserves a similarly unique vessel. Thomas Bastide designed the elliptical Baccarat decanter and embellished it with seven pontils, each representing a component eau-de-vie and, hence, one generation of the Fillioux family. (A pontil is the mark made by the glassworker’s tool, called a “punty,” which holds a bottle while the craftsman shapes it; the word is closely related to “punt,” the indentation at the bottom of a wine bottle.) The decanter’s contours recall the elliptical form of the rounded stones found throughout the vineyards of the Cognac region.
Slightly higher in alcohol than most Cognacs (43.5 percent ABV, as opposed to the standard 40 percent), Ellipse is disarmingly graceful and elegant in body, but intense in flavor and amazingly long on the finish. Shimmering layers of vanilla, spice, and dried fruit play across the palate in a beautifully choreographed dance. The presence of oak lends a subtle toastiness to the affair, but avoids cloaking the seemingly eternal freshness of this sublime spirit. Of the 2,000 numbered decanters of Ellipse available worldwide, Hennessy will allocate an estimated 300 to 400 to the United States, at $4,200 each—a small price to pay for a masterpiece seven generations in the making.
Ellipse’s Baccarat decanter bears seven pontils, each of which represents a component eau-de-vie and a generation of the Fillioux family.