Remy Martin XO Excellence: The Ultimate Bottle Guide

There is little doubt that Rémy Martin is one of the best cognac brands with its centuries of tradition and commitment to quality. While it offers many fine cognacs, its XO Excellence is one of its most iconic offerings due to its beautiful design and luxurious taste that you can savor in every drop. Introduced in 1981, as the Rémy Martin XO Special before evolving into the XO Excellence in 2003, it quickly grew in reputation as one of the best cognacs in the world.

It boasts a velvety texture and a balanced palate of sweetness, fruits, and spice. There is no surprise that it has captivated the tastebuds of connoisseurs around the world. The XO Excellence fine champagne is the result of a long journey from a simple winemaker by the name of Rémy Martin to a global company that commands huge respect in the industry. We'll explore why this cognac has an impressive reputation while delving more into its history, taste, and how it stacks up against its rivals.

What is Cognac Fine Champagne?

The famous Champagne wine region in France is in the northeast of the country, whereas the commune of Cognac is toward the southwest. This may beg the question of how can any cognac producer call its product a "fine Champagne." That's because, in Cognac, there are six districts (called crus) and two of them have Champagne in their name, which are Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne.

These two districts have notably chalkier soil compared to the others, which leads to a more distinct aroma and taste of its eau-de-vie. Rémy Martin specializes in using this eau-de-vie and if you only use blends from these two districts, you can brand your cognac as "fine Champagne." The only other stipulation is that at least 50% of the eau-de-vie needs to be made from Grande Champagne grapes.

Another term on the bottle that may pique your interest is the XO. This isn't a fancy marketing trick but instead an important legal distinction. XO stands for "Extra Old," which means the eau-de-vie has been matured for at least six years. Another common acronym seen on cognac bottles is VSOP, meaning 'Very Superior Old Pale,' and this needs to be matured for at least four years. An interesting quirk is that these are English language terms, instead of French as you may expect. That was a simple decision to make the bottles more marketable for exports.

Who was Rémy Martin?

There is very little known about the company's founder. What we do know is that Rémy Martin was a winegrower who created the company in 1724. In a short time after its inception, the reputation of the brand grew significantly enough that King Louis XV permitted more vines to be grown. The brand claims an association with French royalty that would solidify when Rémy Martin named its infamous Louis XIII cognac after King Louis XV's great-great-grandfather.

The company continued to grow but in the 19th century, its reputation went international, as under the guidance of Paul-Emile Rémy Martin, it exported its cognac into the rest of Europe, the United States, and beyond. In 1924, the company appointed its first Cellar Master in André Renaud who went on to make the huge decision in the 1940s to only produce cognac from the Petite Champagne and Grande Champagne crus, which meant it would only be producing fine Champagne. It was a decision that seemingly paid off as it reinforced the image of Rémy Martin as a cognac house that solely produces luxury spirits.

History of Rémy Martin XO Excellence

The XO Excellence is a relatively new creation, having been launched in 2003. However, this spirit is simply an upgrade of its previously known XO Special, created in 1981. Cellar Master at the time, André Giraud, oversaw the XO expression. Fine champagne cognac was legally recognized for its premium quality in 1938, and the brand created an XO that would showcase this classification.

Soon after its launch, the XO earned a reputation for luxury. While expensive, it is still affordable for most people seeking something special to either devour themselves, show off to guests or give away as an incredible gift. Giraud's vision truly came to life and the XO is now an undroppable part of its lineup. Its stellar reputation is shown by the numerous accolades and awards it has won over the years, which proves how well respected this cognac is among experts. The XO offering is also helped, in part, by its iconic and elegant decanter-style bottle.

How is Rémy Martin XO Excellence made?

What exactly goes into making a bottle of Rémy Martin XO Excellence? We know that any fine Champagne needs to be made from at least 50% eau-de-vie from grand Champagne but in the XO Excellence, that's dialed up to 85% with the other 15%, of course, coming from petite Champagne.

Along with the commonly used ugni blanc grapes, the XO Excellence also uses colombard and folle blanche to help give it that deep, robust, and slightly spicy flavor. Once the eau-de-vie is created using these grapes, it is then placed in oak barrels and matured for at least 10 years with some kept for up to 37 years. The average maturation age isn't known exactly, but it's thought to be around 25 years. It's this aging process that helps to set premium spirits aside from many budget offerings, as the wood gently interacts with the spirit over many years to give it an incredible array of flavors and aromas.

However, what is matured in these barrels isn't XO Excellence. Instead, it's all the different types of eau-de-vie that go into it. These are then blended under the guidance of the Cellar Master to ensure the highest quality. This is to ensure that  XO Excellence meets the standards and consistency of all the bottles that have gone before it.

It got a fresh new look in 2022

It'd be fair to say the Rémy Martin XO bottle is one of the most iconic in the world of spirits. The design hadn't received an upgrade since it was launched in 1981 but that all changed in 2022. Thankfully for lovers of the old bottle, this wasn't a major redesign but more a gentle shift into the 21st century.

English designer Lee Broom reimagined the old bottle with hundreds of small cuts into the traditional solar shape to create more of a starburst effect. This was both a nod to the 400 eaux-de-vie that go into the bottle, as well as giving the impression of icicles on the glass, according to L'Officiel, to show how well this premium cognac suits being served on the rocks. The bottles were made in limited edition, so they could become a genuine collector's item in the future.

One aspect of the bottle you may notice is Rémy Martin's emblem. The origins of this date back to 1870 and owner Paul-Emile Rémy Martin's love of astronomy. Due to this, it's said he chose an emblem for the company that matched his star sign of Sagittarius, which is why we get the picture of the centaur with a bow and arrow. The iconic logo has changed little over the years and makes any bottle of Rémy Martin instantly recognizable.

Rémy Martin sued 50 Cent

When a brand has such an iconic bottle, it's no surprise others may wish to copy it. However, you'd think that you'd do it with a little more subtly than we saw with Sire Spirits. The company owned by rapper 50 Cent released its Branson XO Grand Champagne cognac in 2020 and it was easy to see that a lawsuit may be forthcoming. Rémy Martin didn't let it slide, wishing to protect its brand integrity at all costs.

Filled under the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Rémy Martin argued its case that the bottle was "nearly indistinguishable" from its own XO Excellence. Thankfully the trademark lawsuit was settled quickly and amicably, with the exact ruling being kept under seal. What we do know is that Sire Spirit's Branson cognac wasn't forced to stop selling the liquor, as it's still sold today in the same beautiful decanter.

What does Rémy Martin XO Excellence taste like?

Now we move on to the all-important question of what does this prestigious cognac taste like? The XO Excellence is notorious for its luxurious taste profile as the result of its extended aging and careful blending. It all adds up to a velvety texture that many adore due to its smooth mouthfeel. On the nose, you get highly expressive aromas with fragrant floral notes along with a touch of caramel sweetness that is grounded by oak.

Once it reaches your palate you get a vast array of flavors with many sweet undertones that range from caramel, toffee, and butterscotch to more subtle hints of vanilla and honey. The XO Excellence's depth is continued by some fruitful delights of apricots, figs, and raisins, which are quite prominent in the flavor profile. The last notes that hit you are a subtle spiciness that comes from a faint taste of cinnamon and nutmeg. Once you get past the palate, the finish doesn't disappoint either. It lingers on the tongue for the extended finish you'd expect from such a maturely aged cognac. Overall, it's clear to see why the Rémy Martin XO became an instant hit in 1981, and how its popularity has remained to this day.

Rémy Martin XO Excellence vs. Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal

Comparing different Rémy Martin bottles can be a little tricky as they come at vastly different price points. The XO Excellence is significantly more expensive than Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal, so what are you getting for that extra cost? The biggest difference is its maturity with the 1738 Accord Royal being aged for a minimum of four years. Due to this, the 1738 Accord Royal doesn't quite have the same depth of complexity or maturity.

While that's true, these two cognacs are quite similar in both flavor and character. The 1738 Accord Royal gives you a great balance of flavors of ripe fruit and butterscotch, with it still having an oak influence. As with the XO, there are also subtle notes of spice, especially nutmeg. It's a little more mellow but still has more depth than many other cognacs this age.

There is no doubt the 1738 Accord Royal is an impressive cognac. If you don't feel as though your budget can stretch to the XO Excellence, this is the perfect substitute and you can be assured that if you like this, you'll fall in love with the XO when you do get the opportunity to taste it. And while the XO Excellence should be enjoyed on its own, the 1738 Accord Royal is a fantastic cognac to use if you want to make cocktails, such as the delicious classic sidecar cocktail.

Rémy Martin XO Excellence vs. other XO cognacs

In the world of cognac, there is a collective, known as "The Big Four," of four cognac houses that dominate the market with around an 85% market share, according to the Rémy Cointreau 2019 Integrated Annual Report. One is, unsurprisingly, Rémy Martin with the other three being Courvoisier, Martell, and Hennessy. All four offer excellent XO cognacs but which is the best?

The Courvoisier XO is well known for its balanced profile, which offers a harmonious blend of floral, fruity, and oak notes. The Martell XO is similar but with an even fruitier profile as you'll get flavors of plum, apricot, and candied orange peel on the palate. The Hennessy XO, on the other hand, has a more robust profile and has more intense notes of dried fruits, spices, and oak. Of course, the best XO cognac will depend on your personal preference, but many prefer the Rémy Martin XO for its rich and luxurious drinking experience.

For those looking for a balanced and easy XO, the Courvoisier would be the winner, whereas the Martell is best for those looking for something a little fruitier. Want something bold and intense? The Hennessey may be the best choice for you. While we wanted to compare the four XO offerings from the big four cognac houses, it's important to remember there are many other great XO cognacs to explore from other brands.

Is Rémy Martin XO Excellence expensive?

The average price of a bottle, at the time of publication, is just under $220 but it's often seen on offer in the $160 to $180 region. So yes, this is an expensive bottle of cognac but that is to be expected with it being an XO blend. This is around par with the other XO offerings from the other three major cognac producers: The Courvoisier XO Imperial Grande averages around $170, Martell XO at $245, and Hennessy XO at $240.

Whether or not it's good value for money will ultimately depend on your opinion and what you're looking for. If you wanted a nice cognac to add to your cocktails, then you should look elsewhere. However, that will never be the target market for a cognac such as this. If you wanted something special to stock up in your home bar to pull out in times of celebration or if you just wanted to treat yourself to its unique taste and aroma, we'd say it's worth the price tag.

As we've touched on, for those looking for a less expensive cognac from Rémy Martin, there are a few tempting options. Its VSOP fine champagne is usually priced around $50 with the 1738 Accord Royal about $15 more expensive than that. Both of these cognacs represent great entries into the world of Rémy Martin before you can upgrade to its XO Excellence bottle.

How to drink Rémy Martin XO Excellence

Don't take it from us how to drink fully aged cognac. We got to hear directly from the cellar master of Rémy Martin, Baptiste Loiseau, who told us in 2014, a great cognac is best enjoyed neat and at room temperature. This allows you to fully appreciate not only the taste of the cognac but also its texture and smell.

Does that mean you should never drink cognac in a cocktail? Of course not. Instead, save your cocktails for the more affordable bottles such as its VSOP or Accord Royal 1738. Here you can enjoy the fine taste of cognac without feeling too guilty about using such an expensive bottle. Cognac is to be enjoyed whichever way you like it, but it's a great idea to have a couple of different bottles in for when you either want to make a sumptuous cocktail or enjoy a neat, aged cognac.

While the recommendation is to drink it neat, it also matters what glass you drink it from. There is a debate about the best type of glass for cognac but Baptiste Loiseau uses an ISO-tasting glass. This makes it easy to capture all of the natural aromas of the fine champagne as well as giving you clarity on the palate. Of course, a tumbler or classic snifter glass are always great options, but if you're buying a bottle of XO Excellence, then you should also treat yourself to a great ISO glass.