is a James Beard Foundation Award, and the wine and spirits editor for Bon Appetit magazine.
RéMY MARTIN LOUIS XIII Grand champagne cognac ($6,000)
This edition of Louis XIII is not just an exquisite cognac, it's also a certified collector's item. Only 100 bottles (count 'em, folks) of this special bottling are available, at a hefty $6,000 each. By the time you read this, Bill, Donald, and Oprah will probably have scooped up theirs. The price reflects the hand-cut cognac-colored diamond, weighing 1.25 to 1.35 carats, that's set into the stopper of the Baccarat decanter. (For this price, maybe they should have included an eyedropper as well.)

Louis XIII contains some brandi is that date back more than a century; the youngest are around 50 years old. After blending, Rémy's flagship blend is aged in barrels which are several hundred years old. Winston Churchill, who was very much a Francophile, at least when the topic turned to beverages, celebrated his election with Louis XIII in 1951. Beautifully poised and regal, this is one of cognac's most sublime experiences.

GERMAIN-ROBIN ANNO DOMINI 2003 ($350)


OK, OK. It's not exactly cognac. But the brandies made by Hubert Germain-Robin in Mendocino County, California, are qualified in every respect to play in the same league with cognac's heaviest hitters. Germain-Robin comes from a French family that began producing cognac in Cognac in 1782. One day 20 years ago, he happened to be hitchhiking north of San Francisco when he was given a lift by Ansley Coale. On the trip, Germain-Robin talked about the loss of tradition in Cognac. Coale listened.