Within a year, Germain-Robin had set up a refurbished still imported from Cognac in a shed on Coale's ranch and was producing brandy using Mendocino-grown Pinot Noir. (In Cognac, on the other hand, the base wine is the acidic Ugni Blanc.) The results have blown the argyle socks off many a spirits snob. The 2003 edition of Anno Domini is lush and leafy with rich vanilla flavors and a finish longer than a sentence by Proust. Considering the company it keeps, it's actually a bargain.


RICHARD HENNESSY ($1,500)


Richard Hennessy was an 18th century Irish immigrant who served in the French army of Louis XV. After being nourished by drams of cognac while recuperating from battle wounds, he decided to set up his own distillery on the banks of the Charente River. He was soon shipping his product to the Americas and to the British Isles. In the next century, orders began to flow in from China and Japan. Today, Hennessy is a sister company to Moët & Chandon (makers of Dom Pérignon Champagne) and part of the LVMH luxury-goods conglomerate.

The Richard Hennessy blend is Hennessy's finest product, an homage to the founder, assembled from the company's extensive collections of distillates, some dating back to the 19th century. Drinking cognac like this is tantamount to time travel. It has a dense, almost unctuous mouth-feel with sweet fruit, complex spice, and rich, toasty wood. The gorgeous crystal decanter is fitted with silver and etched with a garland of vines.