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200-Year-Old Cognac $350 Per Shot

February 15, 2001

ATLANTA (AP) _ A cognac with blends from the era of Napoleon Bonaparte has given new meaning to conspicuous consumption _ order a snifter and, at $350 per shot, everyone at the bar is likely to watch you drink it.

The L’Esprit de Courvoisier, which became available in Atlanta in December, is blended with cognacs dating to 1802, with the youngest brandy in the mix a mere 70 years old. It sells for $5,000 in a numbered crystal decanter, with about 600 of the 2,000 bottles purchased since its introduction last year.

``I would say this is probably the Rolls-Royce of the cognacs,″ said Oswald Morgan, general manager of Justin’s, an Atlanta restaurant owned by rap mogul Sean ``Puffy″ Combs and one of only three upscale U.S. eateries offering L’Esprit.

``You don’t have to drink the Rolls of cognacs, but if you do you’re going to pay the Rolls price.″

Cognac is a brandy distilled from white-wine grapes grown in a small region of southwest France. The high-priced hooch is sold by Allied Domecq PLC, the British parent of brands such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, Kahlua liquer and Sauza tequila.

``The high price is actually the selling point,″ said Reggie Spencer, Allied Domecq’s division marketing manager for the Southeast. ``It’s very exclusive and it appeals to a discerning consumer. They’re not afraid of that price.″

Morgan said three professional athletes _ all who requested anonymity _ have ponied up for a 1.5-ounce glass since Justin’s bought its bottle in December.

Besides Justin’s, L’Esprit Courvoisier is available by the glass at The St. Paul Grill, in St. Paul, Minn., and the VIP Club in Fort Myers, Fla.

Tom Marrone, a bartender at The St. Paul Grill’s bar, said the L’Esprit bottle garners more interest from gawkers than from drinkers.

``It’s amazing how many people have come in to look at it,″ he said. ``It’s definitely surprising to have that much interest in a bottle of liquor.″

Courvoisier, which donated samples worth $47,000 at a tasting for about 100 people Tuesday night in Atlanta, is trying to persuade restaurants in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco to offer the cognac.

``Oh my God,″ murmured Ely Chao after swallowing a sip.

``It was incredible. Definitely the best cognac I’ve ever had,″ said Ryan Cameron, an Atlanta disc jockey. ``If we hit the lottery Friday night, bottles for everybody,″ he told his wife.

Private collectors in the U.S. and Asia have snapped up most of the L’Esprit imported to the United States, including a Los Angeles restaurateur who bought six bottles for his private collection and a Long Island jeweler who owns one.

Celebrities such as rapper Missy ``Misdemeanor″ Elliott, singer Ray Charles and hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons also have a bottle, although the teetolating Simmons keeps his as a showpiece at his home.

But at $5,000 per bottle, does one really want to drink such pricey stuff?

``Sure, that’s what it’s made for,″ said Pete Duffy, manager of The Chicago Wine Co. in Niles, Ill., an auction house and retailer of upscale wines. Duffy calls L’Esprit ``liquid gold″ because of the ardor with which connoisseurs covet it.

``The serious collector is still a consumer,″ Duffy said. ``And wine and cognac are great diminishing commodities _ you drink it, it’s gone.″


On the Net:

Allied Domecq PLC, http://www.allieddomecqplc.com/

Distilled Spirits Council of America, http://www.discus.org

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