Back in 2004, the news that Annick Goutal would launch an almond-vanilla perfume created something of a frenzy on the fragrance board at MakeupAlley, where the Annick Goutal line is held in great esteem and where there are a considerable number of hardcore vanilla-gourmand fans. When Vanille Exquise finally launched, there was an almost palpable sense of disappointment, and many of those who ordered bottles unsniffed put them up for swap in short order. Mind you, anyone who frequents a fragrance forum can tell you that this period of let down follows any much-hyped release (it is happening now over the Chanel Les Exclusifs).
Vanille Exquise disappointed, I think, precisely because it wasn't the gourmand many were hoping for. The benzoin is strong from the outset, giving this a resinous, incense-y edge vaguely reminiscent of Vanille Tonka by Parfums de Nicolaï. The almond, and for that matter, the vanilla, heat up slowly on skin, and never get quite strong or sweet enough to be classified as foody. The dry down has a light dusting of powder, giving it a velvety finish and something of a comfort-scent appeal. It is more sweet than dry, but the resinous notes, along with dark undertones from the gaiac wood, add a warm, smoky trail that separates Vanille Exquise from the simpler vanilla-musk entries at your local drugstore.
I am not a huge vanilla fan in general, but there are cold, grey days when a bit of vanilla is just what you need. On that sort of day, Vanille Exquise is perfect. Alternatives in the "sophisticated vanilla" category include the Vanille Tonka mentioned above or L'Artisan Vanilia; if you're looking for something more foody, i Profumi di Firenze Vaniglia del Madagascar smells like vanilla cake without being nauseatingly sweet.
Annick Goutal Vanille Exquise is available in 50 and 100 ml Eau de Toilette. I believe there was a limited edition parfum version, but I cannot find it online so either I am mistaken, or it is sold out. For buying information, see the listing for Annick Goutal under Perfume Houses.