Monday, April 24, 2017

Cognac Review: Courvoisier VS Cognac

In a previous Cognac review that I posted to You Tube, I said that VS grade Cognac was terrible stuff neat, and only suitable as a base of a cocktail.  When I made that declaration, it had been over a decade since I last had VS grade Cognac.  But, I now have the benefit of ten years of spirits wisdom and having revisited VS Cognac, I am haunted by the words of Winston Churchill:

          "In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my
           own words, and I must confess I have always
           found it a wholesome diet."

I think his observation of himself applies equally to me.  Read on friend.

. . .

Cognac.  A fancy term that simply means distilled wine (eau de vie) which is subsequently aged in French oak for a period of years dependent upon the grade.  VS (Very Special) grade cognac must be aged for a minimum of 2 years.

Reasonable and affordable.

Cork stopper.

Age Statement
None, but this VS grade Cognac is made up of 3-7 years old brandies.

750 ml.


Nose (undiluted)
A bit of faint alcohol that I liken to pears.  Garden fresh mint.  Damp earth.  Loam.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet initially, milk chocolate, becoming mint chocolate, orange rind, thyme and good, young oak.

Finish (undiluted)
Spring water, white cake, apricot, tarragon, summer savory and black teas.  Tannins.

General Impressions

The conventional wisdom is that VS grade Cognac is inferior to VSOP and XO grades.

I beg to differ.

VSOP and XO are certainly smoother, and I will accept that the XO does deliver some complexity of flavor missing in the VS.  But!  On a value for money basis, the VS reigns supreme.  VS has some bite, but a playful hickey of flavors that challenges you with foreign spices (e.g. summer savory), Vichy water, and a spoilt funkiness that is simultaneously off-putting and endearing.

If you are a newbie to whiskies, I suspect that the youthfulness of VS with its funkiness will put you off.  A newbie to whisky, who likes blends, will enjoy the VSOP and certainly the XO level, as such a consumer seeks smooth delivery and refinement of flavors.

For the experienced whisky tramp like me, I get more kicks out of the VS than the VSOP or the XO.  I find the XO particularly boring.  Of course it tastes good, pleasant, and refined, but a little too boring.  When I factor in the crazy price, I am thinking for a third of the cost I can get similar Swiss milk chocolate flavors from a 12 year old Scotch or Irish Whiskey (Jameson 12 comes to mind).

There is a considerable leap in smoothing out of flavors when you go from VS to VSOP, that is reflected in a higher price.  Fair enough.  Pay $20 more or thereabouts and you have a VSOP.  However, the same cannot be said for the price jump between VSOP and XO grades of Cognac.  XO is about 2.5 times the price of VSOP where I live.  Crazy since there is not 2.5 times the quality.

As a whisky drinker, I prefer the VS because it is lively and more challenging than the VSOP or XO, which are simply great drinks of milk chocolate and orange rind without the Vichy water and summer savory that you get at the VS grade.  In a word, VSOP and XO are a bit boring.  VS challenges me.  It is defiant.  And I like that.


Jason Debly

Note:  Quote of Winston Churchill taken from a biography written by Ashley Jackson, page 4, "Churchill" published by Quercus, 2011.