Courvoisier Cognac Reviews


Kicking off a short series of cognac reviews is a look a few expressions from Courvoisier, specifically their V.S., V.S.O.P, and XO from the core range as well as their 21-year-old expression from their Connoisseur Collection.  

Courvoisier has been around for a long time, and is one of the Big Four alongside Hennessy, Rémy Martin and Martell.  The company was established in Bercy, a suburb of Paris, in 1809 by Emmanuel Courvoisier and Louis Gallois, the then mayor of Bercy.  At first they traded the best cognacs they could find, eventually moving to the Cognac region and becoming producers of the spirit.  Napoleon III apparently liked the spirit so much, that in 1869 he gave the company the title of “Official Supplier to the Imperial Court.”  The company changed hands a few times over the years and is now owned by Beam Suntory.  A household name it may be, but how are its spirits?  Let’s dive in.

COURVOISIER V.S.

The entry blend.  It features eaux de vie aged between three and seven years, mainly from the Fins Bois cru.  With a young age comes a vibrant nose featuring fresh grapes and floral notes, with a touch of citrus zest and mild spice.  The light-bodied spirit’s palate closely follows the nose with light toffee, sweet fruits, grape and oak.  The finish starts slightly sweet and spicy with fruit and wood spice, but then turns dry.  Not much complexity and a bit young, Courvoisier V.S. is best used as a mixer.  $24.99  7/10



COURVOISIER V.S.O.P.

Aged at least four years, the eaux de vie in this blend come primarily from the Grande and Petite Champagne crus.  The nose is richer and more rounded, featuring stone fruits, grapes, light caramel and nutmeg.  Taste-wise, the heavier brown sugar, vanilla, and oak notes are complemented by wonderful floral and light baking spice notes.   The finish is medium in length, soft in nature and slightly drying.  I’d recommend starting here if you’re in the market for a reasonably priced sipper that doubles as a quality mixer.  $37.99  7.5/10



COURVOISIER XO

A bit more age than its younger sibling, XO is made with eaux de vie matured between 11 and 25 years.  The extra maturation shows on the nose, with dark brown sugar, berries, burnt orange peel and vanilla extract.  There are brief floral topnotes as well.  The palate is decadent, with layers of caramel and creamy vanilla.  A heavy dose of baking spice season candied berries and raisins.  The finish begins with caramel and fruit, developing some allspice and drying oak.  Courvoisier XO is a rich, after dinner spirit that deserves your time and attention.  $150  8.5/10



COURVOISIER CONNOISSEUR COLLECTION 21-YEAR-OLD

A rarity in the cognac world – one with an age statement.  Courvoisier kept strict records on some casks, which allowed them to publish a 21-year statement on the label.  The eaux de vie here hail from the praised Grand Champagne cru, which is supposed to produce fine Cognac with its chalky soil.  From the start, this is an elegant Cognac.  Rich toffee, candied fruits, spice and floral notes on the nose along with vanilla, marizan and figs make this spirit smell like the perfect dessert.  The palate is equally praise-worthy with hints of spice cake, raisins, vanilla creme, lavender, and burnt sugar.  Oak tannins begin to appear towards the back palate, adding some astringency.  A touch of leather is also present.  The long finish features sweet fruits followed by  a wave of baking spices, soon turning dry.  Wow! A wonderfully exquisite blend from Courvoisier.  Please, please, please don’t mix this one.  Sip and savor slowly.  $249.99  9/10

Thanks to Beam Suntory for the samples of VSOP, XO, & Courvoisier 21.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

A Brief Primer on Cognac


Tomorrow is National Cognac Day, the perfect time to start a short series of cognac reviews here on the blog.  Before we get to said reviews, I thought it wise to preface with a short piece about the French spirit.  Think of this as a Cliff’s Notes version of  “Cognac for Dummies.”

A mysterious aura can sometimes surround the French liquor that might automatically turn people away. When you think of cognac, one of two images probably pops into your head. First is the image of the stuffy old Englishman sitting in a leather chair with a cigar, and second is probably rapper Busta Rhymes and his memorable “Pass the Courvoisier”. Then there’s the lack of age statements on cognac labels. Terms like V.S. and V.S.O.P. are utilized instead.  It can confuse or intimidate people staring at bottles on store shelves.  I hope I can provide a little clarity.

WHAT’S COGNAC?

Cognac is simply a type of brandy.  Where whisky is distilled from grains, brandy is distilled from fermented fruit juice (or wine). In the simplest definition, Cognac is simply a brandy that uses specific grapes grown, fermented and distilled in the Cognac region of France, where the spirit derives its name. So, all Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac. Make sense?  

The Cognac region in France features six subregions, or crus: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaire. When I say Champagne, I’m not referring to the Champagne region where everybody’s favorite bubbly comes from. This is different, and the word champagne actually refers to the chalky soil in the region.  

Cognac is distilled from white wine mostly made with the Ugni Blanc grape, though there are about a half dozen other varietals that can be used. The wine is double distilled to produce eau de vis, meaning “water of life.” The eau de vis then matures in French oak casks until blenders decide it’s ready.

SO EXACTLY HOW OLD IS IT?

A Cognac’s age is determined by a specific aging system that lists the minimum age. Typically, Cognacs avoid using a simple age statement because apparently it is difficult to track the ages of casks. This is because as the Angel’s Share claims some spirit as it matures, the barrel can be topped off with more eau de vie.  So another naming system was put in place.  V.S., or Very Special, means the blend is at least two years old. V.S.O.P., or Very Superior Old Pale, has to be at least four years of age. XO means Extra Old, and any bottle of Cognac that carries that designation is at least six years old. However, starting in 2018, the minimum age of XO will be ten years.

Don’t let age skew your thinking. Older is not better.  It’s just different.  Some younger eaux de vie are aged in first, second or third fill casks, letting the “fresher” oak impart some of it’s flavors. Some older eaux de vie are matured in casks that are so old, they basically impart zero oak flavor and are simply neutral containers. Also keep in mind that boisé can be added. Boisé is an additive made by boiling or steeping oak chips in water and reducing it. You end up with a woody, tannic liquid. Cognac blenders are allowed to use very small qualities of boisé to help round out the flavor of a particular blend and make it seem a little older. Syrup made from sugar can also be added in minute quantities (up to 2%) to help sweeten the blend. Finally, like Scotch whisky, caramel coloring may also be added to cognac. 

After reading this last part you might be inclined to turn your nose up at cognac. Don’t. It’s a wonderful spirit that deserves to be explored and savoured.  Over the next several days, I’ll present Cognacs of different ages from different houses, showing how far the flavor spectrum for this French spirit can spread out.

Whistlepig Farmstock Rye Whiskey Review

WhistlePig Distillery’s own distillate has finally hit shelves.  Well, sort of.  The Vermont distillery’s new release, Farmstock, is a blend of rye whiskies from Canada, Indiana, and their own. The breakdown for this release is 49% 5-year-old Canadian rye, 31% 12-year-old Indiana rye, and 20% 1-year-old Vermont rye, which is not a straight rye whiskey because of its age.  Farmstock is bottled at an easily drinkable 86 proof.

Things are looking up For WhistlePig this year.  In addition to finally releasing some of their own whiskey, they were just issued a $25 million line of credit by JPMorgan Chase, providing some much needed monetary assets to help build out and expand their distillery.  

WhistlePig’s 10 year 100 proof rye is fantastic, and my favorite of their lineup.  So, how is this new release?  The nose comes across young-ish with some complexity.  That upfront “green” rye grain is met with hints of candied cherries, caramel, and some vanilla bean.  Taste-wise, sweet and spicy are good general descriptors.  It starts off with sweet caramels and vanilla chews, developing waves of distinctive rye spice alongside a touch of allspice.  There is some red fruit in the background.  The medium finish continues the sweet and spicy vibe while adding a touch of mint.

For my tastes, Farmstock has not quite hit its sweet spot, but the signs are promising.  I didn’t pick up any of the dill note I usually get from Indiana rye whiskies, which is a nice departure for a young, mostly sourced rye.  This is a great preview of what’s to come from WhistlePig, and I can’t wait to taste their first 100% estate distilled rye whiskey.  But for now, WhistlePig Farmstock is just okay.  7/10

Thanks to WhistlePig for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.