In a time when the spirits scene is booming, Cognac seems to be in a weird spot.
What do I mean? Growing up, the world of Cognac revolved around Rémy and Hennessey. I have vivid and clear memories of older relatives equally enjoying these Cognac brands with Johnnie Walker. Scotch has progressed with the rise of single malts. With that, it also became more popular. Yet, Cognac seems to have not budged, aside from there being more Cognac cocktails.
I find this odd. For a category that’s known worldwide thanks to brands like Rémy, Hennessey, Martell, and Courvoisier, few drinkers go beyond them. Then again, these are the brands that would be seen as Cognac’s equivalent to Chivas, Dewar’s or Johnnie Walker. Despite the rise of single malts, there are those still loyal to their blended brands. So, consumers doing the same in Cognac makes sense.
A few industry people have told me today’s generation doesn’t like Cognac. Maybe it’s that phenomenon about the youngsters not wanting to drink what their parents drank? But that’s really not a complete answer, since there are still drinkers who drink the Scotch blends just like their parents did.
Maybe it’s a demographic thing? I’ve been told that most of Cognac’s sales are in Asia – mainly China – and the USA. With the UK having created the terms like VS, VSOP, and XO for a French spirit, maybe most of the EU has just moved on from Cognac? If you look at Cognac sales, even the French don’t really drink Cognac in France. Perhaps the trend just moved on to different parts of the world?
Another culprit is, I think, the smaller brands’ lack of marketing. Despite being someone who dislikes marketing, I’ll admit it’s a necessary evil. Some small brands like André Petit and Marancheville are said to have very little to no budget for marketing. This makes it hard for interested parties, with a limited budget, to gamble on unknown Cognac brands when they’re all bottled like the big brands.
In single malt, words like non-chill filtered, natural coloring and 46% are clear signs that it’s most likely better than the mass produced 40%, chill-filtered brands. So, more people will take a risk on it, even if they haven’t heard of it. In Cognac, even the craft brands bottled at 40%. NCF and natural coloring aren’t terms used by the small producers yet.
Cognac’s terms for determining “better” quality are also not that well-known. A lot of the expressions I’ve taken a liking to use terms like Hors d’Age. This means “beyond age.” Normally, expressions like these have 30-to-50-year old brandy in them. Another term not used much by the big brands is “Vielle Reserve.” The Cognac in this has to be 10 years old like an XO, but I’ve found that Vielle Reserves tend to be better in quality compared to XOs.
I’m not going to review old Cognacs today, but I’m going to review three Cognacs from differently sized producers. First is Rémy’s VSOP, to represent a VSOP from a big brand. Second is Camus Elegance VSOP, to represent a Cognac from a medium-sized entity. Third is André Petit’s VSOP, to represent a Cognac from a small producer. Hopefully this will show readers that not all good Cognac have to follow single malt’s trifecta of 46%, NCF, and natural coloring to be good.
Rémy Martin VSOP – Review
On the nose: Peppery and earthy at the start, but the pepperiness quickly subsides. I get white wine. Something like a Sauvignon Blanc. After that are light aromas of honey, dried apricot, roses, peaches and orange liqueur. In between are brief and subtle aromas of leather, tannins, chaga and dried shiitake mushrooms.
In the mouth: Much more peppery compared to the nose. I get light tastes of leather, honey, dried apricot, peach liqueur, Gewurztraminer sweetness and orange liqueur. In between are subtle and quick tastes of dried shiitake mushrooms, chaga and cinnamon syrup.
Very pleasant and simple. There’s nothing wrong with this with all the pleasant flavors. But don’t expect your pulse to rise when drinking this one. My only issue would be knowing that a lot of Cognac brands, including this one, adds boise (low ABV brandy mixed with sugar and wood chips) to hide flaws and make the product seem older.
Camus Elegance VSOP – Review
On the nose: Hot and peppery. Behind this are watery and incohesive aromas of chaga, honey, grapes, peaches and dried shiitake mushrooms.
In the mouth: The heat is slow to come unlike on the nose. I get light and round tastes of peaches, dried apricots, honey, butterscotch, toffee, cantaloupe melons and cinnamon. At the end is a huge follow-up of orange gummies. In between are subtle and brief tastes of chaga, leather, and shiitake mushrooms.
This has a disappointing nose, after enjoying the fruitiness of Camus’ VS and Ile de Rei. With the VSOP being older than the VS, I expected more. Maybe this is due to the bottle being outdated. There are new bottle designs for this one. Camus also only fairly recently started distilling more on the lees. Maybe this one is from before they made that change.
The body on this was slow. I let it sit in the glass for about 15 minutes before starting on it. It stayed the same on the nose, but the body developed as I tasted it. More fruits and other pleasant notes slowly came out.
I don’t get as much sweetness on this one compared to the Rémy. There’s also still this worm tub rough texture. Which makes me think this doesn’t have much added boise.
André Petit VSOP – Review
Bon Bois. 40% ABV. €40 from Cognac Expert.
Color: Black tea.
On the nose: No heat, but I get that worm tub roughness. Initially, I get light tastes of coconut husk, coconut sugar syrup and cinnamon. There are more pronounced aromas of almonds with skin, orgeat, toffee, vanilla, milk chocolate and honey. At the end are subtle flashes of cloves, nutmeg, and lavender.
In the mouth: Tasty. Like on the nose, I get no heat but there’s this evident worm tub roughness. I get light to medium tastes of vanilla, orgeat, almonds with skin, toffee, honey, coconut sugar syrup, cinnamon syrup, and chocolate milk. They rotate almost endlessly. Lasting a long time.
This is probably the best VSOP Cognac I’ve had yet. It’s so easy to drink yet it has a complexity I didn’t get in the Camus and Rémy. The extra flavor and complexity comes from the fact that this VSOP is at least 8 years old. Compared this to other VSOPs who use the minimum of 4. Being able to sense the worm tub roughness also makes me guess there’s no boise in this, making this a Cognac with no additives. More of this, please.