It’s always cognac time. The grape spirit from France has a depth to it that works wonderfully when you’re snuggled next to a crackling fire under a pile of blankets. It’s versatile, often sweet, and full of dark woody depth. All of that is to say that it’s time for a cognac blind taste test!
A note before we start: All cognac is brandy but not all brandy is cognac. The grape-fueled spirit has to be made in Cognac, France to be called “cognac.” Even other brandies from France cannot be called “cognac” unless they’re made there. That’s where you get varieties like “armagnac” (another regional designation of brandy) and the like. At the end of the day, we’re still talking about a variety of brandy from France. There are other rules (double distilling in copper pot stills, two years of aging, etc.), but we don’t need to get bogged down in the minutiae right now. We’re just here to find a tasty one to drink!
Our lineup today is the following bottles:
- Rémy Martin Cognac Fine Champagne VSOP
- Bisquit & Dubouché Cognac VSOP
- Martell Blue Swift “Spirit Drink” Made with Cognac VSOP Finished in Bourbon Casks
- Hine Rare VSOP The Original
- Cognac D’Ussé VSOP
- Cognac Ferrand 10 Générations Year of the Rabbit Port Cask Limited Edition
The above bottles are all pretty goddamn good. They also all are mid-range choices — priced between $50 and $70 — that you should be able to find fairly easily. This isn’t about one-off 100-year-old bottles that you can only find at one whiskey bar or hidden behind the register at a high-end liquor store. This is about the bottles that you can actually try too.
As for the ranking, this is based on taste alone. Cognac tends to lean toward the dark and sweet fruits with a sense of leathery oak aging and hints of wintry spice layered in. In short — if you like a fine bourbon, you’re likely to really like cognac, too.
Okay, let’s dive in!
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Part 1: The Tasting
Nose: The nose is balanced between soft florals and a rich nuttiness with echoes of old oak and mashed berries on a hot day.
Palate: The palate feels classic with bright, sweet, and tart fruit mixing with dry woody spice, a touch of leather, and sweet vanilla.
Finish: The end is short and sweet with a fruit/nut/vanilla vibe that leans into a dark and sweet cherry finish.
This feels pretty quintessential. There’s a touch of roughness on the mid-palate but that cherry finish more than makes up for it.
Nose: Hints of tannic oak mingle with vanilla candies and a dash of winter spice in a plum jam on the nose.
Palate: A twinge of dried roses leads the palate as layers of orchard fruit skins mix with apricot jam, woody cinnamon sticks, and a hint of sour cherry.
Finish: A minor note of salt arrives to counter that sour cherry late as gooseberries and warming spices round out the lighter finish.
This was pretty good too. The overall profile was strong but it ended a little lighter/thinner than I wanted.
Nose: There’s a sense of stewed apples with cinnamon sugar next to gingerbread and vanilla cake with a fresh almost pine resin darkness next to plump raisins and roasted almonds.
Palate: The palate has a sense of orange soda and ginger candy with hints of vanilla tobacco and maybe a twinge of old oak.
Finish: The end is creamy with a feel of vanilla tobacco wrapped up in cedar bark but ends very abruptly with a touch of proofing and thinness.
This nails the nose but stumbles on the finish. It just fades out into blankness.
Nose: Old oak barrels are tempered by rich and almost creamy notes of vanilla that lead towards a burst of summer wildflowers on the nose.
Palate: The taste embraces those flowers with hints of jasmine next to violet next to lavender that’s counterpointed by plum pudding nuttiness, woody spice, and a hint of that vanilla cream.
Finish: The end is long-winded and really leans into the brightness of those florals as the woody spice warms your senses.
This is just nice overall. There’s a clear beginning, middle, and end. It’s a little floral-heavy but not offensively so.
Nose: This starts off very similarly to the last pour with dark and rich chocolate and marzipan but carries on toward old soft leather and mild Christmas cake spices with a hint of vanilla and candied fruit.
Palate: The taste mingles soft vanilla pods with buttery toffee and woody spices as the fruitiness shines a ray of sunshine through the whole sip.
Finish: The end has a good sense of dark chocolate and almond with a hint of black tea bitterness rounding everything out.
That chocolate-nutty finish goes a long way and really helps this pour stand out from the crowd today. It’s just a really well-rounded sip of cognac.
Nose: There’s a sense. of the alcohol on the nose that’s almost hiding the lemon honey and ground almonds with a light note of grape must.
Palate: There’s a clear spiciness that almost feels like a malted whisky next to gingerbread and cinnamon sugar.
Finish: The end leans heavily into dark red berries and Coca-Cola sweetness with a hint of spice and that alcohol from the nose.
I’m not a huge fan of that rubbing alcohol note on the nose or finish. Still, this had a pretty unique profile with a fair amount of spice, so it wasn’t a total loss.
Part 2: The Ranking
6. Cognac Ferrand 10 Générations Year of the Rabbit Port Cask Limited Edition — Taste 6
Average Price: $65
This limited edition release from Ferrand uses only Ugni Blanc grapes. That hot juice is “double-aged” — first in classic French oak and then in port casks. Those barrels are batched and proofed before bottling.
This just didn’t land. It was a little all over the place with a spiced malt and alcohol vibe that felt almost unfinished.
5. Martell Blue Swift “Spirit Drink” Made with Cognac VSOP Finished in Bourbon Casks — Taste 3
Average Price: $58
This is classic Martell Cognac taken up a step. The old-school French VSOP Cognac is finished in Kentucky bourbon barrels for a final rest before batching, proofing, and bottling.
This was fine, albeit a little sweet from that bourbon finishing. Still, I can see this working perfectly fine in cocktails.
4. Bisquit & Dubouché Cognac VSOP — Taste 2
Average Price: $70
This fairly new cognac comes from the famed Maison Fondée Cognac, which has been producing great brandy for over 200 years. The brandy in the bottle is made from grapes harvested in the Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Fin Bois, and Bons Bois regions of Cognac and built to suit a modern, American palate.
This was fine. Again, I’d lean toward only really using this for cocktails to fill in the gaps in the flavor profile.
3. Rémy Martin Cognac Fine Champagne VSOP — Taste 1
Average Price: $55
This classic brandy is nearly 100 years old. The majority of the grapes come from the Grand Champagne region of Cognac with a vast majority of the grapes being Ugni Blanc. The spirit ages for four to 12 years before blending, proofing, and bottling.
This was a notch better than “fine” today. There was a little roughness on the mid-palate but that will likely disappear with a rock or two (if you want to sip it) or in a nice and easy brandy cocktail.
2. Hine Rare VSOP The Original — Taste 4
Average Price: $72
HINE Rare is a masterfully crafted cognac. The juice is a blend of eaux-de-vie (water of life) made from wines from the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne growing regions. That spirit then is barreled in oak where it spends six to 12 years maturing. The results are then married, proofed with soft mineral water from local springs, and bottled.
This felt like the first true sipper of the panel. It was complex and convivial while feeling like you were drinking something actually kind of special. The only reason it’s not in first place is that it was a tad on the lighter side all things considered.
1. Cognac D’Ussé VSOP — Taste 5
Average Price: $59
This was Jay-Z’s signature brand (long story). The juice in the bottle goes way back to Baron Otard from the famed Château de Cognac. The new line was re-crafted to suit American palates and includes a blend of Cognacs that are aged at the château for four to eight years before blending, proofing, and bottling.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
Cognac D’Ussé is really hard to beat at this price point. Hine almost beats it out. In fact, I’d wager that if it was a little warmer out, I’d probably reach for the lightness of the Hine over the deeper hues of the D’Ussé. Both are worth stocking on your bar cart.
Remy is a good choice to have around if you want a brandy mixer. The rest are fine but not worth running out and hunting for, especially since you should be able to find Cognac D’Ussé, Hine, and Remy pretty much every liquor is sold.