40% Alcohol (80 Proof)When many people think of cognac or brandy, they tend to think of the stereotypical brands, those being Courvoisier and Hennessy. Kind of like how when people think of bourbon, they think of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels (even though Jack Daniels is technically Tennessee whiskey, but that's another conversation). Certainly, there are other major distillers of brandy, such as Martell, Remy Martin, and others, but most people who are only vaguely familiar with brandy would list the two big players.
So, today we are looking at Courvoisier's VSOP Fine Champagne, a cognac distilled under the giant beverage owner Fortune Brands. Courvoisier was officially established in 1835 by Felix Courvoisier, although the company claims that Napoleon sampled some of their cognac prior to the company's formal beginnings, taking several barrels with him since he enjoyed it so much. I'm not sure how accurate that story really is. But if nothing else, it serves its purpose as a marketing tool.
Cognac typically comes in 3 standard grades: VS, VSOP, and XO, standing for Very Special, Very Superior Old Pale, and Extra Old, respectively. There are several other terms that can also be applicable, but for now, we will keep it simple. Because well, this cognac doesn't have any of those other terms aside from "Fine Champagne."
Courvoisier pours an dark amber yellow. It actually looks as though it has spent a decent amount of time in the wood. So far, so good. It has the typical brandy smell of distilled wine, perhaps fruit jam, with some vanilla coming through from the aging. Tasting it gives your mouth a deep, dark fruit taste, with some very overt sweetness, and a mild bit of oak (compared to bourbon). There is some "funk" in the ending that is hard to describe and not entirely pleasant. Well, that, and it ends kind of harsh and rough, especially compared to some of the other brandies/cognacs I have had recently like those from Germain-Robin.
All in all, not terrible, but certainly nowhere near great. The sweetness is a bit overkill for my palette and borders on overriding all of the other flavors. Regardless, this maintains its place as a staple cognac in many peoples' liquor cabinets.
Drink This: if you want a middle-of-the-road, everyday cognac. Personally, I'm hoping to try Courvoisier's VSOP Exclusif and their XO, as I'm willing to bet they're considerably better.
Don't Drink This: if you are hoping for an ultra-smooth, velvety cognac. This one does end a bit harsh. It's in-your-face sweetness may be a turn off for those who enjoy subtlety in their cognac notes.