It’s all too easy to rhapsodise about the quality and complexity of the classic XO (Extra Old) and Hors d’Age Cognac expressions. This is conveniently forgetting that roughly two-thirds of the Cognac consumed on the planet is from the VS (Very Special) and VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) classifications.
VSOP Cognacs, which have to be aged in cask for at least four years, are the great all-rounders. They are affordable in price and – in the best examples – offer a tantalising glimpse of the complexity and quality that only emerges when eaux-de-vie are allowed to age.
You can mix VSOP Cognacs – indeed, some are expressly formulated for that purpose. They will be great in a Sidecar cocktail or a Gallic take on an Old Fashioned, substituting whiskey with Cognac. For a longer serve top up 50ml of VSOP Cognac with ginger ale, plus lots of ice and a wedge of lime in a highball glass.
But we’re also entering after-dinner territory here in terms of richness and breadth. Just don’t pour any of these into one of those abominable, balloon-shaped snifter glasses. A stemmed, tulip-shaped glass is the best drinking vessel for VSOP.
VSOP Cognacs to try
Bisquit & Dubouché VSOP
Until recently just known as Bisquit, this Cognac house has regained its historic name and relaunched its range, including this VSOP, which combines eaux-de-vie sourced from Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Fins Bois and Bons Bois. Supple, rounded and fruity, with dry spice from the oak and an appealingly honeyed texture. Alcohol 40%
Camus VSOP Borderies
Borderies is the smallest of the Cognac crus, but prized by the likes of Martell and Camus – the largest vineyard owner here – for its perfumed fruit and restrained floral notes. It may not have the longevity of Grande Champagne, but it’s got bags of charm, as well as vanilla and spice from toasty oak. Alc 40%
Courvoisier VSOP Exclusif
It’s about 15 years since this pioneering ‘mixable’ VSOP was launched as a blend deliberately targeted at the cocktail market, and it remains an ultra-smooth expression of Fins Bois and Borderies, plus Grande and Petite Champagne. Expect light baking spices behind plump, plummy fruit and darker notes of roasted coffee. Alc 40%
This is Grande Champagne in a glass, true to the Frapin style of allowing the distillate to sing with the oak in the background: heady floral notes of vine flower and rose water, a warm citrus character and evolved notes of walnut and vanilla. Elegance and balance dominate the finish, alongside scented aromas of pot-pourri. Alc 40%
The nose here suggests lightness and elegance, with orchard fruits and pear in particular. But there’s also plenty of structure on the palate, including satisfying notes of hazelnut, ginger snaps and a backbone from the wood tannins. Stewed fruits and cinnamon give a touch of summer pudding to this nicely balanced VSOP. Alc 40%
Hine Rare VSOP
Hine has long been a Cognac for wine lovers, and never more obviously than in this Fine Champagne blend, which means a combination of fruit from Grande and Petite Champagne, with Grande Champagne in the majority. Jasmine, honeysuckle, a basket of juicy tropical fruit, plus creamy vanilla. An old favourite – and a true classic. Alc 40%
Maxime Trijol VSOP
Maxime Trijol’s Grande Champagne Cognacs are consistently excellent (check out the XO and a superb array of vintages). But lovers of the house always return to this benchmark VSOP, which has everything you want. It’s as fragrant as an upmarket florist’s, but perfectly in balance with oak-driven notes of vanilla and baking spices. Alc 40%
Rémy Martin VSOP
Nearly a century after its creation, this classic VSOP continues to bridge the gap between elegance and power, combining roasted apricot and stewed apple with a vanilla-accented backbone from maturation in Limousin oak. Rounded, silkily textured and medium-bodied, it’s equally at home neat or as a base for classic cocktails. Alc 40%