Last night Courvoisier made The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek the Texas launch site for two new cognacs. The Courvoisier 12 ($49.99) is blended from components that are at least 12 years old. The grapes come from three areas within the Cognac region (primarily The Borderies, with a sprinkling from Grande Champagnes and Fins Bois). The Courvoisier 21 ($250) is a blend of components entirely from Grande Champagne and was distilled in the year when Solidarity overthrew the communist regime in Poland and Gladys Knight and the Pips were officially disbanded.
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Vintage-dated cognacs are comparatively rare and Courvoisier gave us an interesting sense of perspective by serving three of their more conventionally labeled cognacs. In increasing quality-designations we tasted the VS (Very Special), the VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) and the XO (Extra Old). We started with the VS and it made an immediate impression. The pronounced nose had hints of alcohol, wood (VS is aged a minimum of two years in oak), ripe orange rind, vanilla and spices. We moved on to the VSOP (a minimum of four years in oak) and then the XO (a minimum of six years in oak). Each was more intense and complex than the last. It was especially instructive to go from the XO back to the VS. Unlike my initial impression, the VS now seemed simple (actually ‘grapy’) by comparison. However, I know that I will still love it in the morning.
The vintage-dated cognacs were tighter than their conventional brethren and less sweet. Nonetheless, they left no doubt about their complexity.
Where do you put vintage-dated cognac in the pantheon of a French brandy product that has hitherto eschewed annual variation in pursuit of a consistent house style? I think you ignore the fact that it is a vintage and taste it as another expression of cognac. Courvoisier is one of the ‘big four’ of cognac so they have every reason to maintain quality for their critical customer base. The XO is still my favorite, but I won’t turn away a glass of either vintage spirit.
That was the instructional part of the ‘neat cognac’ part of the evening. But this was actually two events in one. Courvoisier wanted to show how the VS (in particular) can work in cocktails. To make their point they enlisted the help of two of the best mixologists in the business: Jason Kosmas and Eddie Campbell. They made Sazerac, Saratoga (Harry Johnson’s recipe!), Mai Tai and Mata Hari drinks for everyone and even enlisted the gullible to come up to the bar and learn how to make their own. I now have a newfound respect for the art of the skilled bartender and for the cocktail. These things are labor intensive. No wonder penny-pinching accountant-restaurateurs just say “oh, just give the public cheap vodka and lemon”. These guys choose to work at Bolsa because they get the scope to excel. The Mansion is where a lot of the best mixologists in town started. Jason Kosmas trained in New York, but chose Dallas as his place to settle, even though it was colder than New York.
From this tasting, Courvoisier does work in cocktails. Here is my favorite of the night: Harry Johnson’s Saratoga made with Courvoisier.