The Cognac Masters 2023 results
The number of top medal winners unearthed in this year’s blind-tasting competition showed how many amazing expressions there are to investigate in the Cognac category.
The first quarter of 2023 has been a busy one for Cognac brands. From Hennessy’s partnership with Grammy award-winner Alicia Keys to Bacardi’s multi-billion-dollar investment in rapper Jay-Z’s D’Ussé Cognac, the category has been active.
The sector is renowned for its quality – and the annual Cognac Masters has garnered a reputation for quality spirits. The 2023 tasting took place at The Carriage in the Great Northern Hotel in London, where entrants were put through their paces spanning categories from price points and age statements, to single-cru expressions.
The judges were divided into two panels, the first of which was led by Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business and chair of The Global Spirits Masters Competitions (GSMC). She was joined by: Ruchira Neotia, partner – Collectivino; and Ed Bates, founder of Distilled London.
Group two was chaired by Matt Chambers, spirits writer and co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog. He was accompanied by: Evan Prousaefs, bar manager at Sexy Fish; and Dr Winnie Bowman, Cape wine master, wine and spirits judge and writer.
A Gold medal was awarded in the first flight, VS – Premium, which looked at Cognacs priced up to £30 (US$37). It was handed to Martell VS for “nice fruitiness on the palate, some warming spice, a touch of orange and a lingering finish”. Branson Cognac VS Phantom collected a Silver medal in this flight.
Bates said: “I was surprised to see these Cognacs coming in at under £30; Martell VS was particularly good for the price.”
In the VS – Super Premium contingent, which looked at Cognacs ranging from £31 to £50, a trio of Gold medals and one Silver were celebrated. The Gold awards were given to: “fruity, with gentle spice” Larsen Aqua Ignis; Naud VS Cognac, which had “a touch of cigar box on the nose, lots of dried fruit”; and “clean, bright and well-rounded” Cognac VS Richard Delisle.
The VS – Single Cru flight delivered a Gold medallist in the form of Courvoisier Cognac VS. Chambers found notes of “caramel and treacle” on the nose, followed by “pepper, raisins and woody spice” on the palate.
From VS, the judges moved to VSOP Cognacs, starting with a round of premium-priced products (between £30 and £50). It was here that the first Master medals of the day were found: Courvoisier VSOP and Martell VSOP. The former was enjoyed for its “nice dryness and fruitiness” on the palate, complemented by its “silky texture – well made and worth the price”, the judges noted. The latter was described as “very well rounded, approachable and tasty”, with flavours of “fruit, some burnt caramel and a dry, lingering finish”.
Five Gold medals, including one for “elegant” Jean Fillioux – Napoléon, and two Silver medals concluded the flight.
Spicy and elegant
In the VSOP – Super Premium round, comprising Cognacs selling for £51-£70, a Master medal went to Bacardi and Jay-Z’s D’Ussé VSOP. Prousaefs said: “Fruity, spicy and elegant on the palate with a plethora of fruitiness and ginger on the aftertaste.”
Five Gold medals made for a successful flight – including a Gold award for fellow rapper 50 Cent’s “fruity, elegant and vibrant” Branson Cognac VSOP Grande Champagne.
Bowman said: “There was a huge step up in quality and attention to detail, elegance and balance compared with other categories. These feel regal and luxurious, and will stop you in your tracks.”
At the ultra-premium end of the VSOP category (£71 and above), Battleborn Spirits’ Shay received a Silver medal.
In the VSOP – Single Cru round, another Master was scooped up by Cognac Frapin VSOP. Bates said: “Fantastic nose delivering warm, rich fruit and soft elegant spice. Elegant, refined and nice fruitiness.”
“Fruit-forward” A de Fussigny VSOP Grande Champagne received a Gold medal.
Up next came VSOP – Single Estate, in which Camus VSOP Borderies Single Estate secured a Gold medal after impressing with “raisins, dark chocolate and fruity notes”.
Moving to the next age bracket for Cognac, the judges enjoyed a strong flight of XO – Super Premium (£56-£100). One of two Master medals was awarded to Larsen XO, which was found to be “fruity and spicy” on the nose, leading to “caramel, a hint of tropical fruit, a drop of orange oil, and some lovely raisin notes” on the palate. “Superb balance,” enthused Chambers.
A Master medal was also given to Jean Fillioux – Très Vieux Extra. The judges enjoyed “lovely notes of raisins and candied orange” on the nose, and “a good pinch of baking spice” on the palate. The round also produced five Gold medals.
Prousaefs praised this flight: “A remarkable example of what Cognac has to offer as an XO. Depth, character and attention to detail across the whole category.”
As the price rose in the XO – Ultra Premium (£101 and above) heat, so too did the quality. Four Master medals were celebrated in this round, starting with Martell XO. The entry was “elegant and balanced” on the palate with “fruitiness and spice”, followed by a “fresh and herbaceous aftertaste”.
Master-winning A de Fussigny XO Fine Champagne intrigued the judges with its “superbly expressive” nose, leading to “a hint of tropical fruit and earthy spices, chamois leather, old cigar box and a lovely peppery note on the finish”.
Courvoisier XO also met the Master criteria, delighting the judges’ palates with “caramel and woody spices, a hint of chocolate-coated raisins, rancio and old furniture polish”, and a “hint of gingerbread” at the end.
The fourth Master medal of this flight went to Rémy Martin XO. With aromas of “coffee, chocolate and waxy furniture polish”, leading to “soft baking spices, soft fruit and elegant wood spice” on the palate, the judges were hugely impressed.
Seven Gold medals and a Silver gave the flight an extra boost.
“An exquisite flight, and a real treat to judge them,” said Chambers. “Some superb products with fabulous elegance and quality; it really shows the quality that can be achieved and the balance that skilled master blenders can achieve with age.”
Bowman added: “Everything was packed with elegance, beautiful and deep levels of flavour; a huge evolution of flavours. Some lovely dried fruit characteristics too, which can be difficult to maintain in older spirits.”
It was a tough act to follow, but the following No Age Statement flight also had some strong medal contenders – three Gold winners, which were: Rémy Martin Tercet, which ad “decent length”; Rémy Martin Club, which delivered “luscious dried fruits”; and Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal, for its “nice wood and spice towards the end”.
The judges then moved to XO – Single Cru, where another three Gold medallists were rewarded. Medals went to: “juicy, fudgy” Coutanseaux Aîné XO – Grande Champagne; “juicy and fresh” Coutanseaux Aîné XXO; and “lush” Cognac Frapin Cigar Blend XO.
The XO Single Estate round that followed created another Master winner: Cognac Frapin 15 Years Old. It made a positive impression on Kiely’s panel for its “nicely balanced fruit, spice and wood influence” with a “well-integrated higher-ABV and long finish”. Bates added: “This is lovely, lovely, lovely – really delicious.”
A Gold medal went to Cognac Camus Borderies Single Estate in this heat.
The final flights looked at vintage Cognacs, starting with those in the super-premium price tier. Here, a Gold medal was awarded to Courvoisier Cognac XO Royal. Tasting notes included “golden syrup and woody spices towards the end”.
The last flight of the day was Vintage – Single Cru, in which the final Master of the competition was discovered: Cognac Frapin – Millésime 1990.
The mouthfeel was “luxurious”, according to the judges, enhanced by tastes of “tropical fruit, peach and apricot compote, warming woody spices and cinnamon dryness in the background”.
The vintage bottling impressed so much that following the retasting of the Master medallists, it was voted the ‘best in class’ of the day – The Cognac Taste Master 2023.
With such high praise throughout the competition, how could any newcomers to the category not be tempted to give Cognac a go?
|VS – Premium|
|Sire Spirits||Branson Cognac VS Phantom||Silver|
|VS – Super Premium|
|Larsen||Larsen Aqua Ignis||Gold|
|Naud||Naud VS Cognac||Gold|
|Famille Cabanne||Cognac VS Richard Delisle||Gold|
|Famille Cabanne||Cognac VS La Truffe||Silver|
|VS – Single Cru|
|Courvoisier||Courvoisier Cognac VS||Gold|
|VSOP – Premium|
|Courvoisier||Courvoisier Cognac VSOP||Master|
|Larsen||Renault Carte Noire VSOP||Gold|
|Jean Fillioux||Jean Fillioux – Napoléon||Gold|
|Rémy Martin||Rémy Martin VSOP||Gold|
|Naud||Naud VSOP Cognac||Silver|
|Sire Spirits||Branson Cognac VSOP Royal||Silver|
|VSOP – Super Premium|
|Famille Cabanne||Cognac VSOP La Truffe||Gold|
|Famille Cabanne||Cognac VSOP Richard Delisle||Gold|
|Sire Spirits||Branson Cognac VSOP Grande Champagne||Gold|
|Camus La Grande Marque||Cognac Camus VSOP||Gold|
|VSOP – Ultra Premium|
|VSOP – Single Cru|
|Cognac Frapin||Cognac Frapin VSOP||Master|
|A de Fussigny||A de Fussigny VSOP Grande Champagne||Gold|
|VSOP – Single Estate|
|Camus la Grande Marque||Cognac Camus VSOP Borderies Single Estate||Gold|
|XO – Super Premium|
|Jean Fillioux||Jean Fillioux – Très Vieux Extra||Master|
|Famille Cabanne||Cognac XO Black Edition Richard Delisle||Gold|
|Distillerie Tessendier||Cognac Park Borderies Mizunara 12 Ans||Gold|
|Larsen||Renault XO Carte D’Argent||Gold|
|Famille Cabanne||Cognac XO Petite Champagne La Truffe||Gold|
|Famille Cabanne||Cognac XO Dragons Richard Delisle||Gold|
|XO – Ultra Premium|
|A de Fussigny||A de Fussigny XO Fine Champagne Cognac||Master|
|Courvoisier||Courvoisier Cognac XO||Master|
|Rémy Martin||Rémy Martin XO||Master|
|Larsen||Larsen Drakkar XO||Gold|
|Martell||Martell Cordon Bleu||Gold|
|Famille Cabanne||Cognac XO Grande Champagne||Gold|
|Sire Spirits||Branson Cognac XO||Gold|
|Cognac Frapin||Cognac Frapin Extra||Gold|
|Campari Group||Bisquit & Dubouche XO||Gold|
|Camus la Grande Marque||Cognac Camus XO||Gold|
|No Age Statement|
|Brand owner||Product name||Medal|
|Rémy Martin||Rémy Martin Tercet||Gold|
|Rémy Martin||Rémy Martin Club||Gold|
|Rémy Martin||Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal||Gold|
|XO – Single Cru|
|Brand owner||Product name||Medal|
|Coutanseaux Aîné||XO – Grande Champagne||Gold|
|Coutanseaux Aîné||XXO Grande Champagne||Gold|
|Cognac Frapin||Cognac Frapin – Cigar Blend XO||Gold|
|XO – Single Estate|
|Camus la Grande Marque||Cognac Camus XO Borderies Single Estate||Gold|
|Cognac Frapin||Cognac Frapin 15 Years Old||Master|
|Vintage – Super Premium|
|Courvoisier||Courvoisier Cognac XO Royal||Gold|
|Vintage – Single Cru|
|Cognac Frapin||Cognac Frapin – Millésime 1990||Master & Taste Master|