Review: Courvoisier VS Cognac

I’m a sucker for a Ridley Scott movie. My wife fell asleep the last time I took her to see one (even Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049 couldn’t keep her attention), but I absolutely love his work. And the latest film of his, Napoleon, was a fantastic (if slightly lengthy) work that sent me down a rabbit hole of watching the old 1927 film while sipping on a glass of cognac that proudly proclaims itself to be “The Cognac of Napoleon” — and today we’re going to review that bottle for you.



Back in 1796, Emmanuel Courvoisier founded a wine and spirits trading company in the (then) outskirts of Paris in a small town called Bercy. This area is today incorporated as part of the city of Paris we now know and love, the easternmost section of the right bank inside the peripherique, but in those days was a small suburban town that was known primarily for the warehousing of wine. Similarly to how the Montmartre area of Paris became known for their bars and entertainment venues, being outside Paris city limits had its benefits — specifically, lower rates of taxation on wine and spirits which explains the large liquor warehouses.

Nearly two decades later in 1811, Emperor Napoleon visited Courvoisier’s company and procured a constant supply of cognac for his troops during his military campaigns in Europe and Russia. After that whole “take over Europe” plan didn’t work out, one of Napoleon’s last acts was to snag a few last barrels to load into his ships on the way into exile on St. Helena in 1815. The British officers on the ship along with Napoleon remarked that the cognac was excellent and dubbed it “Napoleon’s Cognac”, something that the company still proudly highlights on every bottle it produces. Later, in 1869, Napoleon III would make it official and bestow the title of “Official Supplier to the Imperial Court” on the company.

While the company initially acted as a merchant and trader, finding the highest quality wine and spirits from rural France and importing it into the capitol, they eventually decided that the only way to guarantee the quality and consistency they demanded was to relocate to the Cognac region themselves and start taking a more direct role in its production. They finished this move to the town of Jarnac in 1828, which is the date that can be found on modern Courvoisier bottles proudly displayed as their founding year.

While the company remains headquartered in Jarnac, in the exact same chateau that was originally purchased back in 1828, the ownership of the company has changed hands significantly. Most recently, the company was purchased in December of 2023 by the Italian-based Campari Group, further cementing the popularity of this spirit with Corsicans and Italians in addition to the usual French.


As with most other large brands, Courvoisier does not make their own cognac. As discussed above, they started life as a sourcing and trading house — and true to that history, they remain committed to finding delicious sources for their spirits and blending them to perfection. In this case, Courvoisier uses spirits sourced from various different distillers throughout all of the major Cognac regions and blends them together to create the finished product we are enjoying today.

As is traditional with cognac production, this spirit starts life pretty much the exact same way that any French wine would. Cognac is made from 100% French grapes grown specifically in the region surrounding Cognac, 90% of which are the ugni blanc varietal (also known as trebbiano in Italy), which is known for its high sugar content and high acidity. These grapes are harvested, crushed, and pressed to extract the juice from within the delicious fruit. One thing to note is that the use of mechanical presses is forbidden in this style of spirit, since those have a tendency to produce a bitter flavor.

Once pressed, the grape juice is fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid that is then batch distilled twice in traditional copper pot stills. Courvoisier specifically uses smaller pot stills for their distillation runs, which is one way they try to ensure additional quality and character in their spirits. This creates a fragrant and fruity eau-de-vie (or “water of life”), which is the term for the raw distilled grape alcohol.

This is the point at which Courvoisier obtains the spirit and starts applying their own magic. The newly created eau-de-vie is placed into new French oak barrels, which impart a significant level of flavor and color into the spirit. There it sits for at least two years, slowly being mixed and blended together over time as similar tasting stocks of spirits are combined together until the final batch is ready for bottling.


Courvoisier has changed their bottle design a number of times over the years, and their latest incarnation is a return to the design styles of the older 1870’s era bottles that the company had originally produced all those years ago.

The shape of the bottle is a typical style for a cognac, with a fat round base, rounded shoulder, and long skinny neck. Capping off that bottle is a plastic and cork stopper.

Generally speaking, the labeling on the bottle leaves plenty of room to see the beautiful color of the spirit inside. It is large enough to make a statement and to provide enough room for the Courvoisier brand without feeling cramped, but doesn’t expand to fill all of the available space like some brands may be tempted to do. The styling on the label is simple and appealing, with red block lettering for the brand and age statement and the crest of the company prominently displayed on the front of the bottle. Further up the body, there’s a small flat surface that bears the silhouette of Napoleon — another reminder (in case you forgot) that Napoleon liked this cognac.



Despite only being a “VS” labeled spirit, there’s a lovely rich dark amber color to the spirit. It’s almost like watered down coffee, but with an additional touch of orange rust to the color.

But taking a whiff, you can definitely tell that this is a younger expression of cognac. The predominant aroma coming off the glass is that of the grapes, with just a hint of darker and richer components mixed in. It smells light, crisp, and fresh, unlike the usual “fruitcake” note that you’d expect from a more heavily matured cognac. Along with that fresh grape note, I’m also getting some brown sugar, vanilla, floral blossoms, honey, and dried figs. The darker notes are present, but not very well saturated.

While the aroma might be light and crisp, the actual flavor takes a bit of a darker and more viscous turn. Right off the bat, I’m getting some rich raisin flavors combined with some dried figs, sweetened with brown sugar and a hint of vanilla. There’s just a flash of cinnamon before some hints of dark chocolate start to develop and thicken into an almost syrupy finish.

If anything, those richer and darker notes are making this just a tad too heavy and there aren’t enough of the lighter notes to balance it out at the end. It’s good, but a little unbalanced.

On Ice

The expectation with a little bit of added ice is that the lighter and less saturated flavors will typically drop out of the drink, leaving behind only the heavier and more substantial flavors. Typically, this would mean the light and fruity aspects would give way to the richer components — but in this case, I think the opposite is actually happening and the fruit is really becoming the star of the show.

It might be blasphemy, but I actually think that taking this on the rocks is the better experience. I’m getting far more of the fresh grape and dried fig in the flavor profile and less of the dark chocolate — it’s still there, but more of a supporting component than the key player it was when taken neat. This puts the richer chocolate in its place nicely and leaves a crisp, fruity flavor profile behind.

Cocktail (Sidecar)

On the one hand, this is a good cocktail. There are some of the darker characteristics of the cognac coming through (specifically, that dark chocolate), providing some depth and richness to balance out the lime juice and the Cointreau. The end result is something I’d happily sip at a bar anytime.

But what this is missing is some of the complexity and the fruity characteristics that you start to get from a more mature cognac. There’s not quite as much fruit coming through as I’d like, and there’s so much more character that could be brought to bear and we’re sadly not getting here.

That kind of complexity is something that develops with time — and costs a ton more money to obtain as we start to travel up the ladder to the VSOP and eventually XO levels of maturation. For what it is, as a young VS, this does a fine job.


Overall Rating

I can understand why Napoleon was partial to cognac — this is a delicious, rich, complex spirit that probably blew the socks off any British naval officer of the time (who only knew of mediocre rum, peaty scotch, and dastardly gin). When properly produced and matured, that is.

This bottle here today is a young cognac that doesn’t have a lot of the delicious flavors that we would expect from a more mature offering, but you can see the early glimmers of what this can eventually become. And even as it is today, the crisper, fresher take on the spirit is delicious in its own right.

I feel like this is the perfect example of a good VS cognac. There are some faults that would be ironed out with time in the barrel, but overall it is still a delicious experience. And one that pairs perfectly with a three-hour, blood-soaked Ridley Scott production.

Courvoisier VS Cognac
Produced By: Courvoisier
Owned By: Campari Group
Production Location: Cognac, France
Classification: Cognac Brandy
Aging: VS
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $29.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
A light, crisp cognac with some darker notes and hints of what you might get with some additional time in the barrel.


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