Monday, November 21, 2016

Cognac Salignac VS

Here in Pennsylvania, we have state-owned and operated liquor stores with some standardization of inventory and much standardization of pricing. In these stores, I routinely see four brands of cognac bearing the grade "VS." Let me note right now that for American brandies, grades like "VS" are applied loosely, but for cognac, they have specific meanings. VS is the young stuff, aged at least two years, and it's probably the first grade most people are exposed to. Now, as for the four brands which are standard in PA:

Hennessy -- $34 (+ tax)/750 ml bottle

Martell -- $30

Courvoisier -- $30

Salignac -- $22

I had to wonder whether Salignac was a great value or a case of getting what you pay for. Unfortunately, looking for reviews online didn't answer that question. When I checked this past summer, there were hardly any (there are a few more now, including mine). The most helpful review I found was over six years old and recommended Salignac VS for mixing but wasn't favorable otherwise. In the ensuing comment thread, many people disagreed strongly with the review, comparing Salignac favorably to Hennessy -- a couple of comments even stated that people can't tell the difference between the two. I rarely drink Hennessy VS, but given its cachet, I was amazed that something $12 cheaper could taste the same. And while I couldn't find a brand website, I did find multiple sites identifying Salignac as Courvoisier's budget brand. With all this mystery, intrigue, and controversy, I had to try Salignac. Mind you, I don't believe I've ever seen it in a bar, but then again, I don't see much cognac at all in bars in the Philadelphia area. So I bought a bottle.

First, let me give you my early impressions. Then, there's a twist to this story!

Salignac VS
At least 2 years old
40% ABV (80 Proof)

Color: Holy caramel coloring, Batman!

Body: Thin. Swirling around the glass leaves wiry legs and a lot of sheeting, with droopy tears following. All of this dissipates to rain-like specks.

Nose: Actually pretty attractive! Deep notes of dark raisins. Rich, toasty oak. Nougat. Bright, sweet wine notes with white grapes and red cherries. A sprinkling of sawdust, followed by salt water and hints of black pepper. The alcohol is surprisingly restrained for a young, cheap spirit, but grows stronger over time.

Palate: A HUGE disappointment following such an attractive nose. The dominant flavors are an alcohol sharpness and a bitterness suggestive of too damn many tannins! Underneath those harsh flavors is a thin, watery base of fruit flavors split evenly between dark raisins and pears. The finish is a bit smoky. Still, the sharp, bitter traits make me cringe upon sipping this, and even though I'm not a big Hennessy VS drinker, I do not understand how people can't tell the difference between the two. More on that in the next section.

Besides Sipping Neat: I tried several experiments with Salignac VS. I mixed it with cola, and with ginger ale. It was adequate with these mixers, but nothing more. I mixed it with tonic water and it fared better with that, but I still wasn't thrilled. I tried it on the rocks and actually felt that the ice dulled the sharpness and bitterness, making it smoother if nothing else. I figured that some of the people who can't tell the difference between Salignac and Hennessy like to shoot the latter, so I did a shot of Salignac, cleansed my palate, then did a shot of Hennessy. No comparison. The Hennessy was quite pleasant after the harsh Salignac.

But waaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiit just a minute.

Disappointed as I was, I put the rest of the bottle aside. By the time I revisited it, it had been open for about three months with quite a bit of air in the bottle. So...

Palate, three months after opening: Lo and behold, this cognac has mellowed considerably! Sipping it neat, I don't find it sharp at all. There is still some bitterness, but it is better integrated. The dark raisin and pear flavors are still light, but not as strikingly so, given the mellower overall profile. There is still a touch of smoke in the finish, but it's subtle. A sugary aftertaste reminiscent of dried tropical fruits; I definitely did not notice this in my previous tastings. It still doesn't taste like Hennessy VS to me; at this point, it tastes a lot more like what it is: a budget alternative to Courvoisier VS.

Overall: A strange one! I found it a waste at first, but decent for the price after letting it oxidize for three months. Never thought I'd make that recommendation! But I do have to wonder whether this cognac is inconsistent from bottle to bottle. Given the wildly differing opinions, and especially the preponderance of positive ratings measured against the few-but-biting negative ratings, it's a fair question to ask.

Thank you for reading, and as always...Happy Drinking!

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