A general piece of cognac advice I once read was to generally avoid the common expressions of the "big four:" that is, Hennessy, Martel, Courvoisier, and Remy Martin. It has served me well.
This isn't to say that all of their expressions taken as a collective are bad. Well, except for the Courvoisier VSOP, which I've already done my best to scare you away from. But if you ask me, the big guys tend to spend a lot of dollars trying to cement cognac's reputation as a luxury product through marketing rather than on the quality of the juice itself. I mean, let's take Hennessy as an example: it's the "H" in its parent company LVMH, with the "LV" standing for Louis Vuitton.
Outfits like that spend a lot of time using phrases like "aspirational brand" and "strong momentum" and "distinctive jewel case." So you're basically getting a product that's as good of a cognac as a Louis Vuitton purse is as good of a bag. Which is to say it's been meticulously packaged and is probably fairly pretty, but outside of bragging rights there's not much reason to own it. (A man's perspective here, to be fair.)
There's utterly none of that shit here with the plain-Jane De Luze VSOP, which features only an unassuming white label and just about no marketing campaign to speak of. I received this as a gift and had no awareness of its existence until it was literally placed right in my hands.
What I like about the De Luze is that it's supremely well-balanced without being boring. I sometimes give cognac a little bit of a hard time as a spirit category because when you control every goddamn element of the production process in an attempt to set a standard of quality, things tend to come out tasting just a little bit samey. Here, it's nice to know there are quite a few surprises when you roll the dice on a new bottle.
The aroma immediately won me over with that wonderful "forest floor" aroma of mulch and rainwater, but there's also a lot of fruit and citrus vibrancy. Then, when you sip this stuff, it doesn't come across as a "big" cognac in the sense of attempting to blow out your palate from the word go. If anything, it's a little watery to start off.
However, just as you might be set to dismiss it, the De Luze opens up and you're gently presented with dried fruits and pipe tobacco, which leads seamlessly into a finish of prunes and cherries that's just the right kind of spicy, bitter, and drying on the palate. I forgive the initial lack of body because the finish tends to wrap-around long enough to let you get back to that fruity and earthy development.
All in all, everything is very cohesive here, with no one flavor running away from the pack. I'd never heard about De Luze before, but they're clearly making quality stuff and their VSOP will certainly be repurchased at some point in the future.