The Man Behind the Word on Whisky
Cognac Expert analyzed the Cognac ratings of straight-talking rock ‘n’ roll Whisky reviewer, Serge Valentin, to uncover the intriguing reason behind his public opinion of eaux-die-vie. Keep reading to find out what we discovered.
Serge Valentin is a leading authority in the world of spirits, he is particularly influential within the Whisky industry, however he also dabbles in reviewing a number of other spirits including Cognac. Serge shares his thoughts on spirits on his long-running blog, which he first established in 2002 and which visually, looks almost identical today. His website has an almost anarchistic and yet endearing quality to it. Unlike the vast majority of other blogs that have become globally popular (Serge’s blog receives a few million visits a year and has a few tens of thousands of very loyal readers), his platform remains ‘low-tech, handcrafted, ad-free and without any cookies’.
Valentin reviews all spirits in a strikingly honest, informal, and often amusing tone. It is clear once you have read a number of his reviews that Serge’s palate is a consistent one, and there are certain qualities to spirits that will earn it a higher score on his scale of 100. Indeed Serge warns the readers of his blog that what he writes about spirits is “not the gospel, but is based on personal experience and feelings, with no pretensions to be ‘the truth.” Nevertheless, his opinion is a highly regarded one and goes a long way in impacting both the sales and price of spirits.
Cognac Expert decided to do some investigating into Serge’s ratings of a range of Cognacs in order to decipher what characteristics influenced his opinion and if there were any patterns to his scoring. We looked at some of Valentin’s Cognac reviews to analyze the correlations in order to develop a thesis with regards to his ratings.
Here is what we found out
Rating vs ABV
The scatter plot above aims to show any potential relationship between alcohol volume (abv) and Serge Valentin’s Cognac rating for a variety of Cognacs. Looking closely at the graph, we can see that there is a slightly upward trajectory in the Cognac score as the abv increases. However, this positive correlation should be considered weak to moderate since there appear to be a handful of exceptions.
Correlation does not imply causation, but it’s clear that Cognacs that exceed 90 points have all been at abv levels higher than 40% abv. Conversely, not a single Cognac at 40% abv scored above 90 points. In short, Serge’s ratings for this sample of Cognacs suggest that being overproof is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a Cognac to score upwards of 90 points.
The following list of 27 cognacs will give you a better understanding of Serge’s tastings from a Whisky nerd’s point of view. See for yourself what the connoisseur likes, dislikes and what Whiskys he compares the Cognacs to.
Serge Valentin & Cognac Expert on Cognacs
93 points – Vallein Tercinier Rue 34
Distilled in 1934, this Cognac is almost 80 years old, and having come from one single barrel of eau-de-vie means it is classed as a Vintage.
Serge says: “I won’t list all aromas, but there’s one funny note that arises after a few minutes, a mix of cannabis and propolis. Not unlike walking in a park in San Francisco or in Amsterdam’s most touristy streets ;-).”
92 points – Pasquet Très Vieille Petite Champagne Confluence
A symbiotic blend of three of Pasquet’s previously existing Cognacs that has an average age of 58 years. It possesses delectable character with exotic nuances.
Serge says: “Very impressive, you could really understand that the cellarmaster had wanted to keep this heavenly mixture ‘as fresh and fruity as possible’. If it was malt whisky, that would be an old Mitchell’s Springbank 25 yo ‘dumpy’.”
90 points – Vallein Tercinier Hors d’Age
An award-winning yet affordable Fine Champagne blend that has been aged for at least four decades in oak barrels.
Serge says: “Perfect tropical fruits, beehivy tones, damp earth, tangerines, camphor, eucalyptus… Everything is perfect in this nose.”
90 points – Vallein Tercinier Conjugaison 49
A light and floral blend of two vintages from 1949 and 1922, it is stunningly complex and extremely rare.
Serge says: “Cigars, chutneys, peaches and apricots, a touch of clay, laterite after a heavy shower, hints of rhubarb pie… The complexity is totally amazing.”
90 points – Vallein Tercinier 46
A tropical tasting blend of just two eaux-de-vie from the regions of Fins Bois and Bons Bois.
Serge says: “This bottling is so smart! The exact definition of a malternative (but psst, malts of the same quality are much more expensive).”
90 points – Vallein Tercinier Hommage Lot 40
A rare Bons Bois Cognac which is over 80 years old. It was distilled during WWII and bottled in hommage to Paul Vallein who ran the house in 1850.
Serge says: Mouth: “do they have a secret machine that takes out the tannins? Well, there are a few green tannins remaining (tea leaves, apple peel), but all the rest is pretty perfect.”
90 points – Remi Landier Très Vieux 40th Birthday
An extremely rare ‘special occasion’ Cognac made from the house’s family reserves and containing eaux-de-vie distilled by Remi himself in the early 70s.
Serge says: “Really impressive in this nose, rather than the aromas, is the perfect balance. Mouth: hurray! The 45% vol. really work, this has more oomph than all the others. There are funny touches of calvados, a welcome oiliness, even a slight roughness here and there that give it a pleasant ‘artisan’ feeling (fruit peelings).”
90 points – Cognac Sponge Héritage N.78-85
A deliciously old Cognac that has originated from the private cellars of a producer in the Borderies region and has wonderful strength at 57.1 ABV.
Serge says: “A bit more ‘from the countryside’ than the Champagnes, which is exactly what you’d expect from a Borderies. Superb cognac for sure, while if it was malt whisky, it would be a 15-20 yo Clynelish in my opinion.”
89 points – Tesseron Lot 90
A well-aged, vigorous, and complex Cognac from the Fine Champagne terroirs combined with Fins Bois eaux-de-vie.
Serge says: “Indeed another one that is absolutely wonderful, and what’s more, really very complex. Rather staggering, I would say.”
89 points – Tiffon Très Vieille Réserve
A solely Grande Champagne Cognac that has been aged for a minimum of 80 years and presents exceptional complexity and depth.
Serge says: “Mouth: it’s invading, in a good way. Very fruity and fresh, without all these caramely notes that younger and more commercial cognac can display. We’re bordering perfection.”
The oldest Cognac in Ordeonneau’s range, it is a true Borderies treasure aged for between 25 and 30 years.
Serge says: “I find it a bit sad that they would keep bottling this old Cognac at 40% vol. even if the general public still prefers lighter strengths – apparently.”
88 points – Grosperrin Vintage 1992
A stunning vintage from 1992 that comes from a small farm with 12 hectares of vineyards located in Salles-de-Babezieux.
Serge says: “Surprisingly punchy on the palate.”
88 points – Vallein Tercinier Lot 66
A fine, single barrel Cognac from 1966, its cask strength should be savored along with its flavors of menthol, walnut, and licorice.
Serge says: “Yes you’re right, Lot 66 means it’s a 1966. As for this house, it’s simply my current favourite. And hey, cask strength!”
88 points – Daniel Bouju Brut de Fût Royal
A true connoisseur’s Cognac, this Brut de Fut is unfiltered, cask strength and remarkably eccentric.
Serge says: “In a way, this is an A’bunadh of Cognac – and a perfect malternative. Well done, Daniel Bouju!”
88 points – Jean Fillioux N°1
A stunning Grande Champagne 60-year-old delight that is only produced in very small volumes of 30 to 100 bottles each year.
Serge says: “Totally high class. Not sure it is true that this is 60 yo juice, but anyway, quality’s really very high.”
87 points – Guillon Painturaud Vieille Réserve
A 25 year old Grande Champagne Cognac, described by its producer as an ‘elegant fruit bomb’. The eaux-de-vie used in this blend is from a single (undeclared) year.
Serge says: “Finish: medium, slightly tarry, and losing steam, taking a nose dive, most sadly. Coïtus interrupts, I would say.”
85 points – Leopold Gourmel Brut des Fleurs
A spectacular Fins Bois Cognac aged for a minimum of 15 years, it presents a wonderful combination of both sweet and spicy notes and an intense vanilla flavor.
Serge says: “Excellent, I was afraid there would be too much vanilla on the palate, but not at all. Because in cognac too, vanilla kills.”
85 points – Jean Fillioux La Pouyade
A slightly overproof Cognac that received Double Gold at the 2021 Bartender Spirits Awards. It’s spring floral notes make it the perfect VSOP for a sunny afternoon party.
Serge says: “Very likeable, fresh and void of any stuffy sugary/caramelly notes. A worthy malternative for sure, and it’s not expensive.”
85 points – Pierre Ferrand Réserve
An XO Cognac of sheer quality and excellence, it is no longer in production meaning any remaining bottles are extremely limited.
Serge says: “Just excellent. This would win over many whisky hearts at 45 or 46% vol. instead of just 40.”
84 points – Normandin Mercier Vieille Fine Champagne
An award-winning, Fine Champagne VSOP Cognac from a highly regarded house.
Serge says: “High quality young cognac, rather approachable and yet not dull or too ‘commercial’.”
84 points – Guillon Painturaud Hors d’Age
One of the oldest Cognac in this house’s range, it is made from the best eaux-de-vie in Grande Champagne and has aged for 30 years.
Serge says: “Very good, but perhaps not totally extraordinary.”
84 points – Pierre Ferrand Sélection des Anges
This heavenly Cognac has received a multitude of awards over the years, it was distilled ‘on the lees’ before being aged for an average of 30 years.
Serge says: “All excellent but from a whisky drinker’s POV, the simpler Réserve was maybe a little more, well, malternative.”
83 points – Remi Landier Napoleon
A rich, tropical and subtly sweet Cognac with a mixture of both floral and fruity flavors.
Serge says: “Once again no caramel and no sugary feeling. Hurray! All good, I’d say. Quality ‘family’ cognac for sure.”
83 points – Remi Landier XO Vieille Réserve
A surprisingly subtle single-origin Fins Bois Cognac from the artisanal house of Remi Landier, it is wonderfully balanced with a classic Fins Bois nuttiness.
Serge says: “It’s older yet fruitier and fresher than the Napoléon. Qualities are similarly high in my opinion.”
83 points – Vallein Tercinier Réserve Napoleon
A multi-award-winning blend that gifts the palate with a young ‘freshly-squeezed’ character married with a rich velvety flavor typical of older Cognacs.
Serge says: “Nose: crazy tinned peaches in abundance! Peach purée, the one you’d use to make a proper Bellini.”
76 points – Bache Gabrielsen XO
A Fine Champagne Cognac that has been aged for a minimum of 15 years and possesses exceptional depth.
Serge says: “I doubt you could make more aromatic, perfumed, heady cognac, it’s almost enough to make your head spin.”
75 points – Daniel Bouju XO Empereur
A solely Grande Champagne Cognac it is both rich and full-bodied with a long and satisfying finish.
Serge says: “Very old-school Cognac, I think my old uncles used to drink this kind.”
More to Find Out
After analyzing Serge’s opinion and scoring about 41 Cognacs out of the +100 Cognacs he reviewed, we curated the data to produce a number of scatter plots which demonstrate the relationship between Serge’s ratings and Price and Cognac Age.
Rating vs Price
The scatter plot aims to show an association between Price and Serge Valentin’s Cognac rating. As we examine the graph, we can see that there is an upward trend in the Cognac score as the price increases. This positive correlation should be considered moderate since there appear to be some exceptions from the trend. For Cognacs under 100 euros, there was a roughly even split between Cognacs receiving scores above and below 85 points.
That being said, not a single sub-100 euro Cognac scored above 90 points. The highest priced Cognacs all received scores into the 90’s. Age is a major factor in the price of a Cognac, so we must certainly expect that the scores from an experienced and unbiased reviewer such as Mr. Valentin are not influenced by price, but instead by the tremendous age found in these most expensive bottles of Cognac.
Rating vs Age
The scatter plot aims to show a correlation between Age and Serge Valentin’s Cognac rating. Exploring the scatterplot, we can see that there is a clear upward slope in the Cognac score as the age increases. This positive correlation can be considered moderate since there are a handful of Cognacs that deviate from the trendline. It’s clear that Cognacs that exceed 90 points have all exceeded 35 years of age. And from this selection, virtually every Cognac above 60 years had scores above 90 points. On the flip side, once the Cognac’s age dips below 20 years, the score dispersion is much wider.
As the bar graph indicates, Serge’s ratings are not biased towards one Cru over others. All crus, including an additional Blend category, all lie comfortably between 84 and 90 points on average. Two takeaways from this are that exceptional quality Cognacs can be found in all Crus and that Serge’s ratings are based solely on what’s in the glass and the delivery of the aromas and tastes of the Cognac. No one Cru gets special treatment.
Overall, we can determine that Serge has a preference towards older Cognacs (what connoisseur doesn’t) and stronger ones, which is understandable considering his passion for Whisky! Although Cognac Expert’s tastes and opinions may differ from some of Serge’s, it is important to remember that this is entirely the point of Cognac and all the other spirits out there – to find your personal taste and enjoy what you love. One thing we can definitely agree on, is that Serge’s top three rated Cognacs are not to be missed, so be sure to check them out and let us know what you think:
The above quotes were taken from Serge Valentin’s spirits blog: Whiskyfun.com