Cognac Introduction

Sip a glass of cognac, and you’ll understand why the French say it’s made from l’eau de vie (the water of life). The velvety spirit is the most famous variety of brandy and is named for the area in France where it must be produced.

The area around the town of Cognac, France, is divided into six grape-growing regions.

The most expensive fruit comes from Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderies.

Once picked, the grapes are fermented and then distilled twice in copper pot stills, which produce a colorless alcohol called eau-de-vie. The spirit is then aged in oak barrels. Most cognacs are a blend of different eaux-de-vie of varying ages and qualities.

Cognacs are classified into a few general categories:

VS Cognac: Very Special
or ✯✯✯ (three stars) where the youngest brandy is aged at least two years in oak casks.

VSOP Cognac: Very Special
(less commonly, but officially according to the BNIC, ‘Superior’) Old Pale, where the youngest brandy is aged for at least four years in barrels, but the average wood age is much older.
The origin of the world goes back to an order from the British Royal House in 1817. The Royal House was interested in a “cognac pale”, a Cognac which is not sweetened or coloured by adding sugar or caramel. At that time it was quite common to take advantage of using additives. In the beginning of the Cognac culture, it was either cognac or cognac eau de vie.

XO Cognac: Extra Old
where the youngest eaux-de-vie is aged for at least 6, but average upwards of 20 years. From april 10th 2016 on the minimum age for XO Cognacs will be set to 10 years. The expression XO was used for the first time in 1870.

More Cognac Terms

There are some other expressions used:

  • Cognac Napoleon Officially Napoleon is equal to XO in terms of minimum age but normally marketed as an in-between of a VSOP and XO Cognac.
  • Cognac Extra At least 6 years aged in barrels, this grade is usually older than a Napoleon or an XO.
  • Vieux represents a grade between the official grades of VSOP and XO.
  • Vieille Réserve is more or less like Hors d’Age a grade beyond XO.
  • Hors d’âge Cognac The BNIC states it as being equal to XO, but it is actually used to communicate a very high quality product, which is beyond the official age scale. Hors d’age means: beyond age.

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