VS or 3 stars: the Cognac has been aged for two years in oak barrels. It stops maturing once bottled.
VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale): the Cognac has been aged for five years.
Napoleon or Reserve: the Cognac has been aged for an average of seven years.
XO (Extra Old): the Cognac is over ten years old. The youngest eau de vie used in the blend must have been aged in oak barrels for six and a half years.
Extra, Hors d’âge, Ancestrale, Très vieux, etc.: Much older than XO, these Cognacs are often over 20 years old.
The Cognac region covers 75,000 hectares (185,000 acres) divided into six crus.
-La Grande Champagne covers 13,000 hectares around Segonzac. Premier cru of Cognac which produces the finest and most delicate eaux de vie. These can be aged the longest.
-La Petite Champagne: 15,000 hectares south of Grande Champagne. The Champagne land is so named because of a high chalk content on a par with the Champagne-growing region around Reims.
The blend of Grande Champagne (50% minimum) and Petite Champagne produces Fine Champagne which is an AOC (registered designation of origin).
-Les Borderies : the smallest cru at just under 4,000 hectares. Renowned for its round and smooth eaux de vie with a violet nose.
-Les Fins Bois: the largest of the crus, 31,000 hectares (characterised by red, stony soil) surrounding the first three crus. Round and smooth, eaux de vie which reach rapid maturity.
-Les Bons Bois: fewer than 10,000 hectares survive on this sandy soil which produces smooth eaux de vie with a distinctive maritime flavour.
Les Bois de terroirs or Bois ordinaires: more than a thousand hectares mostly concentrated on Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oléron where these eaux de vie take on a marked maritime flavour. They are mostly used for making Pineau des Charentes, where the same year’s production of grape juice and Cognac are blended before ageing in oak barrels, just like Cognac.
Cognac Houses: Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin and Courvoisier dominate the world’s Cognac market, accounting for just under 90% of sales or more than 150 million bottles. The leading brands buy up eau de vie from wine growers and then blend cognacs in their cellars.
The superbly presented products benefit from sophisticated marketing techniques as well as extensive know-how on the part of the cellar-masters.
Cognac from “bouilleurs de cru”: this term covers those wine-makers who distil their own grapes. They age their own eau de vie in cellars and may produce their own brands. Often little known and produced using traditional, small-scale methods, the end products are highly original and authentic. These Cognacs capture the very essence of the crus from which they originate.
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