VSOP? XO? VS? What are all these letters after my cognac?
Cognac, a type of brandy and celebrated throughout the world for centuries, is an “eau de vie” meaning it is distilled from white wine and produced in the region of the same name. Distilled in pot stills, nowadays cognacs are usually blends that seek to convey the finesse and elegance of their base wines.According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), the official quality grades of cognac are:
V.S. (Very Special also called three stars) designates a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years in cask. Courvoisier makes a great V.S.
V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least four years in a cask. Dusse’s VSOP is regarded as one of the best.
Napoléon designation, previously an unofficial term for XO Cognac, is now used to specifically denote Cognac blends with a minimum age of six years that do not meet the revised XO definition that shifted XO qualifications from 6 years to 10 years.
XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon currently designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least six years. The minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend has been increased to 10 years in April 2018; this rule was originally scheduled for implementation in 2016, but was postponed due to inadequate stocks of cognac that was at least 10 years old. Courvoisier also excels in the XO department.
Hors d'âge (Beyond Age) is a designation which BNIC states is equal to XO, but in practice the term is used by producers to market a high-quality product beyond the official age scale.
Although Cognac is a particularly French drink, these designations are made in English not just due to the popularity of the language across the world, but when Cognac first began to boom in consumption in the 18th century, the British were significant buyers of the spirit.