Cognac – Ratings, Ageing Grades and VintagesWritten by David MasifonPosted on 07 21, 2017
Cognac is a choice drink for spirit lovers, and competes strongly with whiskey, vodka and gin among the world’s premium spirit drink choices.
Traditionally distilled in pot stills, cognacs today are now made with particular attention to the finesse, taste and the elegance gotten from its base wine.
The beauty of cognac lies not only in its taste, but in the beautiful bottles each brand packages its products. However, one thing that is highly noticeable in each bottle of cognac is the different age specific rating. The most common ratings are VS Cognac, VSOP Cognac and XO Cognac.
What do these ratings mean? What is a VSOP Cognac? or and XO Cognac? Why are they rated that way?
Cognac ratings are done in depending on the number of years the wine has aged for. It means that with each ageing period comes a particular rating.
So what do these ratings mean literally?
In 1865, Maurice Hennessy, great-grandson of founder Richard Hennessy, began to classify the brand based on stars. His use of varying numbers of stars to designate different quality, led to Hennessy’s Three Star Cognac, today known as V.S (Very Special). “Very Special” Cognac refers to a blend with minimum 2 years of ageing (age designation 2). What this means is that a blend qualifies as a VS Cognac if it consists of eaux-de-vie aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years.
In 1817, King George IV of Great Britain asked Hennessy to create a “very superior old pale cognac” – and the Hennessy V.S.O.P was created. The initials V.S.O.P – Very Superior Old Pale – have been used since then as a standard rating for cognac drinks. In modern times, it has been called ‘Very Special Old Pale’. It is a blend with minimum 4 years of ageing (age designation 4) and comes with no additives, sugar or caramel.
A VSOP Cognac is where the youngest eaux-de-vie in the blend is aged for at least four years in oak barrels. While, the average age of Cognacs in the VSOP category may well be older than this, it’s the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend that determines the actual quality of the Cognac.
The description XO was used for the first time in 1870 to stand for ‘Extra Old’ Cognac. An XO Cognac can also be called “Napoleon” or “Old Reserve.”
Cognac XO is a blend with minimum 6 years of ageing (age designation 6) A minimum of 6 years will be increased to 10 years in 2018 (age designation 10). XOs often have a much older average age, with many XO Cognacs being 20 years old and older. In 2016, there were talks of raising the minimun age of an XO Cognac to 10 years, but that has now been postponed to 2018.
A Cognac is marked as a Napoleon when it is marketed as an in-between a VSOP and an XO. However, many consider a Napoleon an XO based on it’s number of ageing years.
An Extra must be at least 6 years old, in theory the same as an XO. The rating is often used to label a blend that is more superior to an XO.
Vintage Cognac refers to single blend from one particular year’s harvest aged for a certain period of time in oak barrels and then bottled. Vintage Cognacs have no age limitation, however the year of the harvest is most important.
Translated literally as ‘beyond age,’ the BNIC officially classifies it as being equal to XO. It relates to a very high quality product, that is beyond an official age rating.
*All these specifications are closely monitored by the French agricultural ministry.
Cognac Age Count
|Age count||Ageing stage||Classification|
|00||Distillation no later than 31st March, following the harvest||Cannot be marketed|
|0||First year of ageing||Cannot be marketed|
|1||Second year of ageing||VS (or Three Stars)|
|2||Third year of ageing|
|3||Fourth year of ageing|
|4 & 5||Fifth and Sixth year of ageing||VSOP|
|From 6||Seventh year of ageing and more||Napoléon, XO, Extra, Hors d’Âge|