We couldn’t fit everything into the November/December issue’s Brandy and Cognac feature, so here’s some additional insight on the category.
All Cognacs are brandy but not all brandies are Cognacs, goes the old saying, useful in reminding everyone that the classic French grape brandy can come only from a specific region.
All Cognacs are also blends of many different spirits from the allowed regions, aged for different lengths of times and brought together by a house’s master blender, the person really responsible for the final bottled product. VS, or Very Special, sometimes called Three Stars, can be made of up to 40 different eaux-de-vies that come from the six regions allowed to provide spirit for Cognac (Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois, and Bois Ordinaires). VS must also contain no spirit aged less than two years, and probably most spirits have been aged between three and five years.
In a VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), also called Reserve, the youngest spirit by law is allowed to be four years old, though they usually contain spirits up to 10 or 12 years or even older, depending on the house style, tradition and the needs of the blender.
In an XO (for Extra Old ), also called Hors d’âge, components must be at least six years old, and they are likely to include some of the oldest Cognacs used. Most blenders will use spirits much older than required by law, allowing an XO to reach a minimum of twenty years in order to create an attractive blend.