Any cognac marked VS (or three-star) by law requires only two years of aging—though most producers use brandies ranging from three to eight years old in their blends. Cognacs in this category almost invariably include caramel (to darken the color) and sugar syrup (to sweeten and soften the taste), and may have been macerated with cognac-soaked oak chips. VSOP stands for “very superior old pale”; four and a half years is the minimum age, but VSOPs often include brandies from five to 13 years old. XO stands for “extra old”, but the youngest cognac in the blend need only be six years old. Fortunately, most houses don’t skimp at this level, and their XOs contain cognacs aged as much as 30 or 40 years. Some firms prefer names like Extra, Vieille Reserve, Hors d’Age, or Napoleon instead of the XO designation; legal requirements are the same. Most producers offer even older cognacs—excellent examples include Delamain’s Tres Venerable, Hennessy’s Paradis, Hine’s Triomphe, and Pierre Ferrand’s Ancestrale—but the law makes no distinction past the XO level.
The Cognac Label