In France, the labeling of cognac is regulated by the Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac (BNIC). In the Bureau's way of counting cognac's age, year zero begins on April 1 of the year after the grapes were grown; year one begins on April 1 of the year after that, and so on. Essentially, the years being counted are those the eau-de-vie has spent aging in oak barrels, the compte de vieillissement.
The abbreviated names are in English because, over a hundred years ago, the principal market for cognac was England.
|V.S., or 3 star||“Very Special”. The youngest cognac in the blend must be at least two years in oak.|
|V.S.O.P., or Reserve||“Very Superior Old Pale”. The youngest cognac in the blend must be at least four years in oak.|
|X.O., or Napoleon||“Extra Old”. The youngest cognac in the blend must be at least ten years old. Before 2016, at least six years in oak.|
|Hors d'Âge||The youngest cognac in the blend must be at least ten years in oak, but this designation is usually used for cognac whose youngest component is older than that.|
The United States and the United Kingdom reckon the age of cognac in the same way they do human birthdays. In the United States, a three-star cognac must be at least two years old. In the United Kingdom, a three-star must be at least three years old and (since 1955) a “V.O.,” “V.S.O.P.,” or “Réserve” is at least four years old and “Extra,” “Napoléon,” or “Vielle Réserve” is at least five.
The label will also include an indication of where the grapes were grown. The boundaries of these six growing regions, which like "Cognac" are controlled appellations, are primarily determined by soil types.
That the word "champagne" appears in the names of two of the regions in Cognac has led to some confusion. Champagne cognac has nothing to do with champagne, the sparkling wine. The grapes are different and the production process is entirely different. The sparkling wine comes from the province of Champagne in northeastern France, hundreds of kilometers away from the Cognac region. The word may have originally referred to a type of chalky soil found in both regions.
|Fine||Only indicates that the accompanying designation, in this case "cognac", is an AOC. See the law of 20 February 1928 (www.cognac.fr/cognac/pdf/vitivini/280220.pdf). Does not indicate aging.|
|Grande Fine Champagne||A synonym for Grande Champagne.|
|Petite Fine Champagne||A synonym for Petite Champagne.|
|Fine Champagne||The grapes grew in Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. At least 50% must come from Grande Champagne.|
|Borderies||Grapes from the smallest of the six crus.|
1. Règlement (CE) No 110/2008 du Parlement Européen et du Conseil du 15 janvier 2008 concernant la définition, la désignation, la présentation, l'étiquetage et la protection des indications géographiques des boissons spiritueuses et abrogeant le règlement (CEE) no 1576/89 du Conseil.
Journal officiel de l'Union européenne, 13.2.2008.
Pages 39/46 & 39/471.
2. A current list of the territories within each cru can be downloaded from www.cognac.fr/cognac/pdf/vitivini/DF380113.pdf.
Cognac does not age in the bottle. It does keep well. However, once a bottle is opened the contents should be consumed within weeks or a few months; in time the subtler notes are lost.
The Encyclopedia of Cognac (in French, English and German), provided by the BNIC.
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Last revised: 15 March 2016.