The liquor world is full of confusing labels: ‘Single Malt’ Vs ‘Blended’ or ‘Straight bourbon’ Vs ‘Bourbon’ whiskey, ‘Reposado’ Vs ‘Añejo’ tequila, ‘Triple sec’ Vs ‘Orange curaçao’ and so on and so forth. One of the most confusing purchases you’ll ever made though, is with France’s most famous brandy regions: Cognac or Armagnac.
There are numerous brandy categories out there, but the two that dominate the market and you will most often stumble upon, are the ‘V.S.O.P.’ and ‘X.O’. Just go into a liquor store and you’ll know what i mean. So, what do those letters mean?
Well, here’s how it goes. (the article continues after the ad)
It all has to do with aging – the time a specific spirit matures in a barrel. The labels are basically a guide indicating the minimum years the youngest Cognac in the blend actually spent in the barrel. The aging reads as follows:
‘V.S.O.P.’ stands for ‘Very Special Old Pale’ and it means that in that specific blend, the youngest Cognac is at least 4 years old (5 years old if we are talking for Armagnacs) even though often it’s much older than that. The ‘Old Pale’ comes from caramel coloring which is often used to color-correct the end product.
‘X.O.’ means ‘Extra Old’ and as of April 2016, the minimum aging for the youngest Cognac or Armagnac in the blend is 10 years old (prior to that it was just 6 years which, to be honest, didn’t actually made a lot of sense).
Now that we’ve covered the two most popular categories let’s have a look on the others as well:
- V.O. (Very Old): The whole thing (not just the youngest spirit in the blend) has been aged for a minimum of 4 years.
- V.S. (Very Special): The youngest blended Cognac or Armagnac must be a minimum 2 years old.
- Varietal: The Cognac or Armagnac is made with just one grape. The grape varietal should be included on the label.
If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: This Is The Difference Between ‘Trademark™’ And ‘Registered®’
Photo: RemyMartin, Hennessy
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: VSOP: A GUIDE TO THE BRANDY ALPHABET | Everything about VS, VSOP, XO, Napoléon Cognac. Learn about the different quality rating and the blending