Cognac is one of the most popular forms of brandy in the world of spirits, but not all Cognac is the same. Produced by distilling wine with oak barrels and copper pots, Cognac is at its best quality when it’s aged, but its flavors can vary through multiple factors.
With different types based on age and regional varieties, the more you know about your liquors and liqueurs, the better your drinks will be.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Cognac, from its different types to its different flavor profiles, to its overall contribution to the world of drinking.
6 Types of Cognac
There are six different types of Cognac, and what separates them from one another is the length of time they’ve had to age in oak barrels before hitting the shelves.
V.S. (Very Special)
V.S. Cognac, or Very Special Cognac, gets its name from having aged at least two years before being placed in stores. It’s the youngest type of Cognac on our list, also meaning it has some of the least expensive bottles.
Due to its minimal aging, V.S. Cognac tends to be lighter in its honey color appearance and sweeter with more hints of fruit than oak. It’s best suited as a cocktail mixer or in cooking as opposed to being drunk on its own.
The most recognizable brands of V.S. Cognac are Hennessy VS Cognac, Hardy VS Tradition Cognac, and Martell Three Star Cognac.
V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale)
Increasing in age slightly, this Cognac requires a minimum of four years to be considered Very Superior Old Pale. The second youngest type of Cognac, V.S.O.P ranges higher in price compared to Very Special Cognac. This jump in expense is slight and not by significant amounts.
The extra years on this type of Cognac make it suitable to drink on the rocks alongside using it in cooking and as an addition to cocktails. The color is similar to light honey, but the taste is slightly stronger in the flavor of oaks and spices.
Some of the more notable V.S.O.P. Cognacs are Hennessy VSOP, Remy Martin VSOP, and Couprie VSOP Cognac.
The third youngest type of Cognac is Napoléon, which has to be six years or higher in age. Alongside its increasing age, Napoléon Cognac also goes up in price.
This Cognac can be served on ice, all by itself, in a cocktail, and even pairs well with certain foods. With color as rich as its flavor, the notes of spice and ginger are a highlight of this Cognac.
Napoléon Cognac goes well alongside multiple food options, like chocolates, cheeses, dried fruits, and meats.
The most recognizable brands of Napoléon Cognac are Courvoisier Fine Champagne Cognac and the Chateau de Montifaud Napoléon Cognac.
X.O. (Extra Old)
The X.O. refers to Extra Old Cognac. The age requirement entails a minimum of ten years in an oak barrel before this Cognac can be considered X.O., yet most Cognacs with this classification are fifteen to twenty years old. Their price range also goes up significantly.
With a deep golden honey color, Extra Old Cognac has a variety of flavors ranging from bitter, dried fruits to spices and chocolates.
The longer Cognac spends in a barrel, the richer its oak-like flavors will shine through. These flavors work perfectly on their own with food or with ice.
Hardy XO Cognac, Braastad XO Superior Cognac, and Hennessy XO Cognac are a few of the most popular Extra Old Cognacs.
With a similar but slightly higher price range than X.O. Cognacs, X.X.O. Cognacs are older, requiring a minimum age of fourteen years of aging. Technically this category is the last official rating of a Cognac’s age.
The extra age only makes this version of Cognac the richest and most expensive available on shelves. That also makes it the richest in flavor, and while age doesn’t equal better tasting, if you like a deep and dark spirit, X.X.O. Cognac is the option for you.
Some brands of Extra Extra Old Cognac you’ll recognize are the Martell Chanteloup XXO Cognac and ABK6 XXO Grande Champagne Cognac.
Hors d’Âge isn’t an official category, but it resides with the X.X.O. Cognacs. It recognizes Cognacs with a minimum age of thirty years. Some Cognac’s age can go over a hundred, making them thousands of dollars. Its translation in English is “beyond age”.
The older, the higher in price and richer in flavor Cognac gets. These Cognacs are also of the highest quality, and some can go far back in time and be considered ancestral.
Hardy Four Seasons Spring Lalique is a bottle worth over ten thousand dollars, and the Remy Martin Louis XIII Time Collection Cognac is one of the most popular Hors d’Âge Cognacs available.
Cognac Regional Varieties
The popularity of Cognac flavors and production vary from region to region. There are different versions of Cognac based on the area where it is produced.
Here we’ll discuss how much each of these areas is taken up by vineyards and how their soil impacts the Cognac.
Bois à Terroirs
Bois à Terroirs refers to “earth woods”, which separates it from its counterpart the “ordinary woods”, or, better known as Bois Ordinaires. These two lands make up one of the driest, sandiest regions, therefore making some of the lower quality Cognac.
This area, alongside Bois Ordinaires, rests on the outside of all the other regions, placing it directly next to the oceans. The Cognac produced here has a unique flavor due to the lack of chalk in the soil and the salt air surrounding the vineyards.
While the quality may seem lower, the taste is distinct and can make for a refreshing Cognac drink.
Bois Ordinaires also has only 1,066 hectares of vineyard land, part of it belonging to Bois à Terroirs.
This is an incredibly small amount compared to its total size of 260,000 hectares. A majority of this area is dry, leaving most of its soil to be sand, which doesn’t make for the best vineyards to grow.
Godet and Normandin Mercier are the two Cognac producers in this region.
Despite being one of the largest regions, Bons Bois has only 9,300 hectares worth of vineyards. The land with vines barely covers two percent of the land in its entirety. This is mainly because its soil varies from place to place.
Composed of sand and clay, the soil in this region can be dry in one location and moist in the other. This dryness can help the produced Cognac age better and faster, however.
There is limited chalk in this area, but it’s mixed into the soil where the vineyards lie. With such a small arena the Cognac house of this region is Andre Petite.
The smallest region on our list, Borderies has 4,000 hectares worth of vineyards, equalling a third of its total area. Because Borderies lies on a plateau, its soil composition is made with clay and chalk. These elements contribute to the unique flavor of this region’s Cognac.
Mainly, the soil creates a special flavor in the grapes. This flavor helps to craft an even more delicious Cognac with fruity and nutty tastes and smells.
The size of Borderies leads to only two major Cognac houses: Camus and Ordanneau.
Fin Bois is an incredibly large area with slightly over ten percent of its hectares, about 31,200, making up its vineyards. With stone, dense chalk, and moist clay all mixed within the soil it grows, the grapes developed from these lands are full of sweet juice.
Cognacs produced in this region are especially fruity, created by the juicy grapes grown on the land.
The recognizable Cognac brands situated in this region are Leyrat and Grosperrin.
Grande Champagne is a large Cognac spot located in the center of all the other regions.
Over a third of the land is made of vineyards, about 13,250 hectares, which isn’t surprising considering the unique composition of the land’s soil. With limestone infused within, the soil’s quality is high and perfect for growing grapes.
Hosting Cognac houses such as Frapin, Brillet, Claude, Thorin, and Hine, the Grande Champagne region is one of the most successful ones in terms of vineyards and the soil in the land.
Petite Champagne is a larger area than Grande Champagne, but its ratio in size to the area of vineyards is less. With 15,250 hectares of vineyards and consistently damp and compact soil, this region produces light grapes for light Cognacs.
The most notable Cognac houses in this region are Remy Martin, Dobbe, and Montifaud.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most frequently asked questions about Cognac and everything that revolves around the Cognac world.
Can Cognac be used for cocktails?
Yes, cognac can be used for cocktails. The rich cognac flavors that vary in sweet fruit, nutty and dry, and deep oak make for delicious additives to cocktails. Some of the most famous cocktails use Cognac, for example, the Sidecar and the Between the Sheets.
If cocktails aren’t your thing, you can always enjoy Cognac straight. Additionally, the higher the age of your Cognac bottle, the smoother and better quality it’ll be to enjoy on the rocks.
What’s the difference between Cognac and brandy?
The key difference between Cognac and Brandy is that all Cognac is Brandy, but not all Brandy is Cognac. Cognac is a type of Brandy, whereas Brandy can also be Calvados, Armagnac, Flavored Brandy, and more.
Cognac is one of the most recognizable types of brandy and the most popular overall in certain countries.
Which country is Cognac most popular?
The most popular Cognac country depends on the type of popularity in mind.
In terms of popularity by consumption, the United States drinks the most Cognac out of any other. The Sidecar and Between the Sheets originated in European countries, but now they are primarily drunk in America.
Despite not being the country that consumes the most Cognac, France produces the most Cognac in the world. That Cognac is then delivered to the United States. Similarly, the most popular country in terms of Cognac value is China.
How many Cognac producers are there?
There are plenty of big-name Cognac producers most of us have heard of before. From Hennessy to Remy Martin, these huge names are the most obvious producers. Yet, there are plenty of Cognac producers that fly under all of our radars, despite their high-end products. Sometimes small-scale Cognac producers prefer to be a well-kept secret, as it keeps their brand pristine.
Smaller, family-owned businesses like Fillioux create Cognac by hand and bottle it themselves. The slight differences in location, age, and soil between these many detail-oriented producers create all different types of Cognac.
There are too many to count when it comes to the number of Cognac producers, but what we can be sure of is to give these smaller groups a try.
As we’ve covered, Cognac is a popular brandy produced by distilling wine. This particular type of brandy has different appearances, tastes, and qualities as it ages in oak barrels.
With a variety of age classifications that get pricier as the years grow, Cognac can also have a different taste and quality based on the region in which it is produced.
How old it is and the soil its vines and grapes grow from can alter the quality, taste, and overall enjoyment of Cognac. There are different ways to enjoy Cognac, as well, and each variant leads to a different taste every time.
With all of this new information, comment below if your thoughts on Cognac have changed or stayed the same, and let us know if you’re hoping to try some the next chance you get.