Cognac is a specific type of brandy produced from distilled white wine. It must be distilled twice, using copper pot stills, then aged in French oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
Cognac’s distillation season lasts from October 1 through March 31, a five-month annual window. For most producers, distillation lasts for even less time, though. It cannot begin until after the grape harvest and the wine production which ensues. Therefore, distillation in earnest does not begin for most until closer to the start of November.
After blending, the Cognac then marries together in massive vats for set times dependent upon style and brand choice. At this point the spirit is ready for release as a Cognac, although it is occasionally re-barrelled for further aging after the marrying process. Blending is the key to producing Cognac, and consistently delivering a particular profile from one year to the next.
With blending, eau de vies incorporated into a Cognac, can come from a wide range of ages. Therefore, Cognacs do not bear age labels, but rather are categorized based on the minimum ages of the eau de vies in the blend. The current legally defined categories of Cognac include:
V.S.: Eau de vies with a minimum age of two years. Also known as Very Special or Three Stars.
V.S.O.P.: Eau de vies with a minimum age of four years. Also known as Very Special Old Pale or Reserve.
Napoleon : Eau de vies with a minimum age of 6 years.
X.O.: Eau de vies with a minimum age of 10 years. Also known as Extra Old or Hors d’Age, which often unofficially indicates particularly old or premium releases.
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