Turning Grapes into Cognac
To be sold to the public, a Cognac must have been aged in oak cask for at least two years counting from the end of the distillation period, April 1 of the year following the harvest. Once bottled, a Cognac, unlike wine, doesn’t evolve anymore. Therefore it retains the same age indefinitely.
Cognac is a blend of the distilled beverages (known as eaux-de-vie) from different ages (for larger operations it includes different distilleries and vineyards). This blending of different eaux-de-vie is important to obtain a complexity of flavors absent from an eau-de-vie from a single year, distillery or vineyard. The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BINC) is in charge of controlling the stocks and the age of maturing Cognac. It codified the use of the designations based on the length of ageing of the youngest Cognac in the blend.
The most widely used designations are as follows:
V.S. (Very Special) or *** (3 stars): Cognacs whose youngest eaude-vie is at least two years old.
V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale), Reserve: Cognacs whose youngest eau-de-vie is at least four years old.
Napoléon, X.O (Extra Old), Hors d’âge: Cognacs whose youngest eau-de-vie is at least six years old.
Generally speaking, Cognac master blenders use eaux-de-vie that are much older than the minimum requirement for their blends, according to BINC. In fact, the most prestigious designations may have aged for dozens of years in oak casks before being presented to the public.