According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), the official quality grades of cognac are:
- V.S. (Very Special) or ✯✯✯ (3 stars) designates a blend in which the youngest brandy has been aged for at least 2 years in a cask.
- V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is aged for at least 4 years in a cask.
- Napoléon designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is aged for at least 6 years.
- XO (Extra Old) The minimum age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend at least 10 years.
- XXO (Extra Extra Old) is a specific indication given to wine spirits that have been aged for at least 14 years.
- Hors d’age (Beyond Age) is a designation in which BNIC states are equal to XO, but in practice, the term is used by producers to market a high-quality product beyond the official age scale (which can have 40, 50, 60, or more years of aging!). These aforementioned specifications are closely monitored by the appellation board of France.
Other names like “black” or “double oaked” or “very fine Cognac” are used by brands to market their Cognac brandies to signify a special batch (which might even be a recipe that includes the addition of caramel color or sugar!).
So, if you want an official designation of quality, look at the official classification and get the producer’s notes for that bottle.