Types of Cognac: What To Know

When it comes to understanding the puzzling terminology of cognac categories, any of us can become baffled. This is due to the fact that the laws governing the ageing of cognac date back many years and have changed very little since their inception.

So, to help, we’ve created the following guide to demystify all those confusing terms and explain the various grades of cognac, allowing you to tell a VS from a XXO and impress your peers with your in-depth knowledge of the world’s favourite brandy.

Let me just clarify a few points before we get started. It is critical to understand that whether a cognac is a blend or a single cru, they mature or age in the same way.

However, eau-de-vie (the liquid, literally means water of life) from the Grande Champagne terroir takes much longer to mature than those from other growing regions. Cognac from the Fins Bois region takes the least amount of time.

In practical terms, this means that Grande Champagne cognac takes years (sometimes decades) longer to perfect. This is one of the factors that influences the final product’s price.

It is also worth noting that, unlike whisk(e)y, where the name indicates the age of the spirit (21-year old, 12-year old, etc.), cognac uses letters instead. Once you understand what these terms mean, it becomes much clearer how old a particular cognac is.

There are four official age categories of cognac: VS, VSOP, XO and the recent addition of XXO. However, there a number of other unofficial classifications such as Napoleon, Hors d’Age and Vintages.


  • VS: Aged 2 Years
  • Suitable for Cocktails, Mixed Drinks, & Cooking
  • Typically the most accessible price point (Most likely ranging from €40 to €60)

VS Cognac stands for “Very Special” Cognac. A VS Cognac must be aged for at least two years. It is also known as ‘Sélection,’ ‘De Luxe,’ or simply ***. If a cognac bottle has three stars, it is in the VS age category. This implies that the blend’s youngest eau-de-vie was aged in oak barrels for at least two years.

The ageing process causes the liquid to take on the colour of wood, but because it is only for a short period of time, the eau-de-vie ends up a light straw yellow/amber colour. A young cognac may be a little punchy on the palate with a youthful fire, but it can boast lovely fruity aromas. If you enjoy a rebellious spirit, a VS neat or on the rocks is perfectly acceptable. It is safe to say that VS iOS is an excellent cognac for making cocktails, long drinks, or any other type of mixed drink. It should be noted that a VS or *** designation simply indicates the age of the product’s youngest eau-de-vie. This doesn’t stop a master blender using older eau-de-vie in the blend though.

VS Cognac is very popular with younger palates, with the most famous version being Hennessy VS Cognac, but with Martell VS and Courvoisier VS


  • VSOP: Aged 4+ Years
  • Suitable for Cocktails, With Ice, & Cooking
  • Typically slightly more expensive than the VS (Most likely hovering around the €70 to €120 range)

You’re probably wondering what VSOP stands for. The official term is “Very Superior Old Pale,” but it is more commonly referred to as “Very Special Old Pale.” The phrase’s origins can be traced back to an order issued by the British Royal Court in 1817. King George IV requested a “Very Superior Old Pale” from the House of Hennessy, which became the standard for all cognac houses from then on. At the time, sugar and caramel were commonly used to sweeten cognac, and this description alluded to one made without these additives.

The youngest eau-de-vie in the blend must be at least four years old to qualify as a VSOP Cognac. As with any other age category, the master blender may use much older eaux-de-vie to achieve the perfect harmony for the final cognac blend. As a result, the average age of a VSOP is frequently much older than the four-year minimum requirement.

Some people use fullstops after the letters, V.S.O.P., which is just a personal preference. This age is also known as “Very Superior Special Pale,” “Very Old,” or simply “Réserve” or “Vieux.”

So, which is superior, VS or VSOP? It all comes down to personal preference once again. A cognac that has been aged for a longer period of time is not necessarily better. Younger cognacs, such as VS, have fresher, livelier fruit aromas, whereas older eaux-de-vie, such as VSOPs, are smoother, with clear notes of oak and spices.

There are some excellent VSOPs on the market, many of which are delicious when served neat. However, as a potent component of a cognac cocktail, this category has become a favourite among mixologists. As a result, cognacs in this category are a very versatile addition to any good spirits collection.

Some notable VSOPs include, Hennessy VSOP, Remy Martin VSOP, and Lhéraud Cognac Émotion VSOP.


  • XO: Aged 10+ Years
  • Suitable for Cocktails, With Ice, & Neat
  • More expensive than the VSOP (Most likely in the €150 to €200 range)

So, what does XO mean in the context of Cognac? The term ‘Extra Old’ refers to a cognac made up of eaux-de-vie that have been aged in oak barrels for at least ten years. Extra Old, like VS (Very Special) and VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), is an English expression that demonstrates a strong connection to foreign countries, particularly Great Britain and America.

Cognac Hennessy coined the term “XO” and it was first used in 1870. Even though the youngest blend in an XO Cognac can be as young as ten years, the average age of an XO is between 15 and 20 years, and sometimes older. So, how old is an official Cognac XO? In order to improve the overall quality of the spirit, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) raised the minimum XO cognac age for the youngest eau-de-vie from six to ten years in 2018.

The XO is the “gold standard” against which cognac houses are typically judged, but the recent addition of the XXO category has outdone it. An XO, on the other hand, can tell you a lot about a good cognac. So, how does XO cognac taste? The length of time in the barrels can have a significant impact on the cognac, and an exceptional XO will be rich and luxurious with warm spice, toffee, chocolate, nuts, and dried fruit.

You can always try the original XO, Hennessy XO Cognac, but check out our XO Cognac range to choose for yourself.


  • XXO: Aged 14+ Years
  • Suitable for Neat, With Ice, & Paired With Food
  • More expensive than the XO (Most likely in the €280 to €400 range)

XXO is an abbreviation for “extra extra old,” and it is a relatively new category that was added to the description of cognac ages in 2018. An XXO Cognac, like the other age categories of cognac, VS, VSOP, and XO, is made from eau-de-vie aged in French oak barrels. However, in the case of a XXO, the minimum age to qualify is 14 years. This makes a XXO cognac the cognac with the oldest official rating.

Of course, there are other terms that are commonly used to describe cognacs that have been aged for longer than 14 years. Hors d’Age, Extra, and Tres Vieille Réserve are among them. These, however, are not official categories. So, regardless of how old a cognac is, it falls into the XXO category. In fact, prior to the landmark 2018 ruling enacted by Hennessy and other cognac producers, any cognac aged for more than six years was considered an XO, even if it was over a century old!


  • Napoleon: Aged 6+ Years
  • Suitable for Neat, With Ice, & Paired With Food
  • Price can vary depending on length of aging (Most likely in the €80 to €200 range)

“Napoleon” Cognac is an unofficial age designation, but it technically falls under the official classification of a V.S.O.P, which requires eaux-de-vie to be aged for a minimum of four years. A V.S.O.P Cognac, on the other hand, may be referred to as a Napoleon if it has been aged for more than six years.

The name derives from the French Emperor Napoleon and the Cognac House Courvoisier. According to legend, Napoleon took crates of Courvoisier Cognac with him into exile to the island of St Helena, and the crew dubbed the cognac “Cognac Napoleon.”

Try the Napoléon Le Cuvier.


  • Réserve : Aged for an average of 25 Years
  • Suitable for Neat & Paired With Food
  • Will depend on whether very old eaux-de-vie (very rare and so expensive) or younger eaux-de vie (less rare and so lower price)

The youngest eau-de-vie in a ‘Réserve,’ like an XO Cognac, must be aged for a minimum of 10 years. However, the average age of a good Réserve Cognac is much older.

A “Réserve Familiale” or “Vieille Réserve” is a blend made with very old eaux-de-vie from the Cognac House’s or the family’s “Paradis” cellars, which house the oldest and most valuable barrels. Because of the scarcity of older eaux-de-vie, the number of bottles produced is limited, and the price is obviously higher. A Réserve cognac is of higher quality than an XO, Napoleon, or Extra.

Cognac brands frequently design a bottle specifically for their Réserve or create the blend for a special occasion, such as an anniversary. An Hors d’Age Cognac is the step up from a Réserve.


  • Hors d’Age: Aged for between 30 & 50 years, or sometimes 100 years
  • Suitable to enjoy neat
  • Typically the most expensive Cognacs

Cognac brands frequently design a bottle specifically for their Réserve or create the blend for a special occasion, such as an anniversary. An Hors d’Age Cognac is the step up from a Réserve.


  • Extra: Aged on average between 15 & 25 years
  • Suitable to enjoy neat
  • Will range depending on the length of aging

Extra Cognac, like XO Cognac, must be at least ten years old. In fact, if you want to be precise, it falls under the XO age category. However, it describes a quality that is superior to that of an XO or a Napoleon.

An EXTRA Cognac’s average age ranges between 15 and 25 years. There are always exceptions, such as when a Cognac brand creates a limited blend with old eaux-de-vie from their cellars. Réserve is the next oldest age group.

Extra quality cognac is generally thought to be superior to XO quality cognac. If you want a bottle that is more than just special, an Extra cognac is the way to go.


  • Cuveé: Doesn’t refer to age, but the blend/batch
  • Suitable to enjoy neat
  • Will vary depending on the blend

The Cuvée designation does not always refer to age. Technically, it refers to a single blend or batch. It is mostly used in the Champagne classification and less so in cognac. When it appears on a cognac bottle, it usually indicates that the producer wishes to give it a unique name rather than using the age categories VSOP and XO. It could refer to a limited quantity of a particular blend.

Try the Cuveé range from Lhéraud Cognac.