When you think of Cognac, you often picture a bunch of old men sipping and smoking cigars while disputing politics. These days, AOC regulations require that all liquors called "cognac," it must be made using specified grapes, the most common of which is Ugni blanc (usually 90%), then distilled twice in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels. Many view cognac as an unapproachable liquor, but recently many have changed their opinion about it. Its delicate character and complexity of grapes and barrel flavors in cognac are changing the opinions about this finely crafted variety of brandy.
The major grades of Cognac can be defined as follows:
Very Special (VS) is the youngest grade.
Very Special Old Pale (V.S.O.P.), also known as Very Superior Old Pale, is older, having spent a minimum of four years aging in wooden casks.
Extra Old (X.O.) cognac is older than the other grades, and stored at least a minimum of six years. Some manufacturers age their cognac as much as twenty years.
There are other grades such as Napoleon, Extra, Vieux, Vielle Reserve, and Hors d'age, but these are the major grades.