V.O., X.O.: Deciphering Cognac Labels

You've seen those Cognac abbreviations: V.O., X.O, V.S.O.P, and so on. What in the world do all those designations mean? The labels tell you how old the Cognac (brandy made in the French region of Cognac) inside really is, as dictated by the very strict French laws governing such things. And you don't even have to know how to speak French.

Just follow this handy guide to understand Cognac grades:

  • A.C.: Two years old. Aged in wood
  • V.O., Very Old: Aged a minimum of four years
  • V.S., Very Special: Three years of aging in wooden casks. Very often called Three Star
  • V.S.O.P., Very Superior Old Pale: Minimum aging is eight years in wood for the youngest in the blend. Industry average is between 10 and 15 years old, which is why it's sometimes known as Five Star
  • X.O., Extra Old: Also called Luxury. Has a minimum age of eight years. This class also can include Napoleon and Vielle ("Reserve")
  • Napoleon/Extra/Vielle Reserve: Napoleon had nothing to do with it, except to order this type of Cognac. At least four years old, but generally much older than that
  • Varietal: Made using only one type of varietal grape
  • Vintage: Aged and was put into the bottle in the year of the vintage
  • Hors d'Age: Too old to figure out the age. A true gem

Armagnac is blended with older vintages than similarly labeled Cognacs. Hence, a V.S.O.P. Armagnac could be considered a better value than a similarly aged Cognac. (Armagnac is brandy made in the Armagnac region of France.)

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