Cognac is a distilled brandy which was originally named after the town of Cognac in France. The majority of brands are double distilled from white wine, with most Cognacs aged for long periods of time to give each one a distinct flavour.
There are three official quality grades of cognac: V.S., V.S.O.P. and XO, “Very Special”, “Very Superior Old Pale” and “Extra Old”. V.S. is the youngest of the three – a V.S is stored for at least two years in a cask. A well-known V.S. is Martell VS – a fresh, harmonious cognac of vigorous character with a light gold colouring. The V.S.O.P. is matured for a slightly longer period of four years, although the average age of the cask is much older. The XO is matured for at least six years, though most are matured for upwards of twenty. One of the best known brands of XO is Jacquiot which is noted for its floral aromas and rich flavours.
These main quality grades are also broken down into further subcategories when the maturities of the cognacs overlap. While there are almost two hundred cognac producers a large percentage of cognac is made by just four companies: Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell and Remy Martin.
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