Much attention is paid to the culture of alcohol consumption. It is important and what to drink, and with whom, and what to eat and in what general conditions. And there are so many alcoholic drinks on store shelves that there is plenty to choose from. Among all the variety, cognac, on the one hand, is one of the most affordable options in the middle price segment, and on the other, connoisseurs will surely find and choose exquisite varieties for themselves.
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Why is cognac aging important?
There is a lot of debate about the taste of cognac and its shades, and when choosing, they often pay attention to the mysterious but authoritative symbols VS, VSOP, XS. People of the age will also remember about the Soviet KV or KVVK. Intuitively, it seems that the cognac marked with these letters is simply obliged to keep a high brand. True, frankly speaking, there are not many real connoisseurs of cognac who can determine its aging by color, aroma and taste of the drink. But it is this factor that largely determines the quality of the drink.
To begin with, we emphasize that aging in cognac is not considered at all the time from the moment the drink is placed in the barrel until we open the bottle, as many believe. Only the time spent by cognac in contact with the oak container is recorded. And after the spill, there is no longer any aging of the drink. Even being in a bottle for several years, the drink will retain the same qualities that it was originally in it and will not acquire anything.
In general, the Normans, who appeared in France in the 9th century, are listed as the inventors of cognac. The Scandinavian soldiers liked the drink made from local wine, they began to actively use it and take it with them on sea voyages. It is believed that it was then that the method of double distillation of young wine and obtaining a distillate from it arose. In the future, it is better to dilute the concentrate with water. But the harsh warriors liked this product so much that they began to drink it without even diluting it. The drink was nicknamed brandwine, or “burnt wine”. He can be called the ancestor of cognac, but not himself. Over time, the warriors noticed that the longer the drink is in the barrel, the better it becomes. And aging for several years makes alcohol much better than the original version. This is how cognac arose – a traditional French drink that can only be produced in this country.
The French carefully guard their traditions and standards, not allowing them to be used by other manufacturers. And although high-quality cognac is made in different countries, in the same Armenia, producers are forced to use their own labeling of the drink. And the issuance of markings in the form of the letters XO, VS and VSOP is exclusively carried out by the National Interprofessional Bureau of Cognacs of France. So drinks with similar labels, not produced in France, are actually impostors.
It is generally accepted that the aging of cognac is usually reported by asterisks on the labels, there are from three to five of them. But, interestingly, these are not years of aging, but 10-month periods in oak barrels. And traditionally, cognac is kept in wooden containers in April. Exactly at one in the morning of an April day, the countdown of the ripening of grape distillate poured into oak barrels starts. And since an ordinary cognac according to the technology must stand for at least 30 months, it has at least three stars. But the aging of the drink itself gives only an indirect idea of it, which is why a more complex labeling was invented for cognac in France.
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What do the letters on French cognacs mean?
You can see the combinations of certain Latin letters on the bottles of cognac, produced, however, not only in France. And while many are struggling to decipher the mysterious inscriptions, we will tell you about the true meaning of such marking. So, this is what the letters on the cognac mean:
- C – cognac (from Cognac)
- E – special (from Special)
- Oh – old (from Old)
- V – very (from Very)
- S – excellent (from Superior)
- P – light (from Pale)
- X – extra (from Extra)
As you can see, nothing complicated. If you want to be known as an erudite connoisseur of elite alcohol, then just learn this transcript. Then it will be possible to impress others by revealing the secret of the combination of letters. But with them not everything is so simple – it is not enough just to glue words together. For example, a drink labeled VS or “Very Excellent” must be aged in oak barrels for at least 2.5 years.
You can also find the Trois Etoiles designation on this cognac, which literally corresponds to our “three stars”. Another popular label, VO stands for Very Old or Very Old. It happens that such a cognac is called Reserve. Extract of this drink must be at least three years.
But the VSOP combination already looks more solid. In fact, it is Very Superior Old Pale or very “old and very excellent light cognac”. Such a drink must be aged for at least four years, but often this period is even longer.
If you come across a VVSOP, then this is an even better version of the VSOP, it is called the Grand Reserve. This drink is kept in barrels for at least 5 years.
If you’re looking for an even better option, look for a drink labeled XO, which stands for Extra Old. The aging of this cognac is more than 6 years. And this alcohol will match the feeling of success and luxury.
For cognac, such a marking is the highest, it will not get the best, even after 10-20 years of being in barrels. So, from a certain moment, the age of the cognac no longer matters? According to experts, too old cognac is not very good either. It is difficult to provide a blend for long periods of time. That is why labeling of cognac aging for more than 6 years is prohibited in France. It is also worth remembering that the inscriptions on the Napoleon, Grand Reserve or Extra bottles are not the name of the brand, it is also a kind of marking that means aging and other properties of the drink that are critical for a gourmet.
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Letter marking of domestic cognac
So, only the French can produce cognac. But this fact does not prevent other countries from producing a product similar in characteristics and calling it cognac. In the Soviet Union, such a tradition has developed for a long time; cognacs are produced today in Russia and neighboring countries. Throughout history, the opinion has been formed, not without reason, that the best domestic brandy is Armenian. It is appreciated even in France, which is why European producers actively cooperate with Armenian producers.
And in Soviet times, a classification of cognacs was also created, in essence it repeated the French one. But there are some differences, which you also need to know about. For example, on domestic cognac, an asterisk is just a year of aging, and not 10 months, as in the original French product. Modern domestic manufacturers consider a three-year aging to be the minimum necessary.
But in the Soviet Union, one could find ordinary cognacs with the number of stars from 1 to 5. Branded drinks had their own designation, also alphabetic:
- Kv – aged cognac, infused in barrels for at least 6 years;
- KVVK – aged cognac of the highest quality, more than 8 years old;
- KS – old cognac. Exposure of the product for at least 10 years;
- OS – very old, this drink has been aged in wine cellars of Armenia for 20 years or more.
Obviously, it was precisely the cognacs that were “old” by this labeling that were considered elite in the Soviet Union. And such drinks sometimes cost even more than French elite alcohol.
But this is about relatively affordable cognacs. If you remember about collectible varieties, then they are not drunk even in a very good company. There are drinks with dozens of years of aging, which are sold exclusively at auctions and cost fabulous money.