VSOP Cognac: Selecting Bottles for Your Home BarBy Stephanie Moreno
VSOP Cognac, which stands for “Very Old Superior Pale,” is a versatile style of brandy to keep on hand. This style of cognac has enough aging—at least four years in French oak—to add the complexity needed for sipping. At the same time, the cost is low enough that you can use it in your favorite cocktails.
One thing to do when selecting a VSOP Cognac is to check the label. The Cognac region is over 78,000 hectares with a selection of white grape varieties grown here, primarily ugni blanc. But there are six sub-regions, or crus, within Cognac each with varying distinctions and personalities. These crus are classified according to their respective soil components and are listed in order of quality.
If a cognac brand mentions a cru on its label, all of the cognac in the bottle must hail from that region. If there is no mention, that will mean a blend of eau-de-vie from the Cognac regions were used.
The highest cru is in Cognac is Grande Champagne followed by Petite Champagne. Note: If a cognac says “Fine Champagne” on the bottle, that means it’s a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne cognacs with the former comprising at least 50% of the blend. The Borderies and Fins Bois are the next regions of importance. Keep this in mind when making your VSOP Cognac selection. Finally, there is the Bons Bois and the Bois Ordinaire. The price (and taste) will almost certainly reflect these important details.
Grande Champagne VSOP Cognac
This Grande Champagne cognac comes from Frapin, a veteran cognac producer and wine-grower. Frapin strictly uses grapes grown in its own vineyards and only uses ugni blanc grapes. Every step from harvesting to maturation occurs on site at the family estate. Their VSOP is aged for roughly 10 years in French Limousin oak barrels.
Producers that both distill and bottle in-house account for a trickle of the region’s production, which makes labels like Paul Beau (which started bottling independently at the end of the 1800s) such an anomaly. The brand’s vineyards are in the heart of Cognac’s Grande Champagne region. Notably, this VSOP bottling has an average age of 15 years, which is quite a leap from the required 4 years.
Fine Champagne VSOP Cognac
If you’ve ever had a VSOP Cognac, chances are it was Rémy. Released in 1927, this classic VSOP is a Fine Champagne Cognac with 55% coming from Grande Champagne. The grapes used for the House of Rémy are predominantly ugni blanc (97%). This cognac is a blend of over 200 eau-de-vie which aged for 4-12 years.
This VSOP is composed of about 60% Grand Champagne eau-de-vie with the remainder coming from Petite Champagne. The age for the cognac used in this blend ranges from 6-12 years with the average age being 8 years. In 1962, the House of Hine was awarded a Royal Warrant by Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II, and remains the only official supplier of cognac to the British monarchy.
Other VSOP Cognac
Camus, founded in 1863, is the largest family-owned cognac house. All cognacs from the house include at least some eau-de-vie from the Borderies region. The VSOP is part of the brand’s collection of intensely aromatic cognacs. The wines are distilled on the lees and a technique called “Intensity” is used in the distillation process. This is where the “heads” that present the best aromatic qualities from the second distillation are selected and used added to the “hearts”. The resulting eau-de-vie is matured in small, lightly toasted fine grain French oak barrels.
Made with ugni blanc grapes, Cognac Park VSOP is made up of a blend of eau-de-vie from the Fins Bois, Petite Champagne, and Grande Champagne crus. Lightly toasted new casks of French Limousin oak are used for 8 months. Then the spirit is transferred to older, used casks for a total of 8 to 12 years of maturation. After blending, the VSOP cognac is bottled at 40% ABV.
Founded in 1715, Martell’s house style focuses on eau-de-vie from the Borderies and Fins Bois crus, but the brand also uses eau-de-vie from Grande and Petite Champagne. Martell uses Tronçais oak exclusively in its aging process as it’s known for its low tannins. For this bottling, used cognac barrels known as “futs roux” or “red barrels” were used. These barrels get their name due to the reddish tinge found on the used wood which it achieves at between 4-8 years of use. This VSOP Cognac debuted in Asia in 2018 and it is replacing the brand’s Medallion VSOP in all markets, including the US.
Founded by Richard Hennessy in 1765, this brand is by far the largest cognac producer in the world with 40% of the market. In fact, since the first shipments to the US arrived in 1792, Americans have had quite the taste for it. Privilège VSOP Cognac is said to have been created in 1817 after the then Prince Regent of the UK and later King George IV requested a VSOP from Hennessy.
For this bottling, Hennessy uses grapes grown in four of the six sub-regions of Cognac: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois. A blend of up to 60 eau-de-vie aged up to 15 years make up this bottling.
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