So you want to get me a Christmas present….you shouldn’t have but if you do, get me a VSOP….please….
Yes we know that Xmas is still two months away, but why wait for the last minute rush at your local liquor outlet. In fact of you shop ahead, you can even find some deals.
Cheap booze (as in price, not quality) is always a good thing. Even if you do not drink, less expensive is always better than more expensive for equivalent quality. A little knowledge is a good thing also.
Now a nice bottle of cognac will impress the neighbors and the in-laws.
Here is our guide to cognac gift giving. Let’s start with the basics. Cognac is brandy. Brandy is a spirit that is made from distilling wine. Not all brandy is Cognac. True Cognac comes only from a specific part of France and is diligently supervised to make sure it is the real thing. Producers want to keep the allure and image of this “brandy of kings” intact…so they guard it jealously.
One popular brand that is readily available on the market is Hennessy. A Hennessy VSOP was my brand in my younger days. But what did that VSOP mean. Many explanations were given such as “Very Special Old Product” or variations of this.
- V.S. (Very Special) or *** (3 star): Cognacs whose youngest eau-de-vie is at least two years old.
- V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale), Reserve: Cognacs whose youngest eau-de-vie is at least four years old.
- X.O (Extra Old): Cognacs whose youngest eau-de-vie is at least six years old. The above are minimum requirements and normally producer’s uses eaux-de-vie that are much older than the minimum requirements for their blends. For example a V.S. cognac will normally be at least 4-5 years old and a X.O cognac will often include eaux-de-vie that are 20 to 25 years old.
Other terms that you may find on the cognac label are:
- Cru: French word used to describe a growing region. In Cognac there are six different sub-regions or cru’s (see section of delimited regions): Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fin Bois, Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaires.
- Grande Fine Champagne or Fine Champagne: at least 51% of the grapes come from Grande Champagne, and not more than 49% come from Petite Champagne. • Grande Champagne: the best growing area or Cru of the Cognac Region.
- Grand Cru: means that all of the grapes used in the cognac came from the same cru.
Being produced from wine base means the location and age of the grapes are very important in the production of the Cognac.
Price is another indicator of the production value, the marketing appeal and/or a combination of the two. Price is important, but not always the most important.
Learn to look for quality by doing some research, reading the label, and always be willing to taste test and learn.
Best way to choose a fine Cognac to give as a gift? Choose one that you would like to receive. Best way to choose one…is by taste testing several. Enjoy!
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