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David on Technical Topics - The Age of Cognac

I am not too sure that I should be writing about age as I have just had a rather significant birthday but I wanted to answer some of the questions that regularly come up about a cognac’s age. Many people ask me “what is the age of my VSOP or XO cognac” and the answer is that unless it is stated on the bottle, I simply do not know.  I can tell you what the minimum age should be - a VSOP must be at least 4 years old and an XO, a minimum of 6 years old.  However, these products are blends of cognacs of differing ages so it is impossible to quote a specific age. At Hermitage our cognacs come from single estates so we can clearly state the age on the label and our customers can be reassured about what is in the bottle.

Cognac distillation starts around the end of October when the wines are poured into the copper stills and boiled. This happens twice and after the second distillation the water clear eau de vie is put into a barrel and the ageing process commences. The distillation process must be finished before the 31st of March every year.  At this point the cognac is regarded as being nought years old; the following year on the 1st of April it becomes 1 year old. Cognacs, especially those from the top crus known as the Champagnes, may take as long as fifty or more years to fully develop their characteristics. Of course the majority is bottled when much younger so, to help hide the fiery, pale qualities of the young cognac, the big houses add sugar syrup and caramel.

So you see, I always want to know the precise age of the cognac - but as for mine, I will be keeping that under wraps!