XO brandy, XO cognac. XO armagnac. Why is the term XO used so often when few of us actually know what it means? Originally, XO stood for Extra Old. In terms of age, up until 2018, an XO cognac had to be at least 6 years old but this was also the required minimum age of Napoleon Cognac. So, after decades of promising change, the controlling body of cognac, the BNIC, agreed to make the minimum barrel age of an XO cognac 10 years old. This is important because cognacs do not mature once they have been taken from their oak casks and placed in glass. Armagnac also stepped into line and now age their XO brandies for a minimum of ten years.
The problem with all this is that brandies, particularly cognacs, need to be in a barrel for much longer than ten years to reach optimum maturity, so an XO brandy is actually not very old. It should be noted that some of the smaller brandy houses keep their XO cognacs in the barrel for longer than the required minimum age in order to produce a more mellow, flavoursome product. More recently it has been recognised that a 10 year old cognac is not particularly old so another generic age statement has been introduced, it is called XXO. The minimum age for an XXO cognac (Extra Extra Old) is 14 years in an oak cask. Even this is not long enough for cognacs from the premier cru, Grande Champagne. They are the slowest of all brandies to mature and may take up to twice as long as cognacs from other crus, requiring 50 years or even more.
The term XO is widely misunderstood and even at ten years old some brandies are only just drinkable. At Hermitage Cognacs, we do not sell generic XO brandies. We prefer to offer an age statement on each one to help customers understand how long their brandy has matured in the cask.