How does a cognac become a vsop cognac
VSOP cognac can be branded as one of the world’s most dignified spirits. There is something about swirling a cognac in a glass, gently warming it with the heat generated from your hands and then luxuriating in the warmth and full bodied richness of the spirit. While cognac is essentially a type of brandy it is exclusive to the region of Cognac in France. Not all brandies can be called a cognac as the process of making a fine VSOP cognac is guided strictly by the French law.
According to the Appellation d’origine controlee, which is the certification given by the French government to specific ‘French geographical indications’ such as for wine cheese and butters, for a brandy to bear the name Cognac it has to be distilled to meet specific legal requirements. The grape varietal used for such cognac production has to be the Ugni Blanch. Also the brandy has to go through a double distillation process using copper pot stills. Then comes the process of aging the wine. The wine has to be aged in classic French oak barrels for a minimum period of two years and then left to mature. These barrels must come from the region of Troncais or Limousin.
A number of cognacs are aged for a much longer period of time than the specified requirement. This is because cognacs are aged much in the same way as whisky and the longer it ages the better the product. The quality of the cognac is graded by the BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac). The main grades of cognac are VS, VSOP, XO and Napoleon. These grades are given according to the storage specification, aging and blending of the cognac.
A VSOP cognac or Very Special Old Pale cognac is a grade of cognac where the brandy has been aged for a minimum period of four years in a cask. However the average age of the cask is much older. The need for an aged cognac arose in 1817 in the British Royal House. The house was interested in a ‘cognac pale’ which was primarily a blend that was not sweetened artificially by adding either caramel or sugar. It was then found that as the cognac interacted with the wood of the oak barrel and the air inside it the cognac achieved it full bodied warm and slightly sweet flavor.
A VSOP cognac is also made from the two of the finest crus of the region. The main six growth areas or crus are Grand Champagne, Petit Champagne, Fins Bois, Bois Ordinaires, Bons Bois and Borderies. A fine VSOP cognac will have the crus taken from the Grand Champagne and the Petit champagne region with at least a 50% concentration from the Grand Champagne region. Once the cognac passes through these strict processes it is fit to be labeled and graded. While it is commonly believed that the longer a cognac has been aged the better it will taste, ultimately it is the taster whose palette will define what taste he actually likes. Tasting and liking a fine VSOP cognac is thus a very subjective and a very personal experience.