Cognac and Brandy: Is There A Big Difference Between VS, VSOP and XO?

Yo Berserkz,

I am considering moving up to Cognac and Brandy to show some sophistication in my palate. [cheers.gif] So if I take the big plunge, how big a step up is each level of Cognac i.e. VS, VSOP and XO? Are we talking the similarities between Ruby, Tawny and Vintage Port for VS vs a VSOP vs an XO? Is VSOP worth my while to save the on average $20-$40 a bottle depending on the brand or should I just flat out skip them to go up to XOs? Are VSOPs and XOs the cognac equivalent of 20 and 30 year old Tawny Port? Are XOs in the $100 range worth my while or should I just bite the bullet and pay the extra $50-150 for a known super expensive name like Hine, Hennessy or Remy Martin or take a chance on a lesser known house?

Lastly, when I start seeing what appear to be amazing deals like a full size De Valcourt or Raynal Napoleon VSOP for a mere $24 a bottle or a St. Remy XO for $30… should I be snapping up the Brandy deals of the year or run away screaming? I also notice that only certain brands come avaialable in either cheap magnums and hobo flask shaped bottles as well which causes me great concern.

My personal instinct is to go for the XO just as I always skip 5 year old Madeira to go for 10 year old and skip 10 year old Tawny to jump to 20 year and 30 year old Tawny. This said, your input would be appreciated. Am I doing myself a disservice if I skip out on VSOP and especially VS Cognac and brandy?

As you can see, I have much to learn here. Your input is appreciated. In the meantime, I am also thinking about Grand Marnier as a go between as I find it’s a great balance for me between my usual sweet wines and more sophisticated spirits as it is Cognac based and I like the flavor. Thanks in advance. [cheers.gif]

For me, Cognac starts getting interesting with VSOP. It’s very brand specific however. Some brands VSOP are better than other’s XO. I’d stay away from the bargin basement brands. My favorite Cognac is Delamain’s Pale and Dry which is their version of XO, even though it doesn’t mention it as such. If you can ever try one of their vintage dated, that can show the heights of Cognac.

First of all there’s not only age, but maybe even more importantly, provenance of the grapes: Grande Champagne at the top, followed by Petite Champagne and Fine Champagne (a blend of Grande and Petite with at least 50% Grande), then the “Borderies” (borders - regions nearing the Grande and Petite) and finally all the “Bois” (woods).

VS or *** = 2 years old (always the age of the youngest part in the blend)
VSOP, VO or Réserve = 4 years old
XO, Extra or Napoléon = 6 years old

Second, I’d actually say the game starts above XO :slight_smile: But as usual, all these appellations mean nothing, there are good producers and bad producers as well, as in wine. So I’m sure some people’s VS is better than some other’s XO, same for Grande/Petite vs Bois, etc.

A family friend makes a Heritage cuvée with cognacs aged 18y to 40y old. It’s called this way because that’s the cognacs left to him by his father to work with. That’s the kind of stuff that’s completely outside of any “appellation”.

Tran, knowing your tastes, I would recommend you both save money AND be happier by exploring some of the amazing brandies made in Jerez, Spain out of Sherry. You can get AMAZING, thick, rich, complex and OLD Brandy de Jerez with a softer, mellower mouthfeel for less than 50 cents on the dollar compared to Cognac.

@Roberto: Thanks for this, I was in fact looking at precisely the Cardenal Mendoza and the Lepanto brandies from Spain. Lepanto makes a PX barrel aged brandy as well that I would die to try.

I must have unsophisticated pallate. I bought a bottle of remy xo. It smells wonderful. I mean great. But i cant stand the taste. Im not certain what it is that i am supposed to be tasting. But i am very new to wine and cognac. Was pretty much beer and tequila for a long time. But good beer and good tequila.

Not able to help, but the best cognac experience I had was in a friends apartment in Kupchino until the wee hours of the morning. Nothing like being tossed into a random Russian’s car by said friend and told not to say a word until we got back to our hotel in downtown St Petersburg.

What I find is that Brandy is best after a meal, esp a heavy meal. Not sure I’ve ever tried it otherwise, but I don’t think it would work for me. YMMV of course.

I like Martell’s Cordon Blue better than their XO.

I like Remy Martin’s XO better than their VSOP.

I love Delamain Vespers.

I love Delamain Vespers.[/quote]

-----My favorite all-time Cognac.

Consider Armagnac as well, though finding great examples is becoming harder. The finest brandies I have had were '82 and '85 Domaine Baraillon Armagnacs consumed roughly 2003-2009. I can no longer find this brand except for some 1998 now priced where the much older and finer brandies were back then.

I agree with Peter about brandy after a meal too. I truly love a fine meal with nice wine followed by a brandy by the fire. Not exactly breaking new ground there, but it makes a night in feel better than almost any night out.

Armagnac has a clearly different flavor profile, though. I love Cognac but I have a hard time with Armagnac for whatever reason.

Guillaume, I find that young armagnacs, particularly those by the big houses, kind of suck. But vintage armagnacs with appropriate age can be awesome. Just my opinion, but really I’ve had more incredible experiences with great armagnac than great cognac. Of course I’ve seldom had the really high level cognacs b/c of the price.