Cognac exports grew for the fifth year in a row this year, and, it turns out, Americans are driving that growth. Of the 211 million bottles that departed from France thus far in 2019, 94 million were sold in the U.S.
Cognac is categorized by age designations, most commonly V.S., V.S.O.P., and X.O. Each of these refers to a phrase describing the minimum age of the brandy in each blend. V.S., or “Very Special,” denotes Cognac whose youngest liquid is aged in barrels at least two years. V.S.O.P., or “Very Special (or Superior) Old Pale,” means the youngest brandy in the blend is at least four years old. Finally, X.O., or “Extra Old,” means the youngest in the blend is 10 years old.
Of course, things can get more complicated. Some Cognacs are aged 20 years or more, and some are labeled with additional vintages and crus.
VinePair tasted dozens of Cognacs on the market today. Fortunately, you can get excellent Cognacs for anywhere from $25 to $175. Here are 20 of our favorites, grouped by age statement and ranked by our tasting panel.
Hennessy V.S. is dark amber with pleasant maple syrup, apple cinnamon, and clove aromas. Our tasting panel believed that hints of “freshly sanded cedar” complement the dessert-like character. Some tasters found it boozy on the palate, and others bitter and lacking acidity, but it’s overall a solid pick. Average price: $39.
Tasters found this tobacco-colored V.S. “very special and very inviting,” with notes of cigar box, sandalwood, and sweet toffee on the nose. Light spice added a nice touch to the finish, although one panelist thought it “tasted less expensive” than others. Average price: $27.
This bright golden-amber Cru “smells like a barrel room,” with sugary and earthy aromas. “It’s like cinnamon bark vs. baking cinnamon,” one taster noted. Others praised flavors of crushed nutshells, butterscotch, and fig. Average price: $42.
Lightness characterizes this Cognac from start to finish, from its light amber color, to its “lightly sweet,” floral aroma, to its zesty finish. One panelist suggested chilling this Cognac over ice and mixing with tonic to kick up the refreshment even more. Average price: $35.
2. Camus V.S.
This V.S. had “woodsy” notes, with panelists describing it as “more toasted” and “more oak-y.” The spicy palate also featured dried dark fruits, licorice, and vanilla. Average price: $29.
Spice, cracked black pepper, dried apricot, toffee, and clove bounced off one another for an intriguing and invigorating flavor, and the appealing bottle shape “aerates the spirit as you pour.” “It’s warm and reminds me of maple syrup, in a good way,” one panelist said, admiring baking spices on the finish. Average price: $28.
Produced by Château de Cognac, D’Usse V.S.O.P. is “warm and comforting,” with fruity flavors including raisin and date. It’s silky and light-bodied with a peppery finish. Average price: $54.
Our panel preferred H by Hine over Hine Rare V.S.O.P. for several reasons, not least of which were its toasted aroma, hint of banana on the palate, and warm finish. It’s also $15 cheaper on average than Hine’s more expensive V.S.O.P. Average price: $44.
Frapin V.S.O.P. stood out for its mildly earthy, woody, autumnal aromas, plus orange peel and “a little lychee,” one taster said. Silky and spicy on the palate, with “something sweet, like butterscotch,” it finishes with a gingery note and lingering acidity. “I’m salivating!” one panelist said. Average price: $58.
This Cognac stood out with “a very different aroma,” one panelist said, comparing the nose to “agave, or agave syrup.” Warm winter spices such as nutmeg, caramel, and clove rounded out the palate, with a well-seasoned finish. Average price: $42.
Smooth and less spicy on the nose, this V.S.O.P. has notes of dried fruit and “fresh-rolled tobacco laced with brown sugar,” panelists said. “It’s delicious,” one taster added. “It leaves me wanting more.” Average price: $30.
Don’t be deterred by this bottle’s plastic twist-off cap. Our panelists were quickly won over by this single-estate V.S.O.P.’s “amazing aroma.” Agave, caramel, sweet wine, and “moist vanilla bean” followed by a satiny palate, made this one of the most “drinkable” Cognacs, one taster said. “It has a pleasantly pungent finish,” another added. Average price: $50.
Purple fruits, a hint of orange peel, and a creamy, peppery flavor characterize this limited-edition blend from eighth-generation master blender Renaud Filloux de Gironde. The finish has a lingering acidity, like “orange pith,” one panelist said. Average price: $104.
“Smells like single malt whiskey with tropical fruit notes,” one panelist said, admiring its punch of pineapple, lemon, banana, and passion fruit on the palate. It’s light-bodied with a zesty finish. Average price: $114.
This Cognac has comforting vanilla and “apple pie à la mode” aromas, plus pepper. It’s “nice and bright” on the palate, with a mouthfeel that’s “not too heavy or hot,” and it finishes with a pleasing nutty flavor. Average price: $157.
Mellow peanut shell, vanilla, and almond aromas precede sweet citrus on the palate. This blend has a mellow finish without harshness. Average price: $87.
“This bottle looks like something out of ‘The Little Mermaid,’” one panelist observed. But the seashell-shaped, frosted glass vessel contains an alluring Cognac. “Heat and sweet” flood the nostrils, then it’s creamy on the palate with fruity flavors and a spicy finish. Average price: $167.
This mahogany Cognac from Remy Martin pleased panelists with its citrusy, tropical fruit aromas. One taster detected “orange bitters,” while another called out “underripe banana.” The palate is full-bodied and round, with a peppery finish. Average price: $166.
One panelist poetically compared this Cognac’s hue to “the color of an autumn leaf as it fades from red to brown.” Its aroma was distinctly savory, “almost like soy or Worcestershire sauce,” followed by toasted bread. “It’s kind of intense,” one panelist said, adding it is “extremely spicy on the nose and palate.” However, its unusual umami note earned it high praise. Average price: $109.
Tasters found this unblended Cognac “exceptionally rich,” with maple syrup, molasses, and oak on the nose, plus a hint of leather. Sweetness up front is matched with a spicy finish. “It starts off warm and inviting as a plate of pancakes, but is not for the faint of heart,” one panelist concluded. Average price: $97.