The designation “Napoléon” on a bottle of Cognac indicates that the grape-based spirit inside is over 50 years old.
Unlike virtually all wines, most Cognacs are expected to be consistent year after year. Cellar masters achieve consistency by a complex and continual process of blending different lots of brandy, each of which may be a different age. Cognacs are classified according to the age of the youngest oak-aged brandy (or eaux-de-vie) in the blend. So, the average age of a Cognac is usually considerably older. The original age designations of Cognac are in English because Cognac has been exported for centuries, and the first importers were English. Today 96% of production is sold outside of France. Dozens of other nicknames in both English and French have joined the lexicon, making Cognacs labels notoriously difficult to decipher.
The official aging classifications used most often:
VS – Very Special, 3 Etoiles, ***, Sélection, De Luxe minimum of 2 years
VSOP – Very Superior Old Pale, Réserve, Vieux, Rare, Royal minimum of 4 years
XO – Extra Old, Hors d’âge, Extra, Ancestral, Ancêtre, Or, Gold, Impérial minimum of 10 years
XXO – Extra Extra Old minimum of 14 years
Other aging classifications:
Supérieur, Cuvée Supérieure, Qualité Supérieure minimum of 3 years
Vieille Réserve, Réserve, Rare, Réserve, Royale minimum of 5 years
Napoléon, Très Vieille Réserve, Très Vieux, Héritage, Très Rare, Suprême minimum of 6 years