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Cognac: The Regal Spirit with a Napoleonic Legend

Cognac, the highly regarded brandy lisant from the enchanting region of France, is known across the world for its rich past and an equally rich flavor profile. Much like any other aged spirit, cognac bottles have age statements, and the basic ones are VS, VSOP, and XO. Still, one classification often leaping out at people is that of “Napoleon” Cognac.

Contrasted with the standardized acronyms, “Napoleon” is an unofficial age marker; however, it is of great and important weight in the cognac industry, especially to the renowned Cognac House Courvoisier. Its name entered into existence from the legend of Napoleon Bonaparte, the immortal leader of the First French Empire.

So goes the legend that, when Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena, he/I am told took along crates of Courvoisier cognacs with a “Cognac Napoleon” label. According to historians, however, this is a spurious story. Courvoisier was not established until 1835, fourteen years after the death of Napoleon in 1821. There does not appear to be any record of Napoleon as a drinker either.

The true basis of this legend, however, lies in a visit Napoleon truly did pay to the brandy warehouse of Félix-Joseph Courvoisier in 1809. This was the marketing term that truly inspired Courvoisier to this day: the Brandy of Napoleon.

On the official aging scale, Napoleon Cognac is classed as VSOP; therefore, it must at least be four years old. Since a Cognac must be mature by at least six years to be awarded the prestige name of “Napoleon”, it logically places one more at the midpoint between a VSOP and an XO, which requires an age of ten years or older.

That is an extended aging period for the development of deeper, more complex flavors and a smoother finish than the average VSOP. The aging process is done the same as for other cognacs, while the eau-de-vie goes through several stages in oak barrels and is left to mature in specially designed warehouses, where it will spend six years or more and absorb woody nuances from the barrels.

Today, nearly every major cognac house offers its take on Napoleon cognac, from Hennessy and Remy-Martin to Martell and, of course, Courvoisier. For a taste of a little bit of history, well, as much as one can expect, given Napoleon’s aversion to booze, consider the Courvoisier Napoleon Fine Champagne, which is a fine introduction to this kingly category of cognac.

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