VSOP Cognac stands for "Very Superior Old Pale" Cognac, which is interesting considering that it comes from France. The origin of the abbreviation VSOP dates back to a Cognac order from the British Royal Court. In 1817, King George IV asked the House of Hennessy for a "Very Superior Old Pale", which would become a benchmark for all Cognac houses from then on.
To classify as a VSOP brandy, the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend must be at least four years old. As in any other age category, this does not prevent the master blender from using much older eaux-de-vie in order to achieve the perfect harmony for the final Cognac blend. As a result, the average age of a VSOP is often much older than the minimum requirement of four years.
Some use fullstops after the letters, V.S.O.P., which is nothing else than a stylistic preference. Old and pale refers to a Cognac mature in age but not colored or sweetened for that special aroma, one of superior quality. Alongside the VSOP full form of “Very Superior Old Pale”, this age designation is also labeled "Very Superior Special Pale", "Very Old", or simply "Réserve" or "Vieux".
So which is better - VS or VSOP? It really comes down to personal preference. If a Cognac has been aged for longer, it does not necessarily mean it is better. Younger Cognacs, such as a VS, tend to have fresher, livelier aromas of fruit, whereas older eaux-de-vie such as VSOPs tend to be smoother, with clear notes of oak and spices.
The next age levels are XO Cognac and Napoleon Cognac. Learn more in our selection of educational Cognac articles.