Brandy is a spirit produced by distilling fruit wine. Cognac and Armagnac both come from grapes specific to the Cognac and Armagnac regions of France.
Armagnac is made with a blend of grapes – typically four – and column-distilled twice. The result is a fruitier, more rustic spirit that isn’t cut with water and therefore has a higher ABV.
Cognac is usually made with just one grape, Ugni Blanc, and tends to have a lighter fruit flavor and more delicate profile.
The letters that are included on bottle labels for Armagnac and Cognac represent the age of the spirit.
V.O. (Very Old): Aged a minimum of 4 years.
V.S. (Very Special): The youngest Cognac or Armagnac in the blend must be a minimum of 2 years old.
V.S.O.P. (Very Special/Superior Old Pale): The youngest Cognac in the blend must be at least 4 years old or, for Armagnac, 5 years old (though often it’s much older).
Napoleon: A Cognac that’s 4 years old or an Armagnac that’s at least 6 years old.
X.O. (Extra Old): The youngest Cognac or Armagnac in the blend must be a minimum 10 years old.
Cru: Not a statement of age, but place, basically the growing region, which you’ll see more often on Cognac (which has six official growing regions).