SpiritsHandpicked by IWSC

13 award-winning Cognacs to try

From single-vintage and XO, to younger examples of the spirit packing just as much of a punch, here are 13 of the best Cognacs from the IWSC 2023

Words by IWSC judges

glasses filled with cognac shot from overhead
Handpicked by IWSC

Cognac is a byword for luxury and indulgence. It has a rich history and a general air of sophistication – with a whiff of decadence for good measure. Other grape-based-spirit lovers may disagree, but the French spirit confidently wears the crown, with the best Cognac expressions exchanging hands for many thousands of pounds.

Such a noble spirit starts off life in a rather unremarkable way – a low-alcohol, high-acid base wine made from the workhorse Ugni Blanc variety (the same grape as Trebbiano in Italy). But two distillations later, and these wines are transformed into an elegant spirit capable of ageing for several decades.

The various terms you see on a bottle of Cognac offer a clue to how long it has spent in French oak casks. VS (‘Very Special’) is the youngest, and refers to those aged for two years and ideal for mixing; VSOPs (‘Very Superior Old Pale’) spend at least four years in cask; XO (‘Extra Old’) are aged for a minimum of a decade, but usually much longer. Single-vintage Cognacs exist, too, and must be the product of just one year’s grape harvest.

a glass of cognac in front of a roaring fire

This year’s IWSC saw some terrific Cognacs scooping the top gongs. Scoring a phenomenal 98/100 pts, Ragnaud Sabourin No. 4 VS Cognac offered tempting aromas of apricot and a complex palate with leather and lemon – an impressive . Another high scorer was Cognac Frapin’s Millésime 1990, aged for 30 years.

Among the younger offerings, Domaines Francis Abecassis VSOP Cognac displayed notes of ‘tobacco, leather, vanilla sponge cake and crème patisserie’.

Each spirit was blind-tasted at this year’s IWSC by an expert panel, including Guy Hodcroft, spirits buyer for Bordeaux Index and writer, presenter and Club Oenologique contributing editor Joel Harrison.

Cognac may be dominated by the ‘big four’ houses of Hennessy, Courvoirsier, Rémy Martin and Martell, but scratch under the surface and you’ll discover some excellent examples from some of the Cognac region’s hidden houses.

The following is our selection of the best Cognacs from the IWSC 2023.

cognac ageing in barrels in a cellar in france


We run a tightly structured, rigorous spirits tasting process. That means that each spirit sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC spirit judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the drinks industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.


Only the best spirits sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, spirits have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.


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