SpiritsHandpicked by IWSC

Ten 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 10 of the best Cognacs from the IWSC 2021

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, numerous well-known producers 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 in this particular area, 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 is 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.

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 99/100 pts, Chateau de Beaulon 1980 Cognac offered tempting aromas of citrus peel, wood polish and pepper, with an explosion of tropical fruit on the palate. Another 99-pointer, and winner of the IWSC Trophy, was Hermitage’s 50 YO Grande Champagne Cognac, aged for half a century.

Among the younger offerings, the Virgin Oak edition of Cognac Planat’s VSOP displayed notes of bitter orange, savoury spice and dried fruit, with a woody backnote.

Each spirit was blind-tasted at this year’s IWSC by an expert panel, including Speciality Drinks head buyer Dawn Davies MW and writer and presenter Neil Ridley.

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 region’s lesser-known names.

The following is our selection of the best Cognacs from the IWSC 2021.

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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