French cognac gets green light for ‘XXO’ label

French cognac will soon be able to be marketed as XXO, or “extra extra old”, after regulators accepted a push by distillers to modify strict sales and production rules, an industry group said Monday.

Currently producers can apply only three quality distinctions: VS (very special), VSOP (very superior old pale) or XO (extra old) — all written in English in a nod to Britain’s historical involvement in the brandy trade.

But cognac heavyweight Hennessy, eyeing strong demand in Asia, had begun marketing a prestige bottle as “XXO Cognac Hors d’Age,” or Beyond Age.

France’s consumer protection agency ordered Hennessy to pull the distinction from the labels in December, saying buyers might be misled since there was no official specification beyond the minimum 10 years of ageing for an XO bottle.

Hennessy, part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate, unsuccessfully challenged the ruling.

Producers then started lobbying the country’s National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO), which sets the rules governing France’s prestigious wine appellations, to allow the XXO grade, which will require minimum ageing of 14 years.

“The addition of the ‘XXO’ grade to cognac specifications will eventually allow all houses to market their cognac” with the distinction, the National Cognac Bureau said.

The new rules were expected to be published by the end of this year.