With a mellowness that comes from aging in oak, the quality of the brandy itself depends, like Champagne, on the chalk content of the soil - hence the overlap of names.
These three examples are all from Cognac Frapin which has been produced by the same family on the Chateau de Fontpinot estate in the Grande Champagne region of Cognac for 20 generations.
Cognac Frapin VS
Titled as a Premier Grand Cru, it has a sweet, complex nose of cooked fruits; on the palate, there is more sweet, cooked fruit, with hints of caramel and coffee, wood-spice aromatics such as vanilla and a toasty-nuttiness as well as a racy acidity and a smooth, balanced and persistent finish.
Cognac Frapin VSOP
A cuvee rare, this has a more complex, less fruited nose, the palate is weightier and more oily, with much greater mellowness.
Less fruit driven and with more elusive, dark, wood-spice aromas, it has an incredible mouthfeel that just goes on and on.
Apparently, this cognac won the Gold Medal in its category at the World Spirit Competition 2001 in San Francisc and at the Prodexpo Wine Fair in Moscow in 2003.
Labelled as a Grande Champagne, single estate, Premier Grand Cru, this has a complex nose of woody aromatics with a streak of vanilla sweetness.
Given its age, there remains little fruit on the palate, but more of the intense, cedary, cigar box wood-spice lifted by a refreshing acidity.
The palate is weighty, but not oily and supremely smooth with a mellow finish.
Elegant and refined, it is impressive for its subtle finesse and aged mellowness.
Match with the dark, bitter chocolate, coffee and perhaps a cigar.
According to the website, this cognac won the trophy in the XO category at the International Spirits Challenge in London in 1997 and Best of the Year at the Wine Enthusiast in 2004 in the USA.
These are all excellent Cognacs and the only factor in choosing really is the age, your budget and the grandness of the occasion.
Available from McKinley Vintners; provided for review.
The VS and VSOP are also available at Bacchanalia, Cambridge.
Cognac Frapin - http://www.cognac-frapin.com/
McKinley Vintners - http://www.mckinleyvintners.co.uk/
Bacchanalia - http://www.winegod.co.uk/