Napoleon cognac is a type of cognac that has typically been allowed to age in oak barrels for at least six and a half years. Legend has it that the former French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte loved cognac, but he could not, of course, carry his personal barrels of cognac along with him on his military campaign across Europe. According to legend, Napoleon insisted that his personal barrels of cognac remain undisturbed while he was away, and even appointed friends to guard them. When Napoleon returned to claim his cognac six and a half years later, he found he enjoyed the aged cognac even more than he had enjoyed the young cognac. Today, Napoleon cognac is typically aged for six and a half years, making it younger only than XO cognac, which is typically aged for an average of about 15 to 25 years.
Cognac is a type of brandy produced in the Cognac region of western France. Only brandies produced in the Cognac region of France can generally be considered cognac. While other brandies are usually made in the same fashion, they cannot be called cognac because they do not originate from this area. French law typically requires that cognacs be aged in oak barrels for at least two and a half years, though most appellations, including Napoleon cognac, are aged for at least six and a half years. The oldest cognacs may be anywhere from 15 to 70 years old.
The cognac typically labeled as Napoleon cognac is generally considered second only to XO cognac. XO is considered the highest quality cognac appellation, meaning that the liquor has been aged far longer than the six and a half years required for Napoleon cognac. These cognacs often consist of a mix of liquors of differing vintages. Since French law generally forbids the producers of cognac from labeling their bottles with years of vintage, producers are typically free to mix very young liquors with older liquors. They can then label the bottle with the higher quality appellation, even though the majority of the liquor within may in fact be much younger.
While six and a half years is the minimum length of time a Napoleon cognac can be aged, some quality Napoleon cognacs are aged for much longer. Single vintage cognacs are generally considered to offer the highest quality. Expert producers of this liquor may blend cognacs of different vintages together for reasons of economy, but they generally also endeavor to maintain the beverage's unique bouquet of flavors.