When we talk about Cognac it becomes clear that we’re dealing with a special spirit. It’s only possible to produce Cognac in a geographically specified area. The production is restricted to a small area of France which includes the regions Charente-Maritime, Charente, Deux-Sévres, and Dordogne. These are further divided into six zones: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois, and Bois Ordinaire.
Characteristics of Cognac
Cognac is special due to its double distillation. The producers try to retain the maximum flavour from the wines which they transform into eau de vie during the process. But it is also special due to the limited number of grape varieties that are accepted as part of its composition. These varieties include ugni blanc, colombard, and folle blanche.
This liquor has gained a reputation as a drink which people associate with the upper class and the most exclusive circles. This is partly because of the aforementioned restrictions. And despite Cognac merely being a branch on the tree of brandy drinks, it’s arguably more well-known than brandy itself.
Differences Between Cognac and Brandy
Brandy is a type of alcoholic drink, and cognac is a type of brandy. They have some main differences which are:
- The location: you can produce brandy anywhere in the world, but you can only produce Cognac in France.
- The raw material: you can make brandy with any variety of grape, but you can only make Cognac with three varieties of white grape (ugni blanc, colombard or folle blanche)
- Distillation: you can make brandy by using any distillation process. Cognac, on the other hand, must be made by double distillation in a traditionally shaped Alembic Charentais copper still.
- The ageing: brandy rests in wooden barrels for at least six months. Cognac takes longer and ages for at least three years in oak barrels.
But what happens before you pour the golden drops into your glass? Copper comes first, then the oak. Or in other words, first, the drink goes through a distillation. This is a double distillation process which will leave us with the best part of this liquid gold. In the first distillation, a raw spirit called “brouillis” is produced. The second distillation produces a much higher alcohol content. Only the middle part, the ‘heart’, is saved. This clear, colourless liquid is called eau-de-vie. The liquor then rests and matures in new oak barrels. These barrels are strictly allowed to only contain Cognac. The Cognac will gradually increase in aroma and flavour until it reaches the optimum point.
Types of Cognac
Cognac will be classified differently depending on the length of time it remains in the barrels. The classification refers to its ageing:
- VS (Very Special): these include all the cognacs that have rested in oak barrels for at least two years.
- VSOP (Very Special Old Pale): four years of ageing, minimum. Many people also know the VSOP as ”Réserve” which is the French name.
- And finally, the most exclusive, the XO (Extra Old), which ages in oak barrels for at least six years, and which connoisseurs also call Napoleon or Hors d’âge.
If we had to choose just one of each type of cognac, we would base our decision on the powerful argument of the best value for money. We would recommend Hennessy XO as the best choice due to its potency, aroma, and character. We would also recommend Courvoisier VSOP Fine because it makes us feel like Napoleon after fighting his best battle. Finally, we would choose Remy Martin VS for its aroma, complexity, and its intensity that grabs our attention from the first sip.
To round off our post we would like to share a few fun facts. One of the things you may have noticed is the many different English names for a drink that is so typically French. The names developed over time because cognac was originally exported mainly to England. Another fact that’s perfect to share with friends over a glass of Cognac: Did you know that it’s possible to taste a cognac which is recognised as such, but which is not produced in France? The reason behind this takes us back to the end of the Second World War. France had accumulated debt with Uruguay. The French Government paid this debt in 1946 by cultivating a vineyard and building a distillery there. The vineyard grows grapes of the ugni blanc variety, and the distillery is located in Juanicó. The distillery still produces these peculiar Cognacs to this day.