Cognac is a double distilled spirit made from grapes, from the Cognac region in France, from a specific area registered and controlled by the BNIC and aged for a minimum of two years.
The grapes that are allowed to make the eaux-de-vie are; Ungi Blanc which is currently makes up more than 98% of Cognac vineyards. Colombard: which also produces regional table wines. Folle Blanche: primary variety used before the phylloxera crisis, abandoned for its sensitivity to grey rot after grafting. Montils: local variety also used in producing Pineau des Charentes. Folignan: new variety created by crossing Ugni Blanc with Folle Blanche. It combines the attribute of both parents: moderate yield, earlier-ripening than Ugni Blanc. It is a little more sensitive to grey rot, but produces more complex eaux-de-vie. The results of this grape are not as good as expected, so probably will be crossed of the list in the future.
The area where the grapes may come from are divided in to six Cru’s.
This is the smallest of the six crus, with 4,000 ha of vines devoted to Cognac. The Borderies produce fine, round eaux-de-vie that are smooth and scented with an aroma of violets. They have the reputation of reaching optimum quality after a shorter maturation period than Petite and Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie.
Grande Champagne, with more than 13,200 ha of vines to produce white wines that go into Cognac, yields exceptionally fine, light eaux-de-vie with a predominantly floral bouquet, that require long ageing in oak casks to achieve full maturity.
Petite Champagne is planted with more than 15,200 ha of vines to produce white wines that go into Cognac. These Petite Champagne eaux-de-vie are very similar to those of Grande Champagne, but without their exceptional finesse.
The word Champagne: in Old French, “Champaigne” which comes from the Latin “campania”, meaning country or open field (as opposed to wooded areas).
The Fine Champagne Appellation Fine Champagne is not a cru, but rather a blend of wine spirits that come from the complementary geographical denominations “Grande Champagne” and “Petite Champagne”, with at least 50% from “Grande Champagne”.
The Fins Bois surround the three previous crus and are planted with 31,200 ha of vines for Cognac. They produce round, supple eaux-de-vie that age fairly quickly, with an aroma reminiscent of freshly pressed grapes.
The Bons Bois represent 9,300 ha of vines for Cognac white wines. The Bons Bois produce eaux-de-vie that age quickly.
Bois à terroir (or Bois Ordinaires)
This cru presents less than 1,100 ha (2,718) of vines for producing Cognac white wines. The eaux-de-vie it yields have similar characteristics to those of the Bons Bois, with more rustic terroir character.
All terroirs have there own special taste, try different brands, blends, terroirs to discover new flavors. There is no best terroir or age. The best Cognac is the Cognac that fits to your mood and taste of that day.
From the grapes they make wine, the wine is than distilled true the The Charentaise distillation method. It’s a lot of information to process but also very interesting.
The Charentaise distillation method
The Charentais distillation process must be performed following the traditional method, meaning that Cognac is double-distilled in copper stills. The still is made up of three essential parts:
The Charentais copper still comprises a characteristically shaped boiler set over direct heat; a still headshaped like a turban an olive, or an onion; and a swan’s neck tubethat continues to become a coil, passing through a cooling tank referred to as the “pipe.”
The Charentais still is often equipped with an energy-saving wine preheater. This accessory preheats the next batch of wine using the heat from the vapours that pass through it.
The white wine collected from the Delimited Production Region is introduced in the pot (or boiler). The wine is brought to its boiling point. Alcohol vapors are freed and accumulate on the still-head, while the most volatile pass through the swan’s neck. Finally to arrive at the condensing coil. When they meet the cold water, they condense and form a cloudy liquid known as “brouillis”. This liquid, which contains an alcohol content of 28 to 32% is then returned to the boiler for a second distillation.
For this second heating, the boiler capacity must not exceed 30 hl and the load volume is limited to 25 hl (with a tolerance of 5%). The first litres of distillate obtained from the second distillation or ‘Bonne Chauffe’ are referred to as the ‘heads’. They have a high alcohol content (between 82% and 78% abv) and are separated from the rest. The distiller carries out the delicate operation known as “cutting” (“la coupe”). The ‘heads’ represent 1-2% of the volume.
Gradually, the alcohol content in the distillate reduces. After the ‘heads’, the distiller obtains the ‘heart’, a bright, clear liquid that will produce Cognac. The ‘second cuts’ are produced after the ‘heart’. These are redistilled with next batch of wine or ‘brouillis’. The last part of the distillate to run off are the ‘tails’.
The distiller gathers the “secondes”—when the alcohol meter registers 60% abv.—and finally, the “tails” at the end of distillation. The “heads” and “secondes” are redistilled with the next batch of wine or brouillis.
The heart of the ‘bonne chauffe’ is then put into oak barrels to begin its ageing process, or how we would like to call it maturation process, because each eaux-de-vie is mature at its own speed.
The success of the distilling cycle, which lasts about 24 hours, lies in constant monitoring, close attention and extensive experience on the part of the distiller, who may also intervene in the distillation techniques (proportion of fine lees, recycling of “secondes” in batches of wine or brouillis, temperature curves, etc.), thus stamping his or her personality on the Cognac.
Aging / Maturation / Blending
The eaux-de-vie is put in oak barrels of around 350 liters. The size of the barrel, the type of wood, de age of the wood, the treatment of the wood, the age of the barrel, the temperature, humidity and moist of the cellar are al very important factors when it comes to aging Cognac. The Master Blender (or Cellar Master) plays a central role in a Cognac house. It is he/she who, working with his/her team, selects and purchases eaux-de-vie from the winegrowers and oversees them throughout the ageing process.
As soon as the eaux-de-vie are put into barrel, the Cellar Master determines which will be destined for young Cognac and which are suitable for longer ageing. Finally, it is he/she who will create, in the utmost secret, the blends that make up the signature of each brand.
On your bottle of Cognac you will probably find something of an age statement.
VS (Very Special): The youngest eau-de-vie in the blend is at least 2 years old.
VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale): The youngest eau-de-vie in the blend is at least 4 years old.
Napoléon The youngest eau-de-vie in the blend is at least 6 years old.
XO (Extra Old) The youngest eau-de-vie in the blend is at least 10 years old. XXO is at least 14 years old.
Terms as Extra, Hors d’âge etcetera do have a legal age statement of at least 10 years but are usually used for the high and Cognacs of a brand.
You can also find the word Vintage followed by a year the bottle. All vintage Cognacs indicate on the label, the harvest year of the grapes that went into the Cognac and the year the eaux-de-vie went into demijohns or bottles. In the Cognac Delimited Region, eaux-de-vie specifically being matured for vintage Cognacs are generally aged in sealed casks or in separate vintage warehouses. A vintage warehouse is locked with double keys: one that remains with the owner and the other entrusted to the BNIC. Vintage eaux-de-vie must be monitored extremely rigorously, to authenticate the age of Cognacs marketed as vintage. Since blending is a key cultural element of Cognac’s identity, vintage Cognacs are not very common.
Enjoy your Cognac the way you like it. Neat, on the rocks, from the fridge or in the mix. But always enjoy it responsible!