Wed, Mar 14, 2012 11:21 AM
Just north of Bordeaux is a wine region that actually does not
really produce wine: surrounding the town that gives it its name
Cognac is the most famous variety of brandy, a spirit produced by
The word Brandy is derived from the Dutch 'brandewijn' ('burnt
wine') and is thus generally only used for liqueurs made from
grape-wine. It generally contains 36%-60% alcohol by volume, which
is the worldwide measure by which the percentage of alcohol in a
beverage is expressed. For some reason in the US the alcohol
strength is measured by alcoholic proof, which is twice the
percentage of alcohol by volume when measured at a temperature of
According to French law Cognac must meet a finely regulated set of
requirement besides being from the region of Cognac. The over
300-year old traditional production process has not been changed
since the early days of regulation. The main grape used to make
Cognac is Ugni Blanc, which is a widely grown white grape-variety.
It is grown all over southern France and is often used in white
wines from Languedoc, Provençe or Cote du Rhone, but it can even be
found in many Italian white wines.
In Cognac it is predominantly used under the name
"Saint-Emillion," not to be confused with the area of Bordeaux that
produces premium red wines under the same name. The world of wine
can be wonderfully confusing!
The other grapes that may be used are 'Folle Blanche' or
'Colombard' both of which can often be found blended with Ugni
Blanc in regular white wines for southwestern France. Many of these
make a great refreshing choice of lighter style white wine for the
Cognac is produced by distilling these white wines twice to make
what is also know as 'eaux-de-vie' ('waters of life.') It was first
created to use up grape waste in winemaking or thin harsh wines
that were not really suitable for drinking.
Originally it was considered a drink for the poor.
Once distillation is complete, it must be aged for at least two
years in French oak barrels before it can bear the name Cognac. The
final product is usually diluted with distilled water to achieve a
40% alcohol content (or 80% proof.) There are hundreds of different
vineyards in the Cognac region. Many sell their own cognac, usually
as single-vineyard cognacs but blended from different vintages.
Much goes to the big Cognac houses and gets blended into the
better-known commercial products like Hennessey, Rémy Martin,
Courvoisier or Martell.
There are three basic, regulated quality grades of Cognac:
VS - stands for 'very special' and often has three stars. It is the
youngest and is stored at least for two years in casks.
VSOP - means 'very special old pale' or sometimes 'very special
superior pale' (both really meaning the same). It is aged at least
four years in casks before bottling, but often spends more time in
XO - 'Extra old' is stored at least six years in barrels, but on
average is aged for upwards of twenty years in casks.
Cognac is most often consumed at the end of a meal and should be
enjoyed at room temperature in a 'snifter' glass that captures the
full aroma that still bears the qualities of the grapes used. It
makes for great sipping.