Cognac - A Guide to Popular French Brandy

Markus Reed | News Jul 04, 2015

Cognac is a variety of distilled brandy named after the town of Cognac in France. It is produced in the wine-growing region surrounding the town from which it takes its name.  For a distilled brandy to bear the name Cognac, its production methods must meet certain requirements. In particular, it must be made from specified grapes, of which Ugni Blanc (known locally as Saint-Emilion) is the one most widely used.  The brandy must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Troncais.

Cognac is a blend of aged spirit (eau de vie) from many vineyards and many different vintages. It is the master blender's job to ensure consistency of a blended cognac product despite a big variation in the individual eau de vies that go into it.

The cognac producing area is made up of 73,000 hectares (180,400 acres) of vineyards of which there are six different growing areas. Grande Champagne is known for making powerful cognacs. The second area is called Petite Champagne, and it is known to make elegant cognacs. Borderies is the third area and makes well-rounded cognacs with violet aromas. The fourth area is called Fin Bois and makes fine and elegant cognacs. The last two areas are named Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires.

Due to the regulations set up by the Bureau National Interprofessional du Cognac (BNIC), this wine has to be distilled before March 31st.

The French government developed rules for labelling, classifying the cognac by it smoothness. V.S. (Very Superior) is aged at least two and a half years. V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale), or Reserve, is aged in wood at least four years. X.O. (Extra Old, Napoleon, or Extra) is that which has been aged at least five years. These are bare minimums. Most houses age their cognacs for twice the minimum required.

The "big four" cognac houses that make up around 75-80% of the world market are Hennessy, Martell, Courvoisier, and Remy Martin. There are many smaller houses, of course, and some of these own vineyards and distill, age, and blend on-site.

If you are not familiar with Cognacs, the list below will give you an idea on what is available at some of the Melbourne Wine Stores.

  • Hennessy Cognac VS

On the nose, Hennessy VS brings together an intense and fruity character with oaky notes. On the palate, powerful flavours suggest grilled almonds, supported by notes reminiscent of fresh grapes.

  • Courvoisier VSOP

Courvoisier VSOP is a blend of Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne spirits. Appearance is deep amber copper colour, with aromas of spicy buttercream and dried fruit and has a soft dry, yet fruity medium body.

  • Remy Martin VSOP

The roundness of summer fruits, especially ripe apricots and the impertinence of wild flowers, particularly violets Oaky notes, predominantly vanilla, with a hint of liquorice

  • Calvados Adrien Camut

Rich and round apple notes in total harmony with alcohol and tannin. Creamy texture allows waves of developed vanilla to glide across the palate.