Understanding the Amber Spirit: What is Cognac?

Taking a look at what goes into making one of the world's favourite amber spirit

To answer the question “what is Cognac?” we need to consider a few elements on the AOC regulations: Cognac is a fine brandy (i.e. distilled wine) resulting from a double distillation of white wines (made of 90% Ugni Blanc grapes and smaller quantities of other authorized ones), a minimum aging period of two years (in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais), and the blending of brandies of different types and ages. This last step is the responsibility of the maître de chai (“cellar master”), who must ensure “house” style and quality consistency in every bottle.

So, what is Cognac?

Cognac is a “cousin” of the spirit called Armagnac, which though made in a similar way shows some distinct differences in terms of flavor as well as rules of production. The guidelines for making Cognac state that the grapes used in this process should be strictly sourced from the Cognac region of France, which lies in the Charente and Charente Maritime department.

After careful pressing of grapes and fermenting the grape juice a fairly low-in-alcohol wine is produced. This wine then undergoes double distillation in a copper pot-still to concentrate the alcohol level of the eau-de-vie produced. This eau-de-vie is then stored in glass carboys until the cellar master decides to blend the various samples to create the perfect product, which is then ready to age.

Ageing a cognac determines the label that can be put on the bottle. Cognac can be:

  • VS -  Very Special: the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend has been aged for at least 2 years
  • VSOP- Very Special Old Pale: the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend has been aged for a minimum of 4 years in an oak barrel
  • XO- Extra Old: the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend has been aged for a minimum of 6 years

These different ageing spans give the cognac some characteristic flavor notes. The

vanilla, chocolate, toasted notes or smoked ones that we perceive on the nose and palate are a result of the ageing process.

Just like wine tasting is an art, Cognac tasting requires great skill too. At Wine Paths we offer you exclusive tours and activities to better understand this amber spirit. Take a look at some of our suggestions below or contact our local travel expert to arrange a tailor-made holiday to help you answer the VS question: ‘What is Cognac?’


If you're interested in one of our Cognac Wine Tours, please visit this link. 

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