All Cognac is Brandy but not all Brandy is Cognac - a Guide to specifications and appreciation.
You Say Cognac, I say Brandy.Cognac (essentially burnt wine) is distilled white wine from a specific delimited area in France.
This region extends along the banks of the Charente to the Atlantic Coast.
The soil of these regions is considered so precious that workers at the vineyards are required to remove all soil from their shoes before departing from work each day!
Just as champagne must be produced in the Champagne region to earn its title, so too must cognac be produced within the certified zone to gain the designation ‘cognac’.
All cognac produced outside the appointed cognac growth zones is brandy. Thus it becomes clear that all cognac is brandy but not all brandy is cognac!
How Cognac is Created.Further to territorial specifications, cognac must also meet with strict production processes that differentiate cognac from other distilled wines.
Firstly, the grapes to be used in the production of cognac must be Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche or Colombard varietals. Next, stringent care is practiced in the fermentation and distillation processes to ensure supreme quality.
The grapes are pressed and fermented and then subjected to a process of elaboration and double distillation in copper pot stills. The cognac is then ready to be aged, but only a small percentage is to make the immediate cut to proceed to maturation. This proportion is referred to as the heart and goes on to be aged in French oak barrels, crafted from trees of the Limousin or Troncais forests.
The remainder of the distillate is mixed with a new batch of wine, and the entire process is repeated. This method of mixing vintages ensures consistency in both quality and distinctive trademark flavours from batch to batch.
The cognac is aged for a minimum of two years, however all esteemed cognac producers mature far beyond the minimum legal requirement. During the ageing process, it is estimated that an amazing 20 million bottles of cognac are evaporated from the barrels each year, contributing to what is known as the ‘angel’s share’.
What is in an Age?The age schema of cognac ranges from;
- VS (Very Special – aged for at least 2 years, example includes Courvoisier VS Cognac);
- to VSOP (Very Special Old Pale – aged for at least 4 years, but generally much longer, example includes Remy Martin VSOP Cognac);
- to XO (Extra Old – with the youngest contribution aged at least 6 years, but more commonly upwards of 20 years, example includes Courvoisier XO Cognac).
As a rule of thumb, the longer the cognac is aged, the higher its grade, the more complex the flavour, the more esteemed and scarce the cognac and (justifiably) the higher the price tag. Cognacs such as Martell XO are aged an amazing 40-45 years, gaining both accolades and a reputation of prestige and success.
How to Truly Appreciate Cognac.Cognac is celebrated worldwide for its rich texture, complexity and aromatic flavour. Despite most people enjoy cognac neat, up to 80% of all cognac ends up in brandy cocktail recipes, adding a depth to mixed drinks and operating as the base for liqueurs such as Grand Marnier.
When enjoying cognac straight up, connoisseurs are very specific about what we will refer to as ‘cognetiquette’!
First of all, ensure you have tulip or bottom rounded wine glasses. The large surface area will release aromas that will be concentrated in the narrow neck of the glass.
Pour a standard measure (around 25ml) into the glass and warm by resting the glass in the palm of your hand for around 10 minutes. Any other attempts to rapidly heat the cognac (i.e. igniting it) will eliminate the aromatic vapours.
Next, have a good look at the colour of the cognac. The hue will tell you a lot about the age and resultant characteristics of the cognac. The lighter colours indicate younger cognac such as the Martell VS Cognac, where darker amber and red cognacs will indicate older labels such as Martell Cordon Bleu.
Then lift the glass to your nose and inhale the aromas circulating in the glass. You should be able to note floral and fruit scents such as rose, cherry, violets and orange. Give the glass a swirl and enjoy a secondary wave of aromas.
Finally, take a small sip and delve through layer upon layer of exquisite and complex flavours. Savour its unique individuality and lasting impression.
An elaborate process, perhaps – but so much care, dedication and effort go into every single bottle of premium cognac that it deserves completely undivided attention and ardent appreciation.
As important as your choice of cognac is your choice of context. We recommend slowly imbibing by the fire after dinner with friends engaged in a stimulating conversation or companionable silence. Whatever your choice, cognac is most certainly best served with keen appreciation!