All Cognacs are brandy but not all brandy is Cognac
The Cognac region of France has a Appellation d'origine contrôlée, which was the original French control and is the same as EU rulings Protected Geographical Indication. For a product to be classed as Cognac its must meet strict criteria, in particular, it must be made from specified grapes grown within the region, the brandy must be twice distilled in copper pot stills, and aged within Cognac for at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais.
The region of Cognac lies in the South-West of France and its location provides the distinct qualities required for Cognac. Bordering the Atlantic Ocean the region has a cooler, moister climate than other grape growing areas, this along with its chalky soil provide a selection of grapes that are too acidic for wine growing but perfect for distilling into spirit and ageing.
Grapes: The predominant grape used in Cognac is Ugni Blanc. The Cognac region is further broken down into six grape growing sub-regions, however most Cognac House’s only use four of these. The main four sub-regions are Borderies, Fins Bois, Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, the remaining two are Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaire.
Fermentation & Distillation: After the grapes are pressed they are stored for 2-3 weeks with a resulting wine of approx 6 - 8% ABV. This wine is then twice distilled in copper stills, each distillation removing any impurities leaving a colourless spirit of 70% ABV which is then technically described as Eaux de Vie.
Ageing: Once distillation is complete, it must be aged in oak casks for at least two years before it can be sold to the public. At the point it has aged for a minimum of 2 years it can be legally called Cognac. Most cognac producers age their products for longer than the minimum stated periods.
Blending: Cognac barrels will be blended with different aged barrels to create a consistency and taste associated to each Cognac House. As the base product is grape, and just like wine, the taste profile of a particular vintage can change dependent on that year’s harvest. Once blended it is the youngest aged grape that could be declared for age. No flavourings or colourings other than caramel can be added to the blending process.
Styles: Cognacs have three official grades;
All brands also offer a prestige selection of Cognac which demonstrates the skills of their master blenders along with the quality of the oldest and finest reserves.
Cognac is dominated by 4 international brands; Courvoisier, Remy Martin, Hennessy and Martell. Outside of this there are many smaller established brands like Hine and Delamain with more recently more wine growers like Maxime Trijol and Leyrat who are ageing and blending their own product.
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