The region authorized to produce cognac is divided into six zones, including five crus broadly covering the department of Charente-Maritime, a large part of the department of Charente and a few areas in Deux-Sevres and the Dordogne. The six zones are: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois and finally Bois Ordinaire. A blend of Grande and Petite Champagne Cognacs, with at least half coming from Grande Champagne, is known as Fine Champagne. Cognac-producing regions should not be confused with the northeastern region of Champagne, a wine region that producessparkling wine by that name, although they do share a common etymology- both being derivations of a French term for chalky soil.
Cognac is made from fruit brandy, called eau de vie in English, produced by doubly distilling the white wines produced in any of the growth areas.
The wine is very dry, acidic, and thin, "virtually undrinkable", but excellent for distillation and aging.
It may be made only from a strict list of grape varieties, if it is to carry the name of one of the crus, then it must be at least 90% Ugni Blanc (known in Italy as Trebbiano), Folle Blanche and Colombard, although 10% of the grapes used can be Folignan, Jurancon blanc, Meslier St-Francois (also called Blanc Rame),Select, Montils or Semillon. Cognacs which are not to carry the name of a cru are freer in the allowed grape varieties, needing at least 90% Colombard, Folle Blanche,Juracon blanc, Meslier Saint-Francois,Montils, Semillon,or Ugni Blanc,and up to 10% Folignan or Select.
After the grapes are pressed, the juice is left to ferment for
two or three weeks, with the region's native, wild yeasts
converting the sugar into alcohol; neither sugar nor sulfur may be added. At this point, the resulting wine is about 7% to 8% alcohol.
Distillation takes place in traditionally shaped Charentais copper stills, also known as an alembic, the design and dimensions of which are also legally controlled.Two distillations must be carried out; the resulting eau-de-vie is a colorless spirit of about 70% alcohol.
Once distillation is complete, it must be aged in oak for at least two years before it can be sold to the public. As the cognac interacts with the oak barrel and the air, it evaporates at the rate of about three percent each year, slowly losing both alcohol and water. Because the alcohol dissipates faster than the water, cognac reaches the target 40% alcohol by volume in about four or five decades, though lesser grades can be produced much sooner by diluting the cognac with water, which also makes its flavor less concentrated. Since oak barrels stop contributing to flavor after four or five decades, cognac is then transferred to large glass carboys called bonbonnes, then stored for future blending.
The age of the cognac is calculated as that of the
youngest eau-de-vie used in the blend. The blend is usually of different ages and (in the case of the larger and more commercial producers) from different local areas.This blending, or marriage, of different eaux de-vie is important to obtain a complexity of flavours
absent from an eau-de-vie from a single distillery or
vineyard. Each cognac house has a master taster (maitre de chai), who is responsible for creating this delicate blend of spirits, so that the cognac produced by a company today will taste almost exactly the same as a cognac produced by that same company 50 years ago, or in 50 years' time. In this respect it is similar to the process of blending whisky or non-vintage Champagne to achieve a consistent brand flavor. A very small number of producers, such as Guillon Painturaud and Moyet, do not blend their final product from different ages of eaux-de-vie to produce a 'purer' flavour (a practice roughly equivalent to the production of a single-cask Scotch whisky). Hundreds of vineyards in the Cognac AOC region sell
their own cognac. These are likewise blended from the eaux-de-vie of different years, but they are single-vineyard
cognacs, varying slightly from year to year and according to the taste of the producer,hence lacking some of the predictability of the better-known commercial products. Depending on their success in marketing, small producers may sell a larger or smaller proportion of their product to individual buyers, wine dealers, bars and restaurants, the remainder being acquired by larger cognac houses for blending.The success of artisanal cognacs has encouraged some larger industrial-scale producers to produce single-vineyard cognacs.
According to the BNIC (Bureau National lnterprofessionnel du Cognac), the official quality grades of cognac are the following: V.S. ("very special"), Very Special, or three stars designates a blend in which the youngest brandy bas been stored for at least two years in cask. V.S.O.P. ("very superior old pale") designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least four years in a cask, but the average wood age is much older. XO ("extra old") designates a blend in which the youngest brand y is stored for at least six years but on average for upwards of 20 years. ln April of 2016, the minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend will be set to ten years. The crus where the grapes were grown can also be used to define the cognac, and give a guide to some of the flavour characteristics
of the cognac: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne,
Borderies, Bois, Bons Bois, Bois Ordinaire. The growth areas are tightly defined; there exist pockets with soils atypical of the area producing eaux de vie that may have characteristics particular to their location.
SWS Cognac Portfolio:
Please take a moment to review our "COGNAC" portfolio:
Conjure,Courvoisrer, De Fussigny, Hine, Jacques Cardin, Landy,louis Royer, Martell and Salignac
Check out the "Mixology Minute" section d this magazine for eoa.,nac cocktails created by Jason Girard. SWS Director of Millology. To make a swchase, reach out for your SWS
Sales Representative and call to get them all today.
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