Cognac serves as an excellent example of the so-called “high-end” trend in alcohol. Data from the Distilled Spirits Council shows that volumes have increased 18.7% since 2020. The dollar value of 2020’s sales totaled $2.4 billion, rising 21.3% over 2019. Cognac consumers in the U.S. bought more of the spirit last year, but they also spent more per bottle on average.
Therefore, it is hardly a surprise that some will pay for more expensive bottles. Cognac is under rigorous production guidelines that parallel France’s renowned wine regions as a luxury product.
To master the categories, familiarize yourself with just three labeling terms: Eau-de-Vin, Eau-de-Vie, and Eau-de-Noir. X.O. refers to Cognac aged at least ten years. V.S.O.P. also refers to blends aged at least four years, and V.S. shows Cognacs aged two years.
First, What is Cognac?
Cognac is a barrel-aged alcoholic drink from the wine-growing regions Cognac in France—Charente-Maritime and Charente. To make it, white wine must be distilled and then aged in oak barrels for two years. Distillers then blend the wine with other Eaux-de-Vies to create specific flavors. To earn its name, they must brew Cognac under strict guidelines.
Cognac Must Satisfy the Following Requirements
- Made from specific grape varieties—Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanc, and Colombard. Besides the three main grape varieties, distillers also use Sémillon and Folignan varieties.
- Distillers must use copper pot stills for double distillation
- Aged a minimum of two years in Tronçais oak or Limousin barrels
- Alcohol content must be at least 40% in Cognac
The result is a genuine stamp of approval on every bottle of Cognac you drink. In the past, distillers used pot stills to distill Cognac; today, fine Cognac comes from a wine base resulting in better flavor, taste, and elegance. Brands use other various names to distinguish specific batches of their Brandies, such as “black,” “double oaked,” or “very fine.” Check out the official classification and get the producer’s notes when you want a seal of approval.
The Area Where the Grapes are From Dictates the Cognac Being Made
Cognac has further regulations regarding its Appellation of Origin. Near the southwest corner of Paris, the distillery produces this spirit just north of Bordeaux. The legal classification of the Cognac Appellation of Origin, including six designated areas or crus, began in 1909 around the city.
- Bons Bois
- Bois Ordinaires
- Fins Bois
- Grand Champagne
- Petite Champagne
The most common white grape used to produce Cognac is Ugni Blanc, accounting for 95% of production. These grapes produce acidic wines, which is why aged Cognac contributes to quality and yields superior results than Sweet Wines, such as Pisco. Although the grape varieties remain constant, terroir-specific characteristics in each cru are unique.
Among the Cognac crus, a noticeable difference in some regions, such as Grand Champagne and Petit Champagne, produces Eau-de-Vies better suited to aging. Any Cognac that has at least 50% Grande Champagne goes by “Fine Champagne.”
Each brand approaches this differently to create its unique signature style. For example,
- Rémy Martin — uses only grapes from Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne.
- Martell — is a significant customer for Borderies, with 50 percent of all Borderies production going to them.
- Courvoisier — most of its grapes come from Fins Bois.
Fins Bois produces over 42% of all Cognac, while Bins Ordinaires accounts for just 1%. Cognac connoisseurs prioritize an area like Borderies before an individual brand, Scotch drinkers might not specify their favorite brand, but their famous region, such as Speyside.
How Cognac is Graded?
With premium spirits, Cognac is among the top choices. It competes fiercely with vodka, whisky, and gin. Today, cognac distillers pay special attention to finesse, taste, and elegance. Each cognac brand packages its products in stunning bottles that add to the beauty of the product. An important feature that stands out in every cognac bottle is the age-specific rating. VS, V.S.O.P., and X.O. Cognacs are the most common ratings.
How a Cognac is made and aged determines its grade:
Very Special (V.S.) Cognac
V.S. Cognac is a blend of young brandy which has aged for at least two years. This is the minimum age for Cognac.
V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Paleor Reserve)
Is a blend of young and four years aged spirits
The youngest brandy in this blend has at least ten years of age. It’s the highest standard of Cognac. Before 2018, the designation denoted Cognac with brandy at least six years old. We refer to cognacs among these ages as “Napoleon” Cognacs.
Hors d’âge or Napoléon
As part of the X.O. designation, this designation refers to brandies older than 30 years old.
What are the Best Ways to Enjoy the Many Types of Cognac?
With or without friends, neat or with a cocktail, you can enjoy Cognac in so many ways.
As Part of a Cocktail
Recent years have seen the popularity of the Cognac cocktail soar. The skill to make a great cocktail comes down to some simple tools, carefully selected ingredients, and, of course, some quality Cognac.
Ginger Ale and Cognac
Well, certain Cognacs pair beautifully with ginger’s spicy flavor. A quality VS or V.S.O.P. paired with ginger ale, and ice is an excellent combination for a long, refreshing thirst-quencher. Put a shot of Cognac and Ginger Ale in a highball to enjoy. Fever-Tree Ginger Ale is usually the preferred choice, but if you want an exotic twist, try the Fever-Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale, which combines sweet clementines with cinnamon.
Coco Cognac Cola, Anyone?
Coke and powerful eau-de-vie is an excellent combination that millions love. Cognacs in the VS, V.S.O.P., or Napoleon ranges are great choices. One which leans towards the spicy side works better.
Cognac On the Rocks or Ice Cold
Adding rock to a glass of Cognac dilutes the alcohol content. This produces a pronounced aroma and flavor difference. Or chill your Cognac in the freezer for a while. Since it contains alcohol, it will not freeze. Instead, it will thicken and become more viscous. An exciting reaction occurs in the liquid, and it feels velvety in the mouth. Perfect for sushi or shellfish.
You can mix anything with Cognac according to your taste, but the French flavor makes a neat drink. There are many options for experimenting with Cognac, so give it a shot.