Return of the Versatile Cognac

There’s something about cold weather that makes you want to warm up with a stiff drink. So, go on, drink up. But just make sure when you do, you do it the right way by seeking out a high-quality and complex spirit, such as Cognac. So, if you are among one of those fun loving individuals who appreciate the pleasures of sipping some fine cognac then the following lines are written specially for you.

The term “Cognac” refers to Brandy which has been made from the Trebbiano or Ugni Blanc grapes in the Cognac region of France. Despite its boozy inspiration, Cognac Brandy was originally invented by the Dutch in the early 16th century by distilling and aging wine. Furthermore, the Cognac region is further separated into six sub-regions which are based primarily on the makeup of the soil, for instance, Grande Champagne, Borderies, Petite Champagne, Bons Bois, Bois Ordinaries and Fine Bois. Cognac is usually distilled by March following the grape harvest in early October, and aged in French oak barrels for up to two years, though there is rarely an age statement given on the bottle.

An interesting thing about Cognacs is that the vast majority of cognacs is blended by master blenders and may contain upwards of 240 different contributing cognacs. And it is the master blender’s job to ensure the consistency in the blended Cognac product. While cognac is technically considered as brandy, there is a slight difference in the manufacturing process of brandy and cognac. The fermentation process of cognac includes turning grape juice into wine; brandy can be prepared for, fermented juices of other fruits like berries. Moreover, after distillation the wine is aged for more than two years to make it cognac. On the other hand the preparation of brandy does not involve any aging process. The freshly distilled wine is called as “heads”. Due to its unpleasant taste, heads is re-distilled along with new wine. The re-distilled and mixed product is called heart. Heart contains 25-30% of alcohol content. The final part is called tails, which mostly consists of impurities, used for joining heads with new wine for re-distillation process.

VS or VSOP or XO…What does it all mean?

Cognacs labeled VS are a minimum of two years, VSOP are a minimum of four years, while Cognac brands, such as, Napoleon and XO have a six year minimum, which is going to be raised to ten years by the year 2016. Cognacs, such as, eau de vie may be single vintage bottling with the year labeled on the bottle. The older Cognac blends are not just further aged versions of younger blends, but also usually separate products. For instance, a certain Cognac brand may compose their VS product primarily of eau de vie, while for their XO products most will come from Grande Champagne. For those who don’t know how to handle it, Cognac is traditionally served in snifters, which are broad, short wine glasses, that allow the Cognac to breathe.

Pairing Cognac with Food

Cognac is known to go extremely well with cream cheeses, which adds to the fullness of its taste. When served chilled, with smoked salmon, the saltiness in the two complements each other extremely well. Flambéing it over the Christmas pudding also works. While serving Cognac chilled, you will lose the aroma, but will gain a syrupy texture, which will be worth it.

The Big Four

The “big four” cognac houses that make up around almost all of the world’s market for Cognac are mainly Remy Martin, Martell, Hennessy and Courvoisier.