In essence, cognac is essentially an assortment of brandy named in honor of the name of a town located in the Charente department of France. But cognac is made across the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region around it.
In our detailed guide about what happens when cognac is produced, it is made according to strict regulations as cognac is a product that falls under various French appellations. It is interesting to note that the cognac-producing region is split into multiple zones that may have their names.
A brandy cognac is created by distilling wine. The product is then matured for several years inside oak casks. The grapes grown locally are used, and certain varieties could be used in the production of Bordeaux wine, as well.
In France, the distillates that are used to make cognac are considered “eau-de-vie,” and in certain regions, it is consumed without age. But, all cognacs have to be aged for a minimum of 2 years inside oak barrels.
The barrels, too, can only be made of French oak. The woods typically come directly from Limousin and Troncais forests.
Similar to a champagne-like champagne, the cognac that you purchase in bottles is a blend. The master blender in your house, also known as a “maitre de chai,” will mix eaux de-vie of various types of ages, zones, and grape varieties to make its cognac.
By a carefully planned procedure that could involve mixing hundreds of different eaux de-vie, The maitre de chai makes sure that each new cognac batch will be exactly like the previous one.
Although cognac is commonly regarded as a symbol of French excellence, a lot of its origins and history are a result of foreign interference.
First of all, “brandy” comes from the Dutch “branewijn,” which is “burned wine” and hints at its ancestry.
At the time of the 16th century, Dutch traders traveled the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in order to purchase salt, wood, and wine. However, the wine was difficult to ship, so the Dutch searched for new methods to keep it safe during transportation.
So it was that the Dutch started distilling their wine, and then the majority of European retailers bought brandy from the west coast of France because the wine was then filtered with a stronger alcohol content and lower cost of transport.
Then, those from the Cognac region were considered to be superior to its neighbors. By the beginning of the 17th century, producers began distilling the brandy three times because it gave a more smooth taste.
While Dutchmen, Dutch, and French distillers created initial stills, started developing the process, and made their famous “Charentaise” distillation methods.
Incredibly, the advantages of aging in casks happened to be discovered in a manner similar to Norwegian Akvavit. The brandy was usually transported in barrels, and the frequently delayed deliveries, along with the long travel times, caused the flavor of the spirit to blend with the wood.
So, producers started aging the eau de-vie deliberately prior to selling it to traders.
Around the turn of the 1800s, the industry of cognac became more organized. British merchants set up local offices to manage logistical and trade relations. This is why cognac was classified using English terms like Extra Old, Very Special Old Pale (V.S.O.P.) or Extra Old (X.O.).
Through during the nineteenth century, cognac faced difficulties, but it continued to develop. Cognac was first shipped in bottles rather than casks, which spawned an industry of glass in the region. In the meantime, phylloxera took over the vineyards and cut down production to about a seventh of its capacity.
But, after introducing American rootstock via grafting, cognac regenerated. Because Ugni Blanc is more robust than other cognac grapes, it became the most popular choice in the 20th century.
How Does Cognac Taste?
Based on how cognac is aged and blended, It can provide an array of flavors. The consensus is that cognac is a bit vinous in taste due to the fact that it is made from the distillation of wine.
However, this particular characteristic tends to be less prominent due to the long-term aging process. The oak barrels are a significant element, and the wood heavily affects the flavor of the eau-de-vie.
A well-aged cognac will reflect its origins by presenting a variety of flavors. Most often, cognac is characterized by sweet citrus and candied fruits in the aroma, which are often accompanied by spice. In addition, the taste may be made up of leather, spices, caramelized fruit, or citrus.
The final point is that high-end cognac can be quite dry, as it can be sweetened by not more than 1.5 grams per liter of sugar. In combination with tannins, a good cognac usually has a silky texture and mouthfeel.
However, younger cognacs can be a bit more lively with a hefty taste and a hot primary flavor.
How To Properly Drink Cognac
In the first place, there isn’t a proper method to drink cognac so long as you’re enjoying the drink. For example, cognac is typically served straight up, but it can also be consumed chilled with ice or in cocktails.
However, there are ways to improve or enhance your experience so that you can truly appreciate the benefits the cognac can offer.
Firstly, we recommend that you not chill or add Ice to the drink. Cognac is specially watered from its original 70 percent A.B.V. to 40 percent A.B.V. in order to give the highest concentration and provide the most enjoyable experience. As the ice melts, it dilutes the spirit.
While some spirits like whisky may benefit from water, it is usually to add a tiny amount to help open the flavors. However, when it melts the ice, it typically overwaters the drink and reduces the strength of the cognac until it is no longer a drink.
In the same way, chilling a spirit can slow down the process of evaporating. Therefore, it isn’t able to release the aromatic compounds and loses their flavor.
Additionally, cognac is usually used as a digestif to accompany an evening meal. It is, however, being praised as a great drink to accompany dishes. Cognac is well-known for its ability to pair well with cheese. However, younger versions can be enjoyed with fish or charcuterie!
Chocolate is also an excellent complement, and we’ve even written a lot about the cognac-based cigar pairing as well!
What Are The Benefits Of Drinking Cognac?
As opposed to a range of spirits and liqueurs, cognac was not initially intended to be a medical aid. It has, in fact, always been seen as an alcoholic drink for enjoyment. But, it’s been suggested that cognac could offer some health benefits if it is consumed in moderate amounts.
As an example, cognac could have enough antioxidants to help boost blood circulation and heart health as well as help protect against gallstones and Type 2 diabetes. However, cognac should be treated with respect just like other alcohol, and excessive consumption can affect your health.