Cognac (drink)
Cognac named after the town of Cognac
Cognac is a commune in the Charente department in southwestern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.-Geography:Cognac is situated on the river Charente between the towns of Angoulême and Saintes. The majority of the town has been built on the river's left bank, with the smaller right...

 in France, is a variety of brandy
Brandy is a spirit produced by distilling wine. Brandy generally contains 35%–60% alcohol by volume and is typically taken as an after-dinner drink...

. It is produced in the wine-growing region surrounding the town from which it takes its name, in the French Departements of Charente
Charente is a department in southwestern France, in the Poitou-Charentes region, named after the Charente River, the most important river in the department, and also the river beside which the department's two largest towns, Angoulême and Cognac, are sited.-History:Charente is one of the original...

 and Charente-Maritime
Charente-Maritime is a department on the west coast of France named after the Charente River.- History :Previously a part of Saintonge, Charente-Inférieure was one of the 83 original departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790...


As an Appellation d'origine contrôlée
Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée
Appellation d’origine contrôlée , which translates as "controlled designation of origin", is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products, all under the auspices of the government bureau Institut National...

, in order to bear the name Cognac, the production methods for the distilled brandy must meet specified legal requirements. It must be made from certain grapes (see below); of these, Ugni Blanc, known locally as Saint-Emilion, is the most widely used variety today. It must be distilled twice in copper pot still
Pot still
A pot still is a type of still used in distilling spirits such as whisky or brandy. Heat is applied directly to the pot containing the wash or wine . This is called a batch distillation ....

s and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin
Limousin (province)
Limousin is one of the traditional provinces of France around the city of Limoges. Limousin lies in the foothills of the western edge of the Massif Central, with cold weather in the winter...

 or Tronçais
Forest of Tronçais
The Forest of Tronçais is a French national forest, a forêt domaniale, comprising 10,600 hectares in the Allier, managed by the Office national des forêts...

. Most cognacs are aged considerably longer than the minimum legal requirement, because cognac matures in the same way as whiskies and wine when aged in a barrel.

Producing region and legal definitions

The region authorised 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-Sèvres
Deux-Sèvres is a French département. Deux-Sèvres literally means "two Sèvres": the Sèvre Nantaise and the Sèvre Niortaise are two rivers which have their sources in the department.-History:...

 and the Dordogne
Dordogne is a départment in south-west France. The départment is located in the region of Aquitaine, between the Loire valley and the High Pyrénées named after the great river Dordogne that runs through it...

. The six zones are: Grande Champagne
Grande Champagne
Grande Champagne is a French district, called a cru, known for its cognac. It produces the finest cognacs in a zone of 34703 hectares, of which 17% is dedicated to production of cognac. At its heart is the town of Segonzac, in the Département of Charente. Grande Champagne is situated entirely in...

, Petite Champagne
Petite Champagne
Petite Champagne is a geographic zone of Cognac production of approximately 66,000 hectares, of which about 15,000 are dedicated to wines destined for cognac. It is situated in the départements of Charente and Charente-Maritime. The principal towns of the region are Barbezieux , Archaic and Jonzac...

, Borderies, Fins Bois
Fins Bois
A wine producing sub-region within the Cognac appellation, geographically surrounding the sub-regions of Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderies, and which falls within both the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments in South-West France, just north of Bordeaux.Fins Bois is regarded as...

, 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
Champagne, France
Champagne is a historic province in the northeast of France, now best known for the sparkling white wine that bears its name.Formerly ruled by the counts of Champagne, its western edge is about 100 miles east of Paris. The cities of Troyes, Reims, and Épernay are the commercial centers of the area...

, a wine region that produces sparkling wine by that name, although they do share a common etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 – both being derivations of a French term for chalky soil.

Production process

Cognac is made from fruit brandy, called eau de vie
Eau de vie
An eau de vie is a clear, colorless fruit brandy that is produced by means of fermentation and double distillation...

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
Trebbiano is the second most widely planted grape in the world. It gives good yields, but makes undistinguished wine at best. It can be fresh and fruity, but does not keep long. Its high acidity makes it important in Cognac production...

), Folle Blanche
Folle Blanche
Folle Blanche was the traditional grape variety of the Cognac and Armagnac regions of France. It is also known as Picpoule as well as Gros Plant and Enrageat Blanc...

 and Colombard
Colombard is an early fruiting white variety of wine grape, better known as French Colombard in North America. It is possibly the offspring of Gouais Blanc and Chenin Blanc....

, although 10% of the grapes used can be Folignan, Jurançon blanc, Meslier St-François (also called Blanc Ramé), Sélect
Select or SELECT may refer to:* Select , an album by Kim Wilde* Select , a British music magazine* Select , a keyword in SQL* select , a system call for polling multiple file descriptors...

, Montils
Montils is a commune in the Charente-Maritime department in southwestern France.-Population:-References:*...

 or Sémillon
Sémillon is a golden-skinned grape used to make dry and sweet white wines, most notably in France and Australia.-History:The origin of the Sémillon grape is hard to determine. It is known that it first arrived in Australia in the early 19th century and by the 1820s the grape covered over 90 percent...

. 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, Jurançon blanc, Meslier Saint-François, Montils, Sémillon, or Ugni Blanc, and up to 10% Folignan or Sélect.

Fermentation and distillation

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
Pot still
A pot still is a type of still used in distilling spirits such as whisky or brandy. Heat is applied directly to the pot containing the wash or wine . This is called a batch distillation ....

, also known as an alembic
An alembic is an alchemical still consisting of two vessels connected by a tube...

, the design and dimensions of which are also legally controlled. Two distillations must be carried out; the resulting eau-de-vie is a colourless 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
Alcohol by volume
Alcohol by volume is a standard measure of how much alcohol is contained in an alcoholic beverage .The ABV standard is used worldwide....

 in about four or five years, 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 carboy
A carboy is a rigid container with a typical capacity of 5 to 15 gallons . Carboys are primarily used for transporting fluids, often water or chemicals.They are also used for in-home fermentation of beverages, often wine.-Brewing:...

s 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 (maître 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
Whisky or whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Different grains are used for different varieties, including barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and corn...

 or non-vintage Champagne to achieve a consistent brand flavor. A very small number of producers, such as Guillon Painturaud and Moyet
Moyet is a brand of cognac and a company. The Moyet house was founded in 1864 by Euthrope Moyet, a vine grower and a distiller. An unusual aspect of the history of Moyet is that it has had only three cellar masters since it was founded in 1864, with the founder working until 1918 and the...

, 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
Scotch whisky
Scotch whisky is whisky made in Scotland.Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories: Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Single Grain Scotch Whisky, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky , Blended Grain Scotch Whisky, and Blended Scotch Whisky.All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three...


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 Interprofessionnel 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 has 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 brandy is stored for at least six years but on average for upwards of 20 years. On 1 April 2016, the minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend will be set to ten years.

The names of the grades are in English because the British market was long the primary market for cognac or, as explained in the FAQ of the BNIC website, because most of the main initial trading posts were created by people from Britain.

In addition the following can be mentioned:
  • Napoleon is, according to the BNIC, a grade equal to XO in terms of minimum age, but it is generally marketed in-between VSOP and XO in the product range offered by the producers.
  • Extra designates a minimum of 6 years of age, this grade is usually older than a Napoleon or an XO.
  • Vieux is another grade between the official grades of VSOP and XO.
  • Vieille Réserve is, like the Hors d´Âge, a grade beyond XO.
  • Hors d'âge ("beyond age") is a designation which BNIC states is equal to XO, but in practice the term is used by producers to market a high quality product beyond the official age scale.

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 (13766 hectares (34,016.5 acre)) Grande Champagne eaux de vie are long in the mouth and powerful, dominated by floral notes. The most prestigious of the crus. "Champagne" derives from the Roman "Campania" meaning Plain, but is often explained with similarity in soil with the Champagne area at Rheims.
  • Petite Champagne (16171 hectares (39,959.4 acre)) Petite Champagne eaux de vie have similar characteristics to those from Grande Champagne but are in general shorter on the palate. Cognacs made from a mixture of Grande and Petite Champagne eaux de vie (with at least 50% Grande Champagne) may be marketed as Fine Champagne.
  • Borderies (4160 hectares (10,279.6 acre)) The smallest cru, eaux de vie from the Borderies are the most distinctive, with nutty aromas and flavour, as well as a distinct violet or iris characteristic. Cognacs made with a high percentage of these eaux de vie, for example, "Cordon Bleu" by Martell, are dominated by these very sought-after flavours.
  • Fins Bois (34265 hectares (84,670.6 acre)) Heavier and faster ageing eaux de vie ideal for establishing the base of some blended cognacs. Fins Bois is rounded and fruity, with an oiliness.
  • Bons Bois
  • Bois Ordinaires (19979 hectares (49,369.1 acre) together with Bons Bois). Further out from the four central growth areas are the Bons Bois and the Bois Ordinaires grown regions. With a poorer soil and very much influenced by the maritime climate, this area of 20,000 hectares produces eaux de vie that are less demonstrative and age more quickly. These less prestigious crus are excluded from blends by some smaller boutique manufacturers and are generally used for high-volume production.

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. Hennessy usually uses the unofficial brandy grades for its cognac offerings, but has also produced three single distillery cognacs, each with very distinctive flavours arising from the different soils and, to a lesser extent, climate. Other cognac houses, such as Moyet, exclusively use the crus to describe their different cognacs.

Companies and brands

While there are close to 200 cognac producers, a large percentage of cognac—90% according to one 2008 estimate—is produced by only four companies: Courvoisier
Courvoisier is a brand of cognac owned by Beam Inc.. The production is now based in the town of Jarnac in the Charente department of France...

, Hennessy
Jas Hennessy & Co., or more simply Hennessy, is a world-leading cognac house with headquarters in Cognac, France. Today, the company of Jas Hennessy & Co...

, Martell, and Rémy Martin
Rémy Martin
Rémy Martin is a brand selling cognac , specialist of the Cognac Fine Champagne originally produced by Rémy Martin, a French winemaker, who founded the company in 1724...

. Other brands include:
Bache-Gabrielsen is a brand of cognac that is over 100 years old. The brand was originally marketed as Rustad & Bache-Gabrielsen in Norway...

Braastad is a brand of cognac. It's a range of product from the cognac House Tiffon.The name Braastad was introduced when Sverre Braastad from Gjøvik, Norway, married the daughter of cognac producer Tiffon, Edith Rousseau, in 1913, and took over Tiffon, founded by Médéric Rousseau in 1875.The home...

Camus Cognac
Camus Cognac is a brand of Cognac that has been produced by five generations of the Camus family since 1863 when Jean-Baptiste Camus decided to organize a group of producers to sell a high quality Cognac under the brand 'La Grande Marque'...

Chateau Fontpinot,
Delamain (Cognac producer)
Delamain is a producer of Cognac based in Jarnac, France. Delamain was founded by James Delamain who was born in Dublin Ireland and has been married to Marie Ranson of the French Roullet family since 1763. After his death in 1817 one of his sons and a member of the Roullet family reestablished the...

Pierre Ferrand,
Frapin is a Cognac producer based in the town of Segonzac, in the heart of the Grande Champagne region of France.The Frapin family has been established in the South West of France since 1270, initially as a family of wine-growers. They then became distillers and have continued in this tradition for...

Gaston de Casteljac,
Hine Cognac
Thomas Hine & Co. is a leading manufacturer of cognac.-Origins:The Hine company is named for its proprietor Thomas Hine , an Englishman from Dorset, England. Following his arrest during the French Revolution, Thomas Hine married a young maiden, Françoise Elisabeth, whose father owned a cognac house...

Marcel Ragnaud,
Moyet is a brand of cognac and a company. The Moyet house was founded in 1864 by Euthrope Moyet, a vine grower and a distiller. An unusual aspect of the history of Moyet is that it has had only three cellar masters since it was founded in 1864, with the founder working until 1918 and the...

, Otard
Otard, also known as Chateau de Cognac, is a French cognac house founded in 1795 by Jean-Baptiste Antoine Otard. The company, still in the hands of the same family, figures in the List of oldest companies produced by Japanese survey firm Tokyo Shoko Research in 2009...

, Cognac Croizet
Cognac Croizet
Cognac Croizet is a cognac producer based in St Meme Les Carrieres in the Cognac Region of France. The company has two main offices in France and in Hong Kong.-History:...

 and Marnier.

In popular culture

Since the early 1990s, cognac consumption has seen a significant transformation in its American consumer base from a predominantly older, affluent white demographic to younger, urban, and black consumers. Cognac has even become ingrained in hip hop culture, celebrated in songs.

Pernod-Ricard, the parent company of Martell, has acknowledged that "the USA is the biggest market for cognac, and African-Americans are a priority target". After poor sales in 1998 due to an economic crisis in Asia (cognac's main export market at the time) sales of cognac increased to approximately US $1 billion in America in 2003. This was a growth that coincided with hip-hop’s entry into the mainstream of American music.


In the 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Unbearable Lightness of Being , written by Milan Kundera, is a philosophical novel about two men, two women, a dog and their lives in the Prague Spring of the Czechoslovak Communist period in 1968. Although written in 1982, the novel was not published until two years later, in France...

and the 1988 film
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (film)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a 1988 American film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Milan Kundera, published in 1984. Director Philip Kaufman and screenplay writer Jean-Claude Carrière show Czechoslovak artistic and intellectual life during the Prague Spring of the Communist...

 for which it was based, cognac is the drink of choice when the main characters, Tomas and Tereza, first meet, and is referenced additionally in the story when an under-aged patron requests some at Tereza's bar
Bar (establishment)
A bar is a business establishment that serves alcoholic drinks — beer, wine, liquor, and cocktails — for consumption on the premises.Bars provide stools or chairs that are placed at tables or counters for their patrons. Some bars have entertainment on a stage, such as a live band, comedians, go-go...


In the 2006 German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 cold war
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 film The Lives of Others
The Lives of Others
The Lives of Others is a 2006 German drama film, marking the feature film debut of filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The film involves the monitoring of the cultural scene of East Berlin by agents of the Stasi, the GDR's secret police...

, which won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
The Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film is one of the Academy Awards of Merit, popularly known as the Oscars, handed out annually by the U.S.-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences...

, a glass of cognac is consumed by one of the lead characters during an integral scene of the plot.

Cognac-based drinks

  • Grand Marnier
    Grand Marnier
    Grand Marnier is a liqueur created in 1880 by Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle. It is made from a blend of true cognacs and distilled essence of bitter orange. Grand Marnier is 40% alcohol . It is produced in several varieties, most of which can be consumed "neat" as a digestif and can be used in...

    : made from cognac and distilled essence of bitter orange
    Bitter orange
    The name "bitter orange", also known as Seville orange, sour orange, bigarade orange, and marmalade orange, refers to a citrus tree and its fruit. Many varieties of bitter orange are used for their essential oil, which is used in perfume and as a flavoring...

  • Pineau des Charentes
    Pineau des Charentes
    Pineau des Charentes, is a regional French aperitif, made in the départements of Charente, Charente-Maritime and, to a much lesser extent, Dordogne in western France...

    : a sweet aperitif, composed of eau-de-vie and grape must
    Must is freshly pressed fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. The solid portion of the must is called pomace; it typically makes up 7%–23% of the total weight of the must. Making must is the first step in winemaking...

    , made in the Charente
    Charente is a department in southwestern France, in the Poitou-Charentes region, named after the Charente River, the most important river in the department, and also the river beside which the department's two largest towns, Angoulême and Cognac, are sited.-History:Charente is one of the original...


External links

The BNIC Cognac encyclopedia Cognac official website Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.