In many ways, champagne is to sparkling wine what cognac is to brandy. Cognac comes from the region of Charante, in France, where the town of Cognac is the centre. Only brandy from this area can be called Cognac and as an appellation d'origine controlee, each cognac must follow strict rules including being made from certain grapes and being distilled twice in copper pots. The big names in Cognac include houses like Camus, Martell, Remy Martin, Hennessy, Hine and Otard and these producers undoubtedly make some of the best Cognac around.
The classification of the best Cognac
Most people are aware of some of the popular classifications of Cognac but they are perhaps unaware of exactly what they mean. The first of these is V.S, which stands for 'very special'. In a V.S Cognac the youngest brandy in the blend must have been aged for at least two years in French oak. The next classification is V.S.O.P. This stands for 'very superior old pale'. Here, the youngest spirit in the blend must have been aged for at least four years. The best Cognac is designated as XO, or extra old, and this brandy must have been aged for at least six years, but this will rise to ten years in 2016. There is also an Hors d'age classification which means 'beyond age' and is used by producers to designate older blends.
Why are the classifications of the best Cognac in English?
It may surprise some people to see the descriptions of the classifications of Cognac in English. This is a leftover from the ancient trade in brandy, where some of the best Cognacs were exported to England. Clearly the English loved their Cognac so much that their language has become part of the fabric of the world of Cognac.
The crus of the best Cognacs
There are a number of crus in the region that are noted for producing some of the best Cognac. These include Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois a terroirs. Although most of the production is dominated by the big names mentioned above, there are still almost 200 producers making the spirit and some of these smaller boutique brands produce some of the best best Cognac available. The Gilbert & Gaillard wine guide is the ideal resource to find out all about these little known houses and unearth some classics to be enjoyed.