All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandies are Cognac. The king of grape spirits can only be distilled in the region of Cognac in southeast France, and producers must follow strict rules every step of the way, from the vineyards to the bottle.
The French are quite fond of grapes. After all, they’re a wine-producing powerhouse. Few people know this, but every wine region in France, and the world, really, has a complimentary brandy industry. Lesser grapes often end up in copper stills to become brandy. In Cognac, brandy is the star of the show, and it’s been that way since the 17th-century.
Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard are the grapes of choice. They’re fermented and distilled before spending time in Limousin oak barrels, where they gain aromatic complexity and finesse.
The youngest Cognac, aged as VS, spends two years in cask. VSOP Cognac gains complexity for a minimum of four years; XO represents the most exclusive Cognac and ages for at least a decade. There are other labeling terms, but these three are by far the most popular.
There are 200 distilleries in Cognac, and the most prestigious ones, Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell, and Rémy Martin, are amongst the most cherished brown spirits on the planet. Expect to pay a premium for the most exclusive bottles, but more approachable labels are equally pleasing. Cognac might not be the most famous spirit today, but it’s having a comeback. With a quality like this, it’s only a matter of time.