Cognac is named after the town of Cognac in France, is a brandy, which is produced in the region surrounding the town. It must be made from at least 90 percent Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, or Colombard grapes. The rest of the cognac can consist of ten selected grapes. However, most cognac is made from Ugni Blanc only. It must be distilled twice in copper pot stills and aged at least 2 and 1/2 years in oak barrels in order to be called cognac.
A related drink produced in another region is Armagnac.
The region of cognac, divided up into six growth areas, or crus (singular cru), covers the department of Charente-Maritime, a large part of the Charente and a few areas in Deux-Sèvres and the Dordogne. The six crus are, in order of decreasing appreciation of the cognacs coming from them: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires.
A cognac made from just the first two of these crus (with at least 50 percent from Grande Champagne) is called "Fine Champagne" cognac, although cognac has nothing to do with the sparkling wine Champagne. ("Champagne" coming in both cases from old words alluding to agricultural fields.)
If a brandy is produced that fails to meet any of the strict criteria set down by the "governing body" of cognac, the BNIC – Bureau National Interprofessionel du cognac – it may not be called cognac, nor sold as such.
After the fermentation the next step is distillation. Cognac unlike other alcoholic drinks goes through double distillation. There is a legend surrounding the double distillation which is assumed to be the reason why double distillation is carried out. The story goes like this : Once when Knight Jacques de la Croix-Maron was sleeping he had a nightmare. The satan was trying to take his soul by boiling. The satan didnâ€™t succeed with his first try so threatened to boil again in order to capture Knight Jacquesâ€™ soul. At this point the Knight woke up and thought of double distilling his wine for better taste,color and to distinct his product from other wines. First and second distillation is described below and what effect it has in the overall product.
Process of fabrication -Cognac is made from eaux-de-vie (literally, "waters of life") produced by doubly distilling the white wines produced in any of the growth areas. The wine is a very dry, acidic, thin wine, not really suitable for drinking, but excellent for distillation. It may only be made from a strict list of grape varieties. Distillation takes place in traditionally shaped Charentais copper stills, the design and dimensions of which are also controlled. Two distillations must be carried out; the resulting eau-de-vie is a colourless spirit of about 70 percent alcohol.First distillation
Cognac may not be sold to the public, or indeed called 'Cognac' until it has been aged for at least two years, counting from the end of the period of distillation (1 April following the year the grapes were harvested).
During the aging, a large percentage of the alcohol (and water) in the eaux-de-vie evaporates through the porous oak barrels. This is termed locally the "part des anges", or angels' share, a phrase also used in Scotch Whisky production. A black fungus, Torula compniacensis richon, thrives on the alcoholic vapours and normally grows on the walls of the aging cellars.
The final product is diluted to 40 percent alcohol content (80 proof).
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 exactly the same as a cognac produced by that same company 50 years ago, or in 50 years' time. In this respect it may be seen to be similar to a blended whisky or non-vintage champagne, which also rely on blending to achieve a consistent brand flavour.
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 (and of single malt whiskies) has impelled some larger producers to market single-vineyard cognacs from vineyards that they own.
The use of copper stills is important because the contact between copper and liquid traps fatty acids and sulphur elements. Cognac regulations permit French oak only. The barrels are not charred. Freshly distilled cognac is placed in new barrels perhaps for 16-18 months. Barrels are considered new the first 3 times they are used. The first of the 3 will be for only a few months since the wood will impart excessive tannin to the spirit. The second use may be for up to 2 years and the third even longer. The barrels are kept filled unlike bourbon and malt scotch whisky. Blending is a key factor. Both caramel and sugar syrup are legal and regulated additives. An unregulated practice is the use of oak chips soaked in old cognac and left in cask for months or years. The purists regard that the character from this is rather hard and tannic.
Each cognac house also produces its own premium-level cognac. These include:
Brands of cognac include:
In France, four additives are allowed for cognac and armagnac.
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