When I was first invited to Cognac, I actually had to Google exactly where it was, as it’s not every day you get invited to a region named after a famous spirit (still waiting for my invitations to whisky, vodka and gin).
However, after spending a few days in Cognac, just two hours from Bordeaux airport, I soon realised that Cognac was so much more than just a spirit popular amongst hip hop artists such as Busta Rhymes and Diddy and in fact a whole region of France built upon the production of the spirit, dating back to the 13th Century.Cognac was actually created by the Dutch, who came to La Rochelle and purchased barrels from the cognac region to distill themselves. However, the barrels didn’t transport well and as a result, the distillation process stayed in cognac and hasn’t moved since.
Cognac Production Process
Cognac boasts over 5,000 grape growers across the region, with some growers still harvesting the vines by hand. The vines are generally picked at the beginning of October and are pressed immediately in traditional basket presses, before being fermented. After a week of fermentation the wines contain around 9% alcohol and have enough acidity and low alcohol content to distill.
A method unchanged since the birth of Cognac, the alcohol is distilled to make the eau-de-vie. This happens through various heating methods in copper charentais pots, before being cooled and barreled.
The cognac is then slow-aged for years in oak casks, the casks are created from woods selected for their natural properties and ability to transfer to the spirit. This is why you’ll find that cognacs vary from light yellow through to dark amber.
The casks are then aged in cellars, as this offers a natural humidity and dryness to age the cognac.
Along the way, we met many Master Blenders – one of the most important roles in cognac production as they make the purchase decisions of the eaux-de-vie and develops the ageing process, which involves a lot of tasting and adding water to the blends to slowly reach the desired 40% alcohol content.
Types of Cognacs
Cognacs are identified by the following abbreviations:
- V.S. – Aged for a minimum of two years
- V.S.O.P – Aged for a minimum of four years
- X.O – (not a Beyonce song, but aged for a minimum of six years)
- The Big boys – Courvoisier, Remy Martin, Hennessy and Martell
- Hine – One of the most traditional houses in cognac, offering a vast array of vintages
- Larsen/Renault – Classy, sophisticated and stylish. Look out for their cognac fine champagne Viking ship editions
- Merlet – Ran by the nicest brothers, a focus on infused cognacs including cassis, lemon & lime and my personal favourite French coffee!
- Drink from a tulip glass, as it retains aromas
- Pair with caviar, lobster, foie gras, ham, shiitake mushrooms and cheese
- Have fun with cognac, mix it up and create some exciting cognac-based cocktails
Thank you to The BNIC for hosting the trip.