Today, Thursday 4 June is International Cognac Day. A day to celebrate, but especially to drink, cognac. We tell you all about cognac and also give you some recommendations courtesy of some importers in Australia. Cheers!
But what is cognac?
Cognac is a spirit made from white wine which is distilled in alembic stills, that is copper alembic stills, which is then aged in oak barrels for at least 2 years.
Where does cognac come from?
Cognac is made in France in a demarcated region centred around Cognac, englobing a large part of Charente, almost all of Charente-Maritime, and a few enclaves in Dordogne and in Deux-Sèvres.
How is cognac made?
The grapes used to make cognac are principally the ugni blanc but you also find colombard, folle-blanche and recently folignan, which is a crossbreed of ugni blanc and folle-blanche.
The grapes are pressed immediately after their harvest. The liquid is then left to ferment. The addition of sugar, called chaptalisation is strictly prohibited.
It is the double distillation and the ageing in oak barrels that transform the liquid into cognac. The barrels are new and are not allowed to have ever contained anything other than cognac.
In order to be called a cognac, production norms and rules must be followed. The know-how of cognac production was added to the inventory of the French Cultural Heritage in 2020.
According to legend, double distillation was invented by the Knight Jacques de la Croix Maron de Segonzac, who was a very religious man. He dreamt that Satan was trying to damn his soul. In his dream he lived in Malin’s cauldron; but his faith was so deeply anchored in him that his spirit resisted the first “cooking”. The Malin, in order to achieve his aims, was obliged to put him through a second “cooking”. When he woke up, the Knight has the idea of applying his dream to the wine from Charentes.
In general, cognac is a blend of spirits of different ages and can come from different growth areas within the demarcated region.
Growth regions and designations
Since 1938, cognac is made of different growth regions:
- Grande Champagne, the premier cognac growth region, from which the finest spirits come
- Petite Champagne, very high quality spirits.
- Borderies, faster maturation than those from Grande and Petite Champagne.
- Fins bois, the largest production zone which produces fruity spirits.
- Bons bois, where the tastes of the terroir come through.
- Bois ordinaires ou à terroir, rapid maturation and oceanic influences.
You will also see ageing terms, which are:
- VS (very special) : the youngest spirit blend which has aged for a minimum of 2 years
- VSOP (very superior old pale) : the youngest part of the blend has aged for a minimum of 4 years minimum
- Napoléon, XO (extra old), extra or hors d’âge: the youngest part of the blend has aged for at least 6 years, or 10 years after 2018.
But what cognac should we drink to celebrate International Cognac Day?
Mind Spirits Co.
Mikael Gillard from Mind Spirits Co, a company which imports international spirits, including cognac, generously spoke to us about cognac and gave us his recommendation for International Cognac Day.
I strongly recommend cognacs from the “Grande Champagne” designation, the premier growth region of this prestigious category.
In effect, there are 6 growth regions within the Cognac region.
The most popular growth regions:
– Grande Champagne
– Petite Champagne.
Focus on small producers, they are exceptional value for money. The limestone soils make the best brandies, the best cognacs.
Choose cognacs without added sugar or without caramel (authorised by designation).
Personally, I really like cognacs made from Folle blanche. Raymond Ragnaud is the benchmark for vintage Folle Blanche cognacs.
For an everyday cognac, I recommend Raymond Ragnaud Grande Champagne “Sélection” $89 from independent bottle shops.
Emmanuel Conde, Ambassador for NSW and TAS at Cerbaco also gave us his recommendation for International Cognac Day.
My favourite Cognac has to be from Paul Giraud.
I was lucky to visit their beautiful estate in Grande Champagne in 2016. The intense passion, great commitment of Jean-Paul Giraud, has been inspiring ever since.
In particular, their “Vielle Reserve”, matured for 25 years, is a beauty I love to share with family and friends, making diner parties last late in the night.
An American monkey, after getting drunk on cognac, would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men.
Happy International Cognac Day!