With many spirits available in France, Cognac is undoubtedly the most prized. Within the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments, Cognac has been recognized for over 300 years as the world’s finest distilled spirit. With the exception of Paris, the small town of Cognac is probably the most recognized French place name. The brandies from the Champagne area of Cognac, some kept in oak casks for over 30 years, are incomparable for balance, elegance and delicacy. Here is your opportunity to enjoy Cognac. You have arrived at the centre of the world for this prized spirit, the town of Cognac.
Cognac is doubly distilled white wine made only in the Cognac area for the AOC designation. After distillation it is aged in oak barrels for four to forty years and then bottled. Along the river the blackened stone walls of the great chias (storage warehouses) let you know that the black lichen or mould is thriving on the delicious fumes of hundreds of oak casks of maturing cognac. The skill is in the blending. All Cognacs are made by blending 'Eau de Vie' which can be made from grapes of different locations and different vintages. However, usually the best Cognacs use grapes from one area of Cognac, Champagne. (Grande and Petite Champagne grapes)
Cognacs from the Fin Bois or Borderies districts are at their best in less than two decades and even the Champagnes do not develop any more after about 40 years in wood. The finest Cognacs need at least 20 years to develop - 'Rancio', the regional word for ripe richness. There are many names for superior brandies but none hold style guarantee and there is great variation in the age of these Cognacs, ie, the Napoleons, the Extras, the XO's, etc. What you can know is:
•VSOP cognacs are aged at least 5 years
•VS or xxx cognacs are aged at least 3 years.
Carmel, which has no effect on taste, is an additive employed to give the visual impression of sweetness. The brandies sold in Victorian England were very pale. VSOP originally meant Very Special Old Pale. The Chinese and Japanese are great Cognac fans and enjoy a dark brandy to accompany their meals. China is the biggest single market for Cognac. Dark means rich and sweet. Also added to young cognacs is sugar syrup producing a notably round style. Sugar and caramel are legal additives but there is a dark unregulated horse. This is boisé or oak chips soaked in old cognac and left in casks for months or years. Connoisseurs feel the oak chips detract from the real 'Rancio' and impart a hard and tannic taste. Like wine, cognacs are allowed a single vintage dating and as of 1989 Croizet and Hine produce such brandies.