Cognac is the world’s most famous grape brandy. It is served in virtually every drinking country in the world. The spirit is double distilled and aged in oak casks anywhere from two to fifty (and beyond) years before bottling.
While there are over 200 Cognac producing companies the vast majority of volume is provided by the “Big Four” Cognac firms: Courvoisier, Hennessey, Martell, and Rémy Martin.
Interestingly, many Cognac producers do not own vineyards and are not involved in grape growing, wine making, and even distilling. Instead they maintain many symbiotic relationship with local growers who deliver young spirit to the brands who ten mature, blend, and bottle the finished Cognac.
Cognac Aging Grades
- VS Very Special, or Three Stars – The youngest Brandies aged at least two years in cask.
- VSOP Very Special – Superior Old Pale, Brandies aged at least four years in cask but typically these are older.
- XO Extra Old, Brandies aged at least six years in cask but they can be up to 20 years-old.
- Napoleon is officially equal to XO but in practice it is usually offered as an age between VSOP & XO.
- Vieux same as Napoleon.
- Hors d’âge is officially equal to XO but in practice it is usually offered as the house’s oldest Brandy.
- Vieille Réserve same as Hors d’âge.
Grande Champagne – (13,000 hectares) The soils are made up of clay and compact chalk soils. The Grande Champagne cru is located around the town of Segonzac. The Brandies of this cru are typically the most expensive of all crus and it is known as the Premier Cru du Cognac.
Petite Champagne – (16,000 hectares) The soils here are similar to Grande Champagne with a greater proportion of chalk producing Brandies that are somewhat lighter than Grande Champagne. The vineyards lie to the south-west and south-east of Grande Champagne.
Borderies – only (4,000 hectares) of unique soil on the plateau above Charente river. The eau de vie has a slight nutty taste. Borderies, which lie around the town of Burie (north-west of City of Cognac), is the smallest of the crus in the terms of acreage. Brandies from Borderies has rich, flowery aromas.
Fins Bois – The largest cru (37,000 hectares). The Brandies from Fin Bois are known for their subtle flowery bouquet and delicate flavors. This cru surrounds Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, and Borderies and the Spirit shows a subtle maritime influence.
Bons Bois – (16,000 hectares) The soils are less chalky being ideally suited for agricultural crops while the areas of high chalk density produce ideal Cognac grapes. The spirits from Bons Bois and bold and earthy with a touch of sea salt. These Brandies can provide a tremendous backbone as a blending component.
Bois Ordinaires – (30,000 hectares) Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires are the exterior crus in the Cognac region and are heavily influenced by the Atlantic. It is fair to say that this is the least important of the crus.
Fine Champagne – This is not actually a cru but rather a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne requiring a minimum of 50% of Grande Champagne.