Fine cognac is a type of brandy that is made only in the French region of Cognac. The origins of this drink date back to the early 16th century when Dutch settlers came to the town of Cognac to buy wood, salt and wine. However, the Dutch found it difficult to carry the one back home as preserving and conserving the wine was difficult. So they began experimenting with its preservation method and came up with the two time distillation process. The Dutch discovers that by distilling the wine in an eau-de-vie and then distilling it once more gave them a richer and stronger spirit. And with that the cognac was born.
While brandy earns its name from the Dutch word “brandewijn” meaning burnt wine, it is brandy made in the Cognac region alone that can earn the name of a cognac. There are designated areas that are listed for Cognac production. These areas are Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires. These regions are listed in order of their cognac aging potential and production quality.
Because of its fine reputation, the BNIC—Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac, has laid down very strict rules for production of cognac. This implies that specific rules have to be complied with right from grape selection, distillation, aging, assembly and stocking of the cognac. There are quality grades that are officially assigned to cognacs. The VS(Very Special), Selection and de Luxe range are the youngest of the spirits having been aged for a minimum of four years. The VSOP( Very Special Old Pale) and Reserve is aged between four to six years. The Napoleon, XO, Hors d’age, Imperial, Vieux reserve and Vieux Is are aged for a minimum of six years. However, some of the prestigious Cognac names age their spirits for much longer to get the desired depth and flavor to the wine.
Along with the distillation and aging process of the cognac, the other thing that has to be consistent to earn the name of Cognac is the varietal of grapes used. Ugni Blanc is the primary variety of grapes used in Cognac production. These grapes have a high acidity level and a subtle aroma. Along with the Ugni Blan grapes which consist of almost 95% of the cognac blend, Folle Blanche and Colombard are also used.
‘Fine’ was a term that was given to a cognac to name its vintage. Fine cognac essentially comes from the grand Champagne and Petit Champagne eaux- du- vie with Grand Champagne dominating by almost 50%. So if a cognac is listed as a Fine Grand Champagne, then this cognac will have been assembled with 100% of Grand Champagne spirits. This combination of flavors gives the Fine Cognac its unique flavor and quality.
Some of the biggest names in fine cognac are Remy Martin, Courvoisier, Hennessy and Martell. Almost 90% of all the fine cognac is produced for these four companies despite there being almost close to 200 producers of cognac. The older the fine cognac the better it is supposed to taste. But drinking fine cognac has a lot to do with your personal palette and should ideally be experienced by taking in all the notes of the cognac and relishing its body of flavor.