French Cognac, it can be safely said, is one of the most famous liquors in the world coming second only to its cousin, the champagne. While cognac is a variety of brandy it has to be noted that all brandy cannot be termed as French cognac. Cognac making has a specific process that has been endorsed by the BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac).
While French cognac cannot be replicated and the drink earns its name from the place, there are three places that cognac can be made namely, Cognac in France, Armagnac in France and Jerez in Spain. With the Spanish claim the French cognac producers have worked harder to become the most renowned cognac producers in the world. The French have perfected the art of cognac making for over three centuries. It is these rules and instructions that cognac makers must follow to get the best French cognac fit for consumption of the kings. If the drink falls short of the cognac making instructions, it merely remains a brandy.
One of the things that is characteristic of French cognac is the variety of grapes used to make the drink. Until the 1870’s the Folle Blanche variety of grapes was used to make cognac. However when the Phylloxera crisis affected Europe, the Folle Blanche variety were replaced with Ugni Blanc. Till this day Ugni Blanc stays as the principal variant of cognac comprising almost 95% of the blend. The remaining 5% can be made up of Colombard or Folle Blanche. However, some cognac producers are trying to go back to the traditional variant of grapes the Folle Blanche to make the finest French cognac.
Much of the flavor of French cognac is achieved by its distillation and aging process. This cognac needs to be distilled twice and uses only copper distillers. ‘Brouillis’ is the first step of distillation and the second step is the ‘repass’. This double distillation process ensures that a pure eaux-de-vie with an exact 72% alcohol purity is achieved and ensures that the spirit is completely colorless when it is put in the aging barrels.
French cognac also has to be aged for a specific period of time to earn its name rightfully. According to the BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac), the cognac must be aged for a minimum of two years. It is during this time of aging that the barrels are rotated according to the cask age and season. As the cognac ages it draws the flavors of the French oak barrels and mixes it with the flavor and body of the spirit. This aging process also helps in making the cognac mellow and defines its specific characteristic.
As the French cognacs age more the grade of the cognac changes. A cognac that has matured for a period of two years gets a VS (Very Special) grade. A cognac aged for an average age of four years earns the VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) grade. The XO grade is the highest grade of French cognacs and is given to cognacs that have matured for at least six years in a French oak barrel.
Liking a good French cognac is subjective as it essentially depends on an individual palette. However, you can be certain that the older the cognac the more money you are likely to spend on it.