The world's best-known brandy comes from the peaceful countryside surrounding the
Charente River one hundred miles north of Bordeaux. This slow moving river, which
King François I called the loveliest river in his kingdom, passes through a placid
landscape of vineyards bathed by a clear and radiant light. A twenty-mile area called
the 'golden circle’ of cognac production encompasses the town of Cognac and the second
distilling town of Jarnac. It is here that the fabled nectar has been created since
the 17th century.
Cognac is made from eaux-de-vie (literally, "waters of life") produced by doubly
distilling the white wines produced in this region. This drink was first created
to use up the grape waste of wine making and was considered a drink for the poor.
This wine is a very dry, acidic, thin wine, not really suitable for drinking, but
excellent for distillation. It may be made only from a strict list of grape varieties:
Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche & Colombard. Distillation takes place in traditionally
shaped Charentais copper stills, also known as an alembic, the design and dimensions
of which are also legally controlled. Two distillations must be carried out; the
resulting eau-de-vie is a colourless spirit of about 70% alcohol.
Once distillation is complete, it must be aged for at least two years before it can
be called 'Cognac' and sold to the public.
First, it is necessary to choose a proper wineglass. The specialists of cognac blending
recommend a tulip-shaped wineglass, but a low, spherical wineglass will be OK too.
Pour 20-25 ml of cognac into the wineglass and heat it in the palm for 8-10 minutes.
If you warm up the wineglass in another way, for example by using a lighter flame,
all the aromatic substances will evaporate.
Take the wineglass and look at the surface. The cognac colour can tell you much.
For example, the light-straw colour points to young cognacs, straw-yellow, amber,
golden and auburn-red - to older. Always look at the colour – it characterizes the
age of cognac. Then you should smell the cognac. Put your nose to the edge of the
wineglass and inhale the "montant odours". These are usually floral or fruit odours:
violets, iris, rose, pear, cherry, apricot, plum, fig, quince, grapefruit, jasmine,
chestnut, orange zest, nut, or peach. Take your nose away and shake up the cognac,
next bring the wineglass to your nose again, inhale ...
Now you are ready to try the cognac. Make a small sip. Make an estimate of its complexity
and individuality. Try to drink cognac in a circle of close friends and in a pleasant
Cognac perfectly combines with coffee (preferably cognac XO), cigars (special cigar
cognac) and chocolate (preferably cognac VSOP or XO).
Glossary of terms used during tasting
Odour - all sensations caused by cognac.
Aroma - the pleasant odour felt by the nose.
Bouquet - the variety of odours and aromas combining in cognac.
Montant aroma - the first odour that you notice
Duration - the duration of the montant aroma.
Smack - the feel on the tip of tongue and palate.
Taste - the mixture of continuous sensations in the mouth (smack + aroma).
Termination - the taste, which remains on the palate, after drinking cognac.
Rancio - an experience of taste, which belongs to very old cognacs matured in oak
is the visiting card of cognac that once tasted is impossible to forget.
There are many ways to drink cognac. It can be mixed with soda water or tonic.
Use cognac VS or VSOP for blending;
20 ml of cognac + 50-60 ml of tonic (or soda water) + ice;
Alternatively combine with citrus or orange juice and add ice. Shake in a shaker.