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A Brief History

(taken from Everything you need to know about Cognac by Jake Emen)

Cognac is a specific type of brandy produced from distilled white wine.

The history of Cognac stretches back to the 1600s. Story has it that wine exported from the region to Holland was deemed unsatisfactory. The Dutch had already begun distilling gin, so they began distilling the wine they were receiving, too. As they took notice in France, winemakers then shifted to distillation themselves.

Some of the largest brands formed quite early. For instance, Martell, the oldest continually operational Cognac brand, with a history stretching back to 1715. Rémy Martin, stretches back nearly as far as Martell′s, to 1724, and Hennessy, with its own history stretching to 1765.

Cognac is a specific type of brandy produced from distilled white wine. It must be distilled twice, using copper pot stills, and aged in French oak barrels for a minimum of two years.

Cognac′s distillation season lasts from October 1 through March 31, a five-month annual window. For most producers, distillation lasts for even less time, though. It cannot begin until after the grape harvest and the wine production which ensues. Therefore, distillation in earnest does not begin for most until closer to the start of November.


With blending, eau de vies incorporated into a Cognac can come from a wide range of ages. Therefore, Cognacs do not bear age labels, but rather are categorized based on the minimum ages of the eau de vies in the blend. The current legally defined categories of Cognac include:

  • V.S. (Very Special) or ✯✯✯ (three stars) designates a blend in which the youngest brandy has been aged for at least two years in a cask.
  • V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is aged for at least four years in a cask.
  • Napoléon designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is aged for at least six years.
  • XO (Extra Old) The minimum age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend was increased to 10 years in April 2018; this rule was originally scheduled for implementation in 2016, but was postponed due to inadequate stocks. The Napoleon designation, previously unofficial, is used to specifically denote those blends with a minimum age of six years that do not meet the revised XO definition.
  • XXO (Extra Extra Old) is a specific indication given to wine spirits that have been aged for at least 14 years.
  • Hors d′âge (Beyond Age) is a designation which BNIC states is equal to XO, but in practice the term is used by producers to market a high-quality product beyond the official age scale.

Regions  & Grapes

In addition to all of the specifications already mentioned, Cognac is further regulated, most importantly in regards to its Appellation of Origin and the regions within it.

Cognac is located southwest of Paris and just north of Bordeaux. Around the city is the defined, protected Appellation of Origin for Cognac, which was legally classified in 1909 and includes six specified areas, or crus:

•    Grand Champagne*
•    Petite Champagne
•    Borderies
•    Fins Bois
•    Bons Bois
•    Bois Ordinaires

*Not to be confused with the region in France where Champagne is produced. The word "champagne" in French typically referred to "chalky," and the soil in Cognac′s Grand Champagne and Petite Champagne is indeed chalky, taking on a grey, heathery appearance, lined with white chunks.

Cognac can be made from three different white grapes, yet Ugni Blanc is the dominant force, accounting for 98 percent of all production. The other two grapes are Folle Blanche and Colombard. The wine produced from these grapes is highly acidic, which is why aging for Cognac is both necessary for quality and also yields such great results, comparative to a brandy like unaged Pisco, made from sweet grapes.

While the grape varietals remain consistent, the different soils and various other characteristics lead to distinctive terroir qualities from one cru to the next.

Barrels & Aging

Cognac must be aged in French oak barrels, which includes oak primarily sourced from two forests, Limousin and Troncais. As compared to French Limousin oak, Troncais oak is known to have a finer grain. Barrels can be used and reused, as long as they have never held a non-wine product, i.e., there′s no ex-bourbon barrels being used here.

Drinking Cognac

Cognac is traditionally enjoyed as either an aperitif or digestif, with less consumption during meals. As with most rigid stereotypes though, feel free to pay them no mind.

"I recommend people to use it as they like it," says Benoit Fil, the Martell cellar master. So cast those rules aside and drink it neat, pair it with that cigar, ice it down, or mix it into a cocktail, however the mood may strike.

Hardy X.O. Cognac
750ml | SKU 49777