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Poitou Charentes Province of France

Cognac from the Poitou Charentes region

Cognac is named after the town of Cognac in France, and is a brandy produced in the Poitou-Charentes region surrounding the town.

Cognac must be made from at least 90% Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, or Colombard grapes.  The rest of the cognac can consist of ten selected grapes.  However, you will find that most cognac is made from Ugni Blanc.

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Cognac from Poitou Charentes Province of France

In order for the brandy to be called a cognac, it must be distilled twice in copper pot stills and then aged for at least 2 years in traditional French oak barrels that are air-tightly sealed.

A related drink produced in another region is armagnac from Armagnac and calvados (spirit) from the Basse-Normandie or Lower Normandy region.

Along with armagnac in Armagnac, France and sherry in Jerez, Spain, Cognac is one of only three officially demarcated brandy regions in Europe.

The region of Cognac which is technically a commune in the French departement of Charente is divided up into six growth areas, known as crus  or cru, and cover the departments of the Charente-Maritime, a large part of the Charente and a few areas in Deux-Sèvres and the Dordogne.

The six crus are, in order of decreasing appreciation of the cognacs coming from them: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires.

A cognac made from just the first two of these crus (with at least 50% from Grande Champagne) is called "fine champagne cognac".  And the "champagne" comes from archaic words meaning chalky soil, which is a characteristic of both areas.

Yet even if a brandy is produced within the defined region and fails to meet any of the strict criteria set down by the governing body of cognac production, it may not be called cognac, nor sold as such.  This why, although you see many types of brandy on sale, the brandy produced elsewhere in France or in the world for that matter, cannot legally be called "cognac".

Some basic criteria for cognac:

  • It must be produced within the set region, from wine using specific grape varieties.
  • It must be obtained through double distillation, in typical copper Charentais stills.
  • It must be aged in French oak barrels for a minimum of two years, which give it part of its colour and part of its taste.

The age of the cognac is calculated as that of the youngest eau-de-vie used in the blend.  The blend is usually of different ages and in the case of the larger and more commercial producers is also produced from different local areas.  This blending of the different eaux-de-vie is important to obtain a complexity of flavours absent from an eau-de-vie from a single distillery or vineyard.

Known as a Maitre de Chai, each cognac house has a master taster who is responsible for creating this delicate blend of spirits, so that the cognac produced by a company today will taste almost exactly the same as a cognac produced by that same company 50 years ago, or in 50 years' time.

There are hundreds of vineyards in the Cognac region who sell their own cognac. These are likewise blended from the eaux-de-vie of different years, but they are single-vineyard cognacs, which vary slightly from year to year and according to the taste of the producer, hence lacking some of the predictability of the better-known commercial products, but provide variety of experience.  The small producers will sell their product to individual buyers, wine dealers, bars and restaurants, with the remainder being acquired by larger cognac houses for blending.

So if you want to experience Cognac, then many of the cognac producers in the town of Cognac and the surrounding area allow visitors to taste their product and some of the larger companies have guided tours to show visitors how the cognac is made.

Cognac from Poitou Charentes Province of France

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