Cognac, also known as eau-de-vie, was the first product to receive a French AOC in 1909.
Cognac’s properties are essentially down to a delimited production area: Charente-Maritime, large parts of Charente and some villages of the Dordogne and Deux-Sèvres. The main grape variety used is Ugni Blanc and its production process draws on a thousand years of heritage set out in its specifications. The cellar master oversees maturation of the eau-de-vie, careful blending of the different ages and crus, and oak barrel aging for at least two years from the April after the harvest.
How to serve it
A Cognac can be identified from its label via various statements required by national and/or European regulations. Understanding a Cognac label!
- The appellation ’Cognac’ or ‘eau-de-vie de Cognac’ or ‘Eau-de-vie des Charentes’ must appear on the label.
- The name ‘Cognac’ can be used without the words ‘appellation contrôlée’ (controlled appellation) if it is not associated with any other geographical designation.
- AOC eaux-de-vie of viticultural origin can also display the word ‘Fine’. This information is optional.
- Cognac is traditionally a bend of eaux-de-vie of different ages and crus, but this is not mandatory.
- If a cru is named on the label, this means that 100% of the eaux-de-vie making up the blend come from this cru. For example: ‘Appellation Cognac Petite Champagne Contrôlée’
- ‘Appellation Cognac Fine Champagne Contrôlée’: Eaux-de-vie exclusively from Grande Champagne (at least 50%) and Petite Champagne
- A Cognac which is ready to drink may not be sold without having been aged for at least two years from 1 April in the year after the harvest.
- Cognac eaux-de-vie are continuously aged solely in oak barrels.
- A Cognac’s age at the time of bottling then remains unchanged throughout its life, as unlike wine, the alcohol does not develop further in its glass container. Aging designations Aging designations provide information about the age of the youngest eau-de-vie used in a blend. The age is the number of years spent aging solely under oak, counted from 1 April in the year after the harvest.
- At least two years: ‘***’, ‘Sélection’, ‘VS’, ‘De Luxe’, ‘Very Special’, and ‘Millésime’
- At least three years: ‘Supérieur’, ‘Cuvée Supérieure’, ‘Qualité Supérieure’
- At least four years: ‘V.S.O.P.’, ‘Réserve’, ‘Vieux’, ‘Rare’ and ‘Royal’
- At least five years: ‘Vieille Réserve’, ‘Réserve Rare’ and ‘Réserve Royale’
- At least six years: ‘Napoléon’, ‘Très Vieille Réserve’, ‘Très Vieux’, ‘Héritage’, ‘Très Rare’, ‘Excellence’ and ‘Suprême’
- At least ten years*: ‘XO’, ‘Hors d’âge’, ‘Extra’, ‘Ancestral’, ‘Ancêtre’, ‘Or’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Impérial’ * Until 1 April 2018, Cognac eaux-de-vie labelled ‘XO’, ‘Hors d’âge’, ‘Extra’, ‘Ancestral’, ‘Ancêtre’, ‘Or’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Impérial’ will fall into category 6, for eaux-de-vie that have been aged for at least six years.
Generally speaking, all merchants make their blends using eaux-de-vie which are older than the minimum requirements. The most prestigious may even have been aged for multiple decades.
Apart from the composite aging designations listed above which relate to a particular age category, using multiple aging designations belonging to the same age category on a single label does not change the age category of the Cognac at the point when it was drawn.
Using the multiple different aging designations belonging to different age categories on a single label means that the Cognac must have been drawn at the age category of the oldest designation used.
Aging designations on labels and the way in which they are used should not create confusion in the minds of purchasers or consumers regarding the age or essential qualities of the Cognac in question.
These are Cognacs made from eaux-de-vie which all come from the same year (the year of the harvest is stated on the label). This is not a common practice for Cognac.
Cognac is among the most appreciated alcohol around the world, in 2017, export figures reach an amount of 197 millions bottles, a record for Cognac !