Word Wednesday ~ Cognac
~ A toast to National Cognac Day. ~
Welcome to Paradis! Say what? Well, between the French towns Angoulême and Saintes is Cognac, right on the Charente River. The town has a fascinating history that became more of a focus during the Hundred Years' War, and like the majority of areas developed on riverways, Cognac became a passage of trade. This planted the seeds for its current history as an area for wine and brandy.
You might recognize names like Courvoisier, Hennessy, and Rémy Martin, but the list, and certainly the craft, goes way beyond these international brands that are mentioned in songs and movies.
I enjoy drinking Cognac, and have yet to visit France. Certainly high on my family's to do list as my 8-year-old son is fluent in French, and we've had two clients based out of the country. I must admit my knowledge isn't the strongest when it comes to Cognac. My excuse is that there's actually more than 200 Cognac houses that produce brandy, plus all the label structure on each bottle. Maybe poor reasoning, but I'll continue to dive in and sip away. One of my beverage bucket list items is to visit one of the special, but dusty, cellars known as Paradis, where they keep their oldest and best vintages. See what we did there?
Wine Enthusiast sums it up in this article by saying, "All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy can be considered Cognac." Sound familiar bourbon fans? "For a brandy to be called Cognac, it must be made from specified grape varieties grown in the AOC (a majority of Ugni Blanc, with small portions of Colombard and Folle Blanche allowed), double-distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in Limousin or Tronçais oak barrels. Cognac must be at least 40 percent alcohol."
Roughly 30% of Cognac is consumed by the French. It's a different story in China. Drinking Cognac in China is considered a status symbol of wealth, and during the early 2010s it had a good run in the Asian market, but hit a wall two years ago due to new laws deterring nightclub corruption, and of course, overall economy woes in the country.
And that labeling? Woah! Wine takes just as much, if not more, understanding of the system, but Cognac has its nuances. For Cognac, there's VS, VSOP, XO, and Extra, categorized by age and typically quality. Cognac Expert breaks it down here.
If you are interested in more of the region's history here's a quick summary, or dive in with a summer read on this sophisticated liquid with books like Nicholas Faith's Cognac: The Story Of The World's Greatest Brandy. Let us all be able to make a toast this summer with good company and raise our Cognac high. Avoir un bon été and a happy National Cognac Day tomorrow, June 4th!
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