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by Liana Bennett

See also: The Sophisticated Brandy; Cognac Facts

Cognac is a small town in France that sits between two areas of the region - the inland Charente and Charente-Maritime on the coast.  Ugni Blanc is the main grape variety grown in the area and used in the production of Cognac.  The production of cognac is called “elaboration”.  Cognac starts out like any other wine – the grapes are harvested, pressed and fermented.  Once fermentation takes place, the wine is then distilled in a pot still or a double distillation still.  No additional alcohol is added, only that which is produced through the distillation process. What makes Cognac so irresistible is its aging potential and is essentially the difference in all the brandies that are labeled Cognac appellation controlee.  Once in the glass bottle, cognac ceases to age.  Thus, it is imperative to keep the cognac in the oak barrels until is it ideal to bottle.  As cognac ages, its color darkens from yellow to golden brown, it mellows and becomes smoother on the palate.  The vanilla, floral and oak aromas are best appreciated when the cognac is served in a balloon glass (brandy snifter). 

Armagnac is made in the Pays de Gascogne area of France.  There are three subregions; Bas-Armagnac, Tenaareze and Haut-Armagnac.  The first is considered the best.  It is made from a blend of several varieties and aged in barrels made of local black oak.  The distillation process is performed in a continuous still that results in a spirit full of distinct aromas. It is a drier and paler beverage than cognac as caramel sugar isn’t added for adjusting sweetness or color.  The labelling classifications are the same as those for cognac.  Although it may not be as familiar as cognac, it is just as fulfilling and worth a try.

Special Classifications
The classifications give the minimum age for the spirits but most cognac houses produce blends that are well beyond these minimums.  Armagnac uses similar markings.

V.S. (Very Special) - The youngest spirit in the blend must be at least 4 ½ years old.

V.S.O.P. (Very Special Old Pale) - The youngest spirit in the blend is between 4 ½ to 6 ½ years old

Napoléon or Impérial, X.O. – The youngest spirit in any of these blends must be at least 6 ½ years old.

The Beverage Alcohol Report - March 2006, Liana Bennett
The Beverage Alcohol Report (The BAR) was published on a monthly basis until May, 2006 compliments of Liana Bennett. Its main purpose was to further the knowledge, appreciation and general enjoyment of all alcoholic beverages. Your comments, questions and tasting stories can be sent to

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