Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Cognac (IPA: [k*n'jæk] where * is ɒ, oʊ, ɑ:, or ɔ:), named after the city in France, is a kind of brandy, which must be produced in the region around the town of Cognac and aged in oak barrels in order to be called "cognac".
A related drink produced in another region is Armagnac.
Producing region and legal mentions
The region of Cognac, divided up into six growth areas, or crus (singular cru), covers the department of 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 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 percent from Grande Champagne) is called "Fine Champagne" cognac, although no cognac has anything to do with the sparkling wine Champagne.
If a brandy is produced that fails to meet any of the strict criteria set down by the "governing body" of cognac, the BNIC – Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac – may not be called cognac, nor sold as such.
- It must be produced within the delimited region, from wine using certain grape varieties;
- It must be obtained through double distillation, in typical Charentais stills;
- It must age in oak barrels, which give it its color and part of its taste.
Many of the cognac producers in the town allow visitors to taste their product; the bigger companies have guided tours.
Process of fabrication
Cognac is made from eaux-de-vie (literally, "water of life") produced by doubly distilling the white wines produced in any of the growth areas. The wine is a very dry, thin wine, not really suitable for drinking, but excellent for distillation. It may only be made from a strict list of grape varieties. Distillation takes place in traditionally shaped Charentais copper stills, the design and dimensions of which are also controlled. Two distillations must be carried out; the resulting eau-de-vie is a colourless spirit of about 70 percent alcohol.
Cognac may not be sold to the public until it has been aged for at least two years, counting from the end of the period of distillation (1st April following the year the grapes were harvested).
During the aging, a large percentage of the alcohol in the eaux-de-vie evaporates through the porous oak barrels. This is termed locally the "part des anges", or angels' share. A black fungus, Torula compniacensis richon, thrives on the alcoholic vapours and normally grows on the walls of the aging cellars.
The final product is diluted to 40 percent alcohol content (80 proof).
The age of the cognac is shown as that of the youngest eau-de-vie used in the blend. The blend is usually of different ages and from different local areas. This blending, or marriage, of different eaux-de-vie is important to obtain a complexity of taste absent from a eau-de-vie from a single distillery or vineyard. Each cognac house has a master taster (maître de chais) who is responsible for creating this delicate blend of spirits, so that the cognac produced by a company today will taste exactly the same as a cognac produced by that same company 50 years ago, or in 50 years' time.
- VS (Very Special) or *** (three stars), where the youngest brandy is stored at least two years in cask.
- VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), Réserve, where the youngest brandy is stored at least four years in cask.
- XO (Extra Old), Napoléon, Hors d'Age, where the youngest brandy is stored at least seven years in cask.
Cognac is mainly sold by trading houses. Some of them were founded centuries ago, and still rule the market today.
Lists of cognac literature can be found on the following pages
- cognacguide.com-Literature page detailed list with cover pictures (in German; translation by Yahoo)
- cognacnet.com Page by the American cognac-lover Mac A. Andrew, who died in 2001. Adopted by le-cognac.com, but not updated anymore. Regarding the content hardly surpassed by another page. Old layout, partly outdated.
- le-cognac.com Page by Amélie and Chantal Firino-Martell with links to many cognac manufacturers and very informative. Also a shop with cognac.
- cognac-world.com Page by Jean-Louis Née. Informative page with constantly updated news about everything related to cognac.
- cognacguide.com English page Page by Ralph Wagner with information and forum for buying decision, purchase sources, literature and evaluation of Cognac and everthing related. Database of cognac prices and sources. (Home page in German; translation by Yahoo)
- BNIC Page of the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, the authority guarding the manufacturing of all cognac. Here you can find a list of all cognac producers.
- Grand Marnier
- List of cocktails
- Pineau de Charentes : A sweet, ou bien moelleux, white wine made in the Charentes region
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