Cognac is made by passing brandy from white grapes (which, being brandy, has already being distilled once) through a second distilling, to refine it further. Or it is made by letting grapes ferment for about three weeks, then distilling the must. The result of the first distillation is called the “brouillis”, which is about 25 to 30 % alcohol. The second distillation then makes the alcohol into what is called an “eau-de-vie”, which is about 70% alcohol.
The grapes used will be Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano), Folle Blanche or Colombard. Depending on the manufacturer, the Ugni Blanc grape will be anywhere from 90 to 100% of the grape used because its higher acidity and the lower alcohol level it produces is considered best for distilling.
However the second distillation or “eau-de-vie” is arrived at, it is then aged in white oak (white Limousin or Tronçais oak.) About 2% of the cognac evaporates per year while in the barrels.
As with brandy grading, VSOPs are younger and less expensive than XO versions.
Brandy, other strong spirits such as whiskey, or a juice such as peach, apricot or pear.
Cognac is named after a small town in the west of France, in the Department of Charente and Charente Inferieure. It can only legally be made in that region.
The small town is on the River Charente, which feeds into the Atlantic south of La Rochelle. In the 11th century, before Cognac was known for any alcohol at all, it was a centre of trade for the sea salt brought in down the river.