CognacFrench wine distillate
Cognac is a distillate AOC of wine produced in an area delimited by a 1909 decree between the departments of Cherente and Cherente Maritime 130 km from Bordeauxbetween the Limousin and Perigord hills and the Atlantic Ocean.
The 1938 Charter of the Crus identifies 6 geographical areas arranged in concentric circles around the towns of Cognac and Jarnac: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois, Bois Ordinaires. Champagne means countryside where agriculture is practised and has nothing to do with the famous area where Champagne is produced. This area produces very aromatic light and elegant distillates, more floral in Grande Champagne, more fruity in Petite Champagne.
The most widely used vines are white grapes, mainly ugni blanc (trebbiano, 90 %), with small percentages of folle blanche and colombard (hence light wines with high acidity). The typical Charentais copper still is used for double distillation, resulting in a particularly pure spirit of great finesse. In addition to being very resistant and an excellent heat conductor, copper fixes the fatty acids that develop during direct flame heating and that could give unpleasant tastes.
The curcubita (boiler) has the typical shape of an onion and a maximum capacity of 30 hl even if the filling volume is limited to 25 hl; it is topped by a capital (helmet) known as a 'moro head'. From this capital starts the swan-necked tube that gradually narrows and terminates in a spiral condenser or coil immersed in a cooling bath. Sometimes there is also a condenser in which the liquid to be distilled undergoes preheating. From here it passes to the boiler in which only the most volatile substances are released, which reach the swan neck and the coil and condense in contact with the coolant.
1° DISTILLATION AT 95-100° for 8-10 hoursThe result is Brullis, a milky liquid with only 24-30 % ethyl alcohol.
2nd DISTILLATION AT 95-100° for 12 hoursThe heads and tails are discarded, keeping only the precious heart, clear and aromatic, with an alcohol content of 65-72 %.
Cognac has an alcohol content that by law must be at least 40 % by volume and is obtained by blending directly in barrels with demineralised water.
Cognac is the soul of wine since 1000 litres of base wine yields approximately 100 litres of distillate, namely 2 litres of heads, 36 litres of tails and 62 litres of hearts. So you need 1000 litres of base wine to get 62 litres of Cognac.
Cognac: Maturation and Ageing
The young Cognac rests for a long time, in wood, to enrich itself, soften and achieve harmony. The oak is taken from 100-150 year-old Limousin oaks, seasoned and split. The staves are assembled without the use of glue or nails and the barrels have a variable capacity of around 350 litres. During ageing, there is an increase of up to 4 times the acids present, 2-3 times the esters, 5-10 times the aldehydes, while in 25 years, the wood yields up to 500g/hl of tannin and lignin. Through the wood pores, 2-4 % of the distillate evaporates each year (called the angels' share, amounting to some 20-25 million bottles!).
The cellar (chai) is crucial for the proper evolution of the cask distillate because if the environment is dry more water than alcohol evaporates and the Cognac becomes dry and hard, while if it is too humid the alcohol evaporates and the Cognac becomes weak and sluggish. On the dark grey walls there is a mould, Torula coniacensis, whose development is favoured by the alcohol vapours and potassium nitrate of the wall structures.
Depending on the origin of the distillate, temperature and humidity, ageing can be up to 60 years. Over-aged Cognacs are decanted into demijohns (bonbonne) and placed in rooms (paradis). At this point, the Cellar Master judges the quality and evolution of the distillates and establishes the right moment for blending dozens of spirits, recreating the style of the house.
The classification of Cognac is based on ageing. The blending of 2 Cognacs, respectively from Petite and Grande Champagne (> 50 %), creates a Fine Champagne. If all blended spirits are derived from wines from the same vintage, the Cognac can be classified as vintage.
Trois etoiles or VS (Very Superior)
younger spirits with 2.5 - 4.5 years of ageing
VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) or VO (Very Old)
younger spirits with at least 4.5 years of ageing
Napoléon, Vieille Réserve, XO (Extra Old), Hors d'Age
younger spirits with at least 6.5 years of ageing