Cognac is a remarkably smooth brandy made from twice-distilled wine or once-distilled brandy (wine that is distilled once is brandy). It is made from grapes produced in seven specific areas in the Cognac region. Cognac was invented about 300 years by an anonymous winemaker who first tried the double distilling process with the local mediocre wines. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world’s oldest cognac vintner, Augier `Frères & Cie, was founded in 1643.
Covering about 100 square kilometers or 250,000 acres, the Cognac Region is about 60 miles north of Bordeaux. The vineyards that produce the mediocre wines lie in seven regions:Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fine Bois, Bons Bois, Boise Ordinaires and Bois à Terroir.
Described by Victor Hugo as “the drink of the Gods,” Cognac begins as a 140 proof brandy. It is aged in oak barrels, where its gets it deep brown color, and diluted with pure water to reach a level of around 70 proof. A large amount of cognac, around 23 million bottles worth, evaporates during the aging process. The evaporated brandy provides nourishment for a black fungus that grows on the wall, building and even trees in the Cognac area.
Cognac regions of France Only brandy produced in the Cognac region can be labeled as cognac. About 250,000 bottles of Cognac are produced a year, 80 percent of which is exported. About 90 percent of all Rémey Martin is sold outside of France. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il reportedly drinks a bottle of cognac a day and has massive liquor cellar well stocked with Hennessy XO.
Cognac is rated into three categories that are determined by how long it is aged.
After 30 months it gets three stars; after four and half years, four stars ; and after 10 years it the highest rating: Royal or Napoleon. Quality is also determined by the region in which it is produced. Grande Champagne is regarded as the best and it is made only from grapes produced in Grande Champagne. Fine Champagne cognacs use a mix of Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne grapes.