The Essentials of Cognac or ‘Water of Life’, eau de vie
Cognac is a special variety of brandy produced only in the regions of Charente and Charente-Maritime surrounding the town of Cognac, France. It is amber colored and its is made from distilling white wine to create “eau-de-vie” following a specific procedure. The distilled alcohol is then stored in oak barrels to age for a minimum of two years. It is then blended with other fruit brandies to create specific flavors. Cognac are produced following a strict method, legally controlled in France.
While brandy refers to any kind of distilled alcoholic beverage prepared from fermented fruit juice, Cognac is a very special type of brandy made only from white grapes found in specific territories surround the city of Cognac. The Ugni Blanc grape variety and those from Grande Champagne terroir are most famous and preferred grapes for Cognac.
The blending and ageing process makes Cognac special. Only individuals with a minimum of 10 years of training can join the special committee of tasters who selects the “eau-de-vie” to blend the drink. Based on ageing, there are three different types of Cognac. The V.S. (Very Special) Type is at least 2 years old, the V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) used the youngest brandy to blend and is aged at least for four years in oak. The third variant, X.O. (Extra Old) is aged for a minimum of six years in French Oak. Younger the drink, lighter will be the color, ranging from yellow, amber, gold and red.
There are no hard and fast rules to drinking cognac, and it can be drunk neat, with ice or with water. Older the liquid, better it is. The choice of glass is important as the right shape of glass increase the effect and aroma of the drink. Tulip glasses, balloon glasses and wobble snifters are the best. Bell like structure of tulip glasses allows to concentrate the aroma on the surface of the liquid, while balloon glasses helps in evenly warming the drink.
There is a standard process to drink cognac. Pour less than an ounce of cognac into the glass. Warm the drink by holding the glass in your palm for about 10 minutes. This will warm the drink slowly, without evaporating the aroma. Inhale the aroma positioning the nose at the edge of the glass. The aroma of cognac is known as montant. Swirl the glass a bit and smell the smell again. Cognac is enjoyed most when taken little sip by sip.