Last Updated on November 26, 2023 by Lydia Martin
Cognac, often referred to as “the nectar of the gods,” is more than just a drink; it’s a masterpiece crafted in the heart of Southwestern France.
Before delving into its flavors and craftsmanship, let’s grasp the importance of understanding the different regions of Cognac.
To ensure the utmost accuracy and depth in our exploration, we had the privilege of speaking with a Cognac expert, a seasoned authority in the field.
What You Need To Know About Cognac Regions
Cognac, the renowned French brandy , is produced in six designated regions called “Crus.” Among these, Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne are considered the top-tier regions, famous for producing the highest quality Cognac and fine Champagne.
Borderies, with its separate terroir, add distinct flavors to the brandy, while Fins Bois region cognac producers offer a mellower character.
“Cognac is not just a drink; it’s an expression of the terroir, culture, and craftsmanship of the region.” -Liquor Laboratory
Further out, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires (or Bois à terroir) contribute to Cognac’s diversity with their distinctive profiles.
Cognac Regions Cheat Sheet
|Region||Total Land Size||Major Cities||Soil Type||Main Characteristics|
|Grande Champagne||13,450 Ha||Cognac, Segonzac||Chalk||Quite hilly, featuring premier cru chalk soils.|
|Petite Champagne||15,870 Ha||Jonzac, Barbezieux||Chalk but more compacted||Gently sloped, compact, distinct from Grande Champagne.|
|Borderies||4,070 Ha||Burie||Clay with flintstones||Plateau terrain with clay soil and flint stones.|
|Fins Bois||33,670 Ha||Angouleme, Saintes, St-Jean d’Angely||Stones, red clay, and limestone||Varied soils: stones, red clay, and limestone.|
|Bons Bois||12,260 Ha||Saujon, Montlieu-la-Garde||Clay, sand, and limestone,||Varied soils: limestone, clay, and sand.|
|Bois Ordinaires||1,530 Ha||La Rochelle, Rochefort||Sandy||Predominantly sandy soils, encompassing Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oléron|
6 Cognac Regions
1. Grande Champagne
Total Cru Size: 34,700 ha
Vineyards: 13,250 ha
Topography: Rolling hills
Annual Cognac Production Percentage: 17%
Notable Cognac Expressions: Rémy Martin Louis XIII, Delamain Pale & Dry, Hine Antique XO, Frapin XO Chateau de Fontpinot
Grande Champagne is the most renowned among the six crus, often regarded as the finest due to its superior eaux-de-vie.
The Grande Champagne terroir, nestled in the heart of Cognac’s regions, is primarily characterized by its chalk-rich soil where
“Champagne” came from the old French word “champagne,” meaning countryside with chalky soils. This chalk is abundant with exceptional purity and is ideally suited for cultivating grapes grown for making wine.
In this Cognac Region, they require substantial aging, typically peaking between 35 to 50 years, and some can excel well beyond 60 years.
- Within Grande Champagne, three distinct chalk types exist Campanian chalk at higher elevations, Angoumous chalk, and Cognacian chalk at various regional points.
- Grande Champagne’s soils give rise to Cognacs, celebrated for its extreme finesse.
- Some eau-de-vie from Grande Champagne need a century or more of aging within oak barrels to reach their peak quality, showcasing the region’s commitment to producing the finest Champagne Cognac.
2. Petite Champagne
Total Cru Size: 65,600 ha
Vineyards: 15,250 ha
Topography: Less hilly with several streams
Annual Cognac Production Percentage: 22%
Notable Cognac Expressions: Normandin Mercier VSOP, Bertrand X, Chateau de Montifaud XO
With a percentage of Annual Cognac Production of 22%, the terroir in Petite Champagne primarily comprises compact chalk, covering a larger geographical area than its sibling, Grande Champagne.
Grapes cultivated in this area yield eaux-de-vie that are light and delicate, featuring predominantly floral aromas.
Similar to Grande Champagne, eau-dex-vie from Petite Champagne regions require an extended aging period to reach their full maturity.
- Surprisingly, the Cognac region is roughly twice the size in terms of area compared to its sibling, Grande Champagne.
- Petite Champagne shares its borders with Grande Champagne, Borderies, and Fins Bois, creating a unique interplay of terroirs.
- The eaux-de-vie from this Cognac region reach their peak after aging for a considerable period, typically around 30-40 years.
3. Bois Ordinaires
Total Cru Size: 260,000 ha
Vineyards: 1,066 ha
Topography: Mostly coastal land with two islands
Annual Cognac Production Percentage: 1%
Notable Cognac Expressions: Augier L’Océanique, Camus Ile de Ré Cliffside Cellar
Spanning a vast 260,000 hectares of land, this famous region hosts a relatively modest 1066 hectares of land where grapes grown (usually ugni blanc and Folle Blanche) are used for making cognacs .
What sets the cognac region apart from this terroir is its rapid aging process, resulting in a pronounced maritime taste that reflects its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and Massif Central Foothills.
- Bois Ordinaires covers a larger area than Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, and Borderies combined.
- Like Bons Bois, cognac houses use these soils to produce eaux-de-vie with minimal aging.
- While Bois Ordinaires (ordinary woods) boasts the fewest plantations of all the crus and contributes only 1% of the annual output, the cognac region offers a unique maritime influence.
4. Fins Bois
Total Cru Size: 350,000 ha
Vineyards: 31,200 ha
Topography: Flatter open land (Former woodlands)
Annual Cognac Production Percentage:43%
Notable Cognac Expressions: Fevrier Réserve Familiale, Leyrat VSOP Réserve
Fins Bois (fine woods) holds the title of the largest cru in terms of planted vines and ranks as the second largest by area.
The cognac region contains significantly less chalk content, and the chalk present is of a distinct variety, less porous and akin to the chalk found in the renowned wine regions of Burgundy and Champagne.
Grapes cultivated in this terroir yield eaux-de-vie known for their rounded, supple character and a bouquet redolent of freshly squeezed fruit.
- Fins Bois (fine woods) derives its name from the fact that much of the wine-growing region was covered in woods when the vines were first planted.
- The cognac region shares the stage with two champagne crus, Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaires. However, Cognac produced in these latter regions is of lesser quality and typically not favored by prominent Cognac houses.
5. Bons Bois
Total Cru Size: 370,000 ha
Vineyards: 9,300 ha
Topography: Flat land and valleys
Annual Cognac Production Percentage: 12%
Notable Cognac Expressions: Godet Single-Cru Bons Bois 15 Year, Pineau des Charentes
Bons Bois holds a hidden treasure – areas with high-quality chalk deposits that help generate more wine every year.
These spirits undergo an accelerated aging process after double distillation compared to many other Cognac-producing areas, resulting in a unique flavor profile.
- The cognac region earns the distinction of being the largest crus in terms of area, yet it contributes to only about 12% of the annual production.
- The soil composition of the cognac region features a mix of sand and clay.
- The cognac region encompasses the inner four crus in all directions of the AOC. There’s a small break to the south by the Gironde River and another to the north, close to Aigre.
Total Cru Size: 12,500 ha
Vineyards: 4,000 ha
Topography: Plateau with wooded areas
Annual Cognac Production Percentage: 5%
Notable Cognac Expressions: Park Borderies Single Vineyard, Camus XO Borderies
With a Percentage of Annual Cognac Production of 5%, Borderies is the smallest cognac region, encompassing approximately 12,500 hectares, yet only a modest 4,000 hectares are dedicated to the grapes plantation.
This wine-producing region is unique as it contains the fifth and final soil type identified by Coquand-Groies.
- Borderies is the tiniest among all the Cognac terroirs, nestled above the two champagne crus and to the north of the town of Cognac.
- This cognac region boasts the oldest soil within the Cognac region, dating back to the presumed Jurassic era.
Who Was The First Man To Map Out The Different “Crus?”
Henri Coquand (1813-1881), a renowned geology professor, holds the distinction of being the first individual to meticulously map out and categorize the different “crus” within the Cognac region.
“It [Cognacs] comes only from the Cognac region in Southwest France.” -Malo Le Mestre, Brand Ambassador
During the 19th century, he embarked on a comprehensive study of the region’s soil and terroir. Collaborating with an experienced taster, Coquand skillfully classified the diverse soils based on the type of eau-de-vie they yielded.
What region is brandy from Cognac?
Brandy, known as Cognac, originates from the Charente and Charente-Maritime’s wine-growing region of France, taking its name from the town of Cognac.
The unique climate, soil, and grape varieties in this area contribute to the distinctive character and quality of Cognacs.
What does Premier Cru mean in Cognac?
In Cognac, “Premier Cru,” specifically within the context of “Grande Champagne,” denotes the highest-quality growing area within the Cognac region.
Grande Champagne is renowned for its exceptional terroir and is considered the top-tier cru for production.
What wine region is Cognac in?
Cognac is located in the wine region of the Charente and Charente-Maritime’s départements in Southwestern France .
While Cognac is renowned for its brandy production rather than wine, it is situated within the broader wine-producing region of the Charente, where grapes are grown for the specific purpose of making Cognacs.
What does 1er cru de Cognac mean?
The “1er Cru de Cognac” appellation is a French term that translates to “First Growth of Cognac” in English.
When you see “1er Cru” written on the label of a Cognac bottle, it indicates that the Cognac is exclusively sourced from the Grande Champagne cognac region.
Where is Cognac made in France?
Cognac is made in the southwestern part of France , primarily in the Charente and Charente-Maritime départements. Moreover, Fine Champagne is made from a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne wine.
The town itself is located within this wine-growing region and is particularly renowned for its production, which can be found below the Loire Valley.
The Cognac Regions and major cities are pivotal in shaping the character and quality of renowned Cognac bottles.
Each terroir, from Grande Champagne to Borderies, offers a unique blend of soil composition, climate, and grape varieties, contributing to the diverse range of Cognacs.
The distinction between Premier Cru and other designations highlights the exceptional status of specific growing areas, showcasing their importance in producing Cognacs known for their finesse and complexity.