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What Is Cognac Made From? (2024 Best Edition)

What Is Cognac Made From

Last Updated on March 28, 2024 by Lydia Martin

If you’re a whiskey fan and want to try a new liquor, you should get acquainted with a type of brandy called “Cognac.” Next to wine and whiskey, many drinkers prefer cognac due to its elegance and unique spice.

But what is cognac made from? Let’s find out. 

Cognac: What’s It Made From?

Cognac Bottles

Cognac is made from white grapes grown in Southwest France’s Cognac region. It is a twice-distilled white wine using copper pot stills and matured using French oak barrels for a minimum of two years.

Also, the distillation season for the legendary French brandy usually begins in October and ends in March the following year, which is its annual five-month window. 

The key ingredient of cognac is white grapes, but not just any kind of white grape variety. Cognac uses three main types of white grapes: Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanche. 

3 Most Common Grape Varieties 

3 Most Common Grape Varieties 

1. Ugni Blanc

The Ugni Blanc variety is currently the largest single grape variety in the region’s vast wine-growing areas, with over 100,000 hectares of land under it.

This variety is ideal for farm and winery operations, with the winegrower producing up to 200 hectolitres of wine per hectare.

2. Colombard

Colombard Grapes

The Colombard grape variety is one of the oldest surviving Charente grapes. It’s a cross between Chenin Blanc and Gouais that was produced originally. Like the other two varieties, it has a low sugar but higher alcohol content. 

3. Folle Blanche

The Folle Blanche variety is a classic grape used in the production of Armagnac and cognac.

However, this grape is often overlooked compared to the Ugni Blanc variety in the Cognac region because it was one of the primary victims of the phylloxera crisis.

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Other Varieties Used In Making Cognac 

A glass of cognac with water

The three most commonly used grapes we mentioned above for making cognac should make up 90% of the spirit. However, the other 10% can come from the Charente region, and it includes:

  • Bouilleaud
  • Petit Noir
  • Le Jurancon
  • Balzac Blanc
  • Saint-Pierre
  • Balzac Noir
  • Blanc-Rame
  • Saint-Rabier

How Is Cognac Made? 

Cognac is made by harvesting grapes in the Cognac region, usually beginning in September.

After that, the grapes are pressed and fermented for several weeks before turning into wine. This process usually yields around 8.5% to 9.5% alcohol by volume. 

After being distilled twice, the resulting wine is put in copper pot stills and produces alcohol known as eau-de-vie.

After being aged in either oak barrels or limousin for at least two years, the spirit is then ready to be blended with other cognacs to create the final product. But how long does cognac last?

What Happens To The White Grapes? 

White Grapes for cognac

White grapes are planted and maintained to ensure that they can produce a high-quality Cognac. It usually takes four to five years for a new vine to produce enough grapes to make a good quality blend.

The harvesting process is traditionally carried out manually, though some believe that hand-harvesting adds to the quality of the product. 

Then after the harvest, the grapes are pressed, and the juice will undergo fermentation and distillation.

So, it results in cognacs after years of aging using French oak barrels. 

What’s Eau-De-Vie In Cognac? 

Eau-De-Vie in cognac is a blend made from wine’s double distillation process. It has less quantity and is more concentrated than the original wine. 

The eau-de-vie [1] is clear and has a great aroma. It’s also very sharp, with a taste that reminds us of the wine grapes harvested after the rain.

This is the end product of distillation, put into wooden casks to age. But is cognac really good for you?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can cognac be made from red grapes?

No, cognac cannot be made from red grapes. Cognac must be made with white grapes, specifically the Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard grapes. 

Can you make cognac using white grapes outside France? 

No, you can’t use white grapes outside France. To be called a “Cognac,” grapes must be from the cognac region in France. 

What is the difference between cognac and brandy?

Cognac and brandy share a connection, as cognac is a type of brandy, but not all brandies are cognac. The key distinction lies in their origins and production methods. Cognac must be produced in the Cognac region of France, adhering to strict regulations, including the use of specific grape varieties and the double-distillation process. Brandy, in a broader sense, refers to any distilled fruit wine and can be produced globally using various fruits.

What is the main ingredient in cognac?

The main ingredient in cognac is grapes. Specifically, white grape varieties such as Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard are commonly used in cognac production. The grape juice undergoes fermentation to create wine, which is then distilled to produce the eau-de-vie that forms the base for cognac. The unique grape varieties and the region’s terroir contribute to the distinct character of cognac.

Is cognac a liquor or whiskey?

Cognac is a type of liquor, not whiskey. While both are distilled spirits, they differ in raw materials, production methods, and geographical indications. Cognac is made from grapes and produced in the Cognac region of France, undergoing a double-distillation process and aging in oak barrels. Whiskey, on the other hand, is typically made from fermented grain mash and can be produced in various regions, each contributing to different styles, such as Scotch whisky or American bourbon.

Why is cognac so expensive?

Cognac’s high cost is attributed to several factors. The production of cognac is highly regulated, requiring adherence to specific grape varieties, distillation methods, and aging processes. Cognac must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum period, with longer aging contributing to more complex flavors. The craftsmanship involved, limited supply of aged cognac, and the exclusivity associated with certain brands also contribute to its expense, making it a sought-after and luxurious spirit.

Is cognac an expensive drink?

Cognac is often considered an expensive drink, with pricing influenced by various factors. The production process in the Cognac region of France, adherence to specific grape varieties, and the aging process in oak barrels contribute to its exclusivity. Additionally, the craftsmanship, limited supply of well-aged cognac, and the reputation of certain brands as luxurious spirits further contribute to its higher price point.

What does VSOP mean?

VSOP stands for “Very Superior Old Pale,” a classification indicating the aging duration of cognac. For cognac to be labeled as VSOP, it must be aged for a minimum of four years. This aging process in oak barrels imparts a smoother and more refined taste, enhancing the complexity of the cognac and making it an appealing choice for those seeking a more mature and nuanced spirit.

Is cognac high in sugar?

Cognac, in its pure form, contains minimal sugar. During the distillation process, sugars in the grape juice are converted into alcohol, resulting in a dry spirit. However, some commercially available flavored or sweetened cognac-based products may contain added sugars. When enjoying cognac neat or in traditional cocktails, the sugar content is typically low, allowing drinkers to appreciate its natural flavors without excessive sweetness.

What is the best way to drink cognac?

The best way to drink cognac depends on personal preference, but there are common practices that enthusiasts follow. Cognac is often enjoyed neat or on the rocks to fully savor its complex flavors and aromas. Sipping slowly allows the drinker to appreciate the nuances developed during the aging process. Some prefer adding a drop of water to open up the aromas. Cognac can also be used in cocktails, with classic choices like the Sidecar or simple Highball variations. Ultimately, the best way to drink cognac is the one that aligns with individual taste preferences, whether it’s sipping it straight or incorporating it into a carefully crafted cocktail.

Why is cognac healthy?

While moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to potential health benefits, it’s essential to approach the idea of cognac or any alcoholic beverage being “healthy” with caution. Cognac contains antioxidants from the grapes used in its production, which may have some health-promoting properties. However, any potential benefits are outweighed by the risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption. It’s crucial to enjoy cognac responsibly and in moderation to maintain overall health.

What does XO mean in cognac?

In cognac terminology, XO stands for “Extra Old,” indicating that the cognac has been aged for an extended period. While there is no specific legal requirement for the aging duration denoted by XO, it generally signifies a higher quality and more mature spirit. XO cognacs often boast rich and complex flavor profiles, making them a popular choice for those seeking a refined and well-aged spirit.

What are the 4 grades of cognac?

Cognac is classified into four main grades based on its aging duration. These grades are:

VS (Very Special): Aged for a minimum of two years.

VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale): Aged for a minimum of four years.

XO (Extra Old): Aged for an extended period, with no specific legal requirement.

Hors d’Âge: Translates to “Beyond Age,” indicating an exceptionally aged cognac.

These classifications help consumers understand the aging status of the cognac they are purchasing and provide an indication of its potential quality.

Who drinks cognac?

Cognac has a diverse consumer base that spans various demographics. Traditionally associated with elegance and luxury, cognac is often enjoyed by individuals who appreciate fine spirits. It is a popular choice among connoisseurs, collectors, and those seeking a sophisticated and refined drinking experience. Cognac’s versatility allows it to be enjoyed in different settings, from celebratory occasions to quiet moments of reflection, appealing to a broad spectrum of drinkers around the world.

So, What Is Cognac Made From?

To sum up, cognac is made from white grapes grown in France’s southwest part – the Cognac region.

Mainly, the Folle Blanche, Colombard, and Ugni Blanc, as the leading variety, dominate cognac vineyards as they produce cognac’s floral flavors and aromas.

But, whichever variety of grape is used as long as grown in the Cognac region, this liquor must be aged in French oak barrels, primarily sourced from troncais and limousin, to be called a “Cognac.” 

If you haven’t tried drinking cognac, we suggest pairing it with a cigar, mixing it into a cocktail, icing it down, or drinking it neat.  

Reference: 

  1. Eau de Vie: Fruit’s Essence Captured In a Bottle
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