France produces some of the best alcohol in the world, bar none. This is true with wine, champagne, and our topic today: cognac. Cognac is one of those odd gems: it’s treasured by old money and new money alike, and anyone who wishes they had money in the first place. Cognac’s position on the social ladder cannot be ignored: it is one of the most expensive liquors, with bottles that can reach mid five figures. The high prices may partially be due to it’s inherent monopoly: to truly be called cognac, it must be produced in the cognac region of France. Luckily for enthusiasts, most distilleries in Cognac offer tours and tastings.
Before you plan a trip to Cognac, it might be a good time to take a step back and take a look at what Cognac actually is. Most people don’t realize this, but unlike other spirits cognac is actually made from wine grapes. Not the same grapes that you’ll find in a bordeux or burgandy, mind you, but a specific varietal of grape known as Ugni Blanc. While these grapes make poor wine, they make excellent cognac.
Do you know how the grading system works? The final bottle that you buy is actually a blend of various ages of cognac. Cognac is graded by how old the youngest “eau de vie”, as it’s called, is in the bottle. V.S. means that the youngest eau de vie is at least 2 years old, while V.S.O.P. means a minimum of 4 years. The most expensive bottles, X.O., means that the youngest eau de vie is at least 6 years old. Of course, the most expensive bottles of cognac have some very old eau de vies.
For the prospective visitor, the Cognac region feels very much like wine country. Rows of little homes, gorgeous country sides, and rows upon rows of grapes. Of course, you’ll see a major distillery here and there too. The region itself lends to great weather, since great weather makes for great grapes: the temperature is fairly consistent, tempered by the Atlantic ocean. There’s plenty of sun here, and the soil is filled with rocks. You won’t find neon-sign madness here: this is classic wine country.
In our next posting, we’ll go in depth and talk about the actual tours themselves.