IBy Fred Minnick IN COGNAC, FRANCE, history is found in earthy, humid cellars aging countless French oak barrels of the “king of brandy.” ;is quaint French country town, located 100 miles north of Bordeaux along the Charente River, is home to rustic dark rooms filled with charming cobwebs, mold and single-distilled white wine vintages more
than 200 years old.
When one cognac firm’s cellar master
siphons out tastes of his 1806 vintage, the scent
brings an immediate connection to that time
and all it has endured: Napoleon’s life and his
wars, the Franco-Prussian War, World War I,
World War II and the founding of the French
Fi;h Republic. ;is time capsule, which will
one day be blended with other vintages, was
made from grapes harvested when cognac was
beginning to capture the world’s palates.
;e spirit’s roots are traced to Dutch
ships carrying French wines in the 16th century. When the wines did not survive long
voyages, the Dutch distilled them to save what
Today, cognac is a reemerging spirit ;nding attention in rap songs, new and innovative
cocktails, and Costco. Bottles can cost as much
as a new car or as little as a school lunch.
Savoring cognac Historic spirit satisfies in snifters or Sidecars
Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois
Ordinaires. As with wine, the region is designated on each bottle’s label.
Harvested in October, the grapes are
pressed in horizontal baskets and fermentation immediately follows. On November 1,
the un;ltered white wine begins the ;rst distillation process to create a slightly cloudy
liquid known as the brouillis, which is
returned to the boiler for a second distillation. During the second distillation, the master distiller separates alcohol vapors and a
clear spirit emerges. By law, in order for it to
be cognac, this process must be completed by
March 31. Otherwise, the spirit is produced
and sold as brandy. (All cognac is brandy, but
not vice versa.)
not age in the bottle.
A;er the second distillation, the white
wine, now called eau de vie (“water of life”), is
transferred to oak casks created from the sapwood and heartwood of trees more than 100
years old. ;e old wood transforms the clear
eau de vie to a golden yellow and eventually,
if it is aged long enough, to an amber color.
;e wine must be aged at least two years.
;e master blender tastes the aging spirits
and, once satis;ed, blends single eaux de vie
with eaux de vie of di;erent ages to create
consumer-ready cognac. When bottled, the
cognac must have a minimum alcohol content of 40 percent. Unlike wine, cognac does
Creating a special spirit
The Cognac appellation consists of six
crus, or French wine-region areas, that comprise more than 185,000 acres. ;e grapes used
to make cognac—Ugni Blanc (most widely
planted), Folle Blanche and Colombard—must
be produced in this region’s distinctive, chalky
;ose crus include, in order of quality,
Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne,
Perfect cognac pairings
Selecting the right cognac should never
be daunting. Although cognac has a country-club aura, it’s by no means a rich man’s drink.
Most a;ordable, VS (Very Special) cognac
blends consist of eaux de vie two years old
and older. VS is most enjoyed in a refreshing
cocktail a;er work or during social occasions.
At the next level of the cognac hierarchy
is VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale). It consists
of blends at least four years old. With just a
drop of water, VSOP’s hazelnut and dried-apricot aromas travel toward the nose and let
you enjoy the subtleties of the golden spirit.
VS or VSOP can be used in classic cocktails such as the Sidecar (cognac; Cointreau,
Grand Marnier or another triple sec; and
lemon juice) or in up-and-coming drinks such
as the Summit (lime peel, fresh ginger, cucumber peel, cognac and sparkling lemonade). In
both cocktails, the ingredients complement
cognac’s subtle woody and ;oral ;avors.
Both cognac types pair delightfully with
sweets a;er dinner. So does XO (Extremely
Old) cognac. Made with single eaux de vie at
The Costco Connection
Costco offers a variety of cognac in select
warehouses in states that allow retail
liquor sales. Check your local warehouse