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Comprehensive description of all European growing areas, their grape varieties, traditions and legal rules with maps.

Wine regions in Cognac 1 growing regions

Description to Cognac

Probably the most famous brandy in the world, Trebbiano is named after the town of the same name in the département of Charente, immediately north of Bordeaux in south-western France near the Atlantic coast. When the Roman general Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) conquered Gaul, his legionaries allegedly brought the Trebbiano gra pe from their homeland, which later became the main grape variety for Cognac. According to legend, the name of the Cognac region goes back to the Roman general Comnus. In the 12th century, spriting appeared, the preservation of a wine by adding wine spirit. It also turned out that wine from the Cognac region was particularly suitable for distilling. Around 1530, the Dutch introduced the art of distillation to this area, calling the wine distillates "Brandewijn", from which the English term brandy was derived. At that time, it was common to produce distillates by single distillation, as is still the case today with Armagnac.

Cognac - Rebflächen im Département Charente mit Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano Toscano)

Invention of Cognac

According to legend, the invention of cognac by double distillation is attributed to the Chevalier de la Croix Maron, Seigneur de Segonzac (ancestor of the cognac-producing Castelbajac family) at the end of the 16th century. The deeply religious knight is said to have dreamt that the devil wanted to steal his soul by burning it out of him in a cauldron. Through his unshakeable faith, however, he survived the ordeal unscathed. And a second attempt at distillation by the devil was also unsuccessful, so the knight had the idea of extracting the soul of the brandy with a second distillation. The new drink quickly caught on, and the Dutchman Augustin Godet was the first to receive state permission to export cognac. A certain Jean Martell settled in Cognac in 1715 and produced brandy, followed by Richard Hennessy and others who are still among the most renowned brands today.

Area of origin and grape varieties

Around 1870, phylloxera came to the area and also destroyed many vineyards in the Charente. Today's vineyard area of around 75,000 hectares is only a third of what it was then. The basis for 90% of Cognac production is mainly Saint-Émilion/Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano Toscano), as well as Colombard and, to a lesser extent, Folle Blanche. In 2005, the new variety Folignan was additionally permitted with a maximum of 10% of the vineyard area per farm. As early as 1860, the French geologist Henri Coquand (1813-1881) and a professional brandy taster were commissioned to classify the region according to quality. But it was not until 1909 that the boundaries and production regulations were established. Brandy continued to be called Cognac outside France, however, and Hugo Asbach (1868-1935) had marketed his product as Cognac brandy from 1896. In order to protect their brandy from German competition, the French enforced in the Treaty of Versailles that from 1920 onwards only brandy from the Cognac region could be so called. This is one of the few provisions of the Treaty of Versailles that is still valid today. Incidentally, Cognac was officially recognised as the first foreign geographical indication in China on 18 December 2009.

The Cognac region is located in the southwest of France 100 km north of Bordeaux. It includes the entire Département Charente-Maritime, a large part of the Département Charente, two enclaves in the Départements Dordogne and Deux-Sèvres as well as smaller islands off the Atlantic coast. The "Région délimitée" has been divided into six zones, which are grouped in concentric circles around the city of Cognac. The best products come from the Grande Champagne area (also Grande Fine Champagne), which is also entitled to bear this designation. Around 15% of production comes from here. The soil is characterised by a high chalk content, which decreases significantly in the areas that are not less well classified. The others in the quality order are Petite Champagne (20%), Les Borderies (5%), Fins Bois (40%), Bons Bois (17%) and Bois Ordinaires (3%). Maximum yields (102 hl/ha), grape varieties, distillation methods and storage methods were also defined by law. A product may only be called Cognac if the grapes originate from this region, were distilled here and also matured here. Incidentally, the production of marc spirits is prohibited in the Cognac region.

Production process

Fermentation takes about 10 to 21 days. After two to three weeks of storage, the first distillation takes place. The fractionated process is used, unlike Armagnac, which is distilled twice in succession (Charentais Pot Still). The wine is unclarified, which means that the yeast is also distilled. After the first distillation, a distillate (brouillis) with 25 to 30% vol. is produced; after the second distillation, a product known as bonne chauffée (good heat) with a maximum of 72% vol. alcohol content. The still water-clear cognac is stored in oak barrels made mainly of tronçais with a volume of 340 litres. During storage, the alcohol content gradually decreases and the cognac acquires its typical golden-brown colour. After a few years, the distillate is transferred to larger 540-litre barrels and continues to mature. Cognacs of different ages from different zones are usually blended. However, there are also products made from one vintage, the production of which is particularly controlled (see Vintage C ognac and Early Landed Cognac). The final product of around 40% is produced immediately before bottling by dilution with Faible (distilled water with a little alcohol). With a few exceptions (in contrast to Armagnac), a vintage indication is prohibited for Cognac.

Cognac - Fässer und Gläser

Up to 2% cane sugar and caramelised sugar may be added. The age is indicated by legally protected designations, whereby this refers to the maturing time in the barrels (after bottling, a brandy no longer matures, this time does not count). Almost every renowned cognac producer has a special room for this purpose, the so-called "paradis". The loss through evaporation is up to 5% per year, this is the "Part des Anges" (Angel's portion), which must be replaced by "Réserve des Anges" (RDA). The production and ageing or strictly prescribed maturation period is strictly monitored by the industry association BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac).

Age classes & designations

The age of Cognac is determined by the youngest distillate contained. Cognac may only be bottled and sold after at least two years of barrel ageing (Compte 02 = Account 02). Each distillate is initially declared with "Compte 00" (account 00). The first cut-off date is 1 April; a cognac with this designation is at least one day old up to a maximum of three and a half months old (matured in the barrel). On 1 April of the following year, these distillates then have at least one year of barrel ageing and receive the designation "Compte 01". This continues until "Compte 06" (six years), when the BNIC's control ends. However, cognacs mature differently in the individual cognac houses up to 20 years and longer. Cognacs in the higher categories from account 7 are usually much older than the minimum requirements. A cognac designated as Paradis, Grande Reserve or Family Reserve can be up to 100 years old. Per compte/account, there are then a multitude of partly confusing fantasy designations on the label. The exact age cannot be deduced from this:

  • Compte 2: three stars (in former times up to 7 stars were used), Authentic, De Luxe, Elegance, Grand Choix (Great Selection), Monopole, Selection, VS (Very Special or Very Superior)
  • Compte 3: Crest (summit or top product), Cuvée Speciale, Fine, Grande Selection, Privilege, Qualité Speciale, Superieur, Très Bonne (very good)
  • Compte4: Premiere Croix, Rare, Reserve, Vieux, VO (Very Old), VSOP (Very Special Old Pale or Very Superior Old Product), VVS (Very Very Special or Very Very Superior)
  • Compte5: Cuvée Reserve, Grande Fine, Grande Reserve, Reserve de la Maison, Reserve Particuliere, VVSOP (Very Very Special Old Pale or Very Very Superior Old Pale)
  • Compte 6: Age Inconnu (age unknown), Extra, Family Reserve, Grande Reserve, Hors d'Age (exceptional age), Imperial, Napoleon (see there the background of the name), Paradis, Très Rare (very rare), Très Vieux, XO (Extra Old), Vieille Reserve, VXO (Very Extra Old)


A cognac (brandy) is usually drunk from the typical cognac glass with a bulbous body. The largest and most important cognac houses, some of which also produce Armagnac and Champagne, include González Byass (sherry house), Camus, Courvoisier, Delamain, Desmaurin, Godet Frères, Hennessy, Thomas Hine, Marnier-Lapostolle (Marnier), Martell and Rémy Martin (Rémy Cointreau). But not all grapes in the Cognac region become brandy. Part of the harvest is processed into local wine in the Charente département. Pineau des Charentes, classified as AOC, is a so-called Vin de liqueur with a high alcohol content. Esprit de Cognac" is a high-quality light cognac that is used in the dosage of a champagne as part of the "Liqueur d'Expédition", as the sugar can be dissolved in it without affecting the taste.

Cognac - 7 Marken

further information

Complete lists of the numerous vinification measures or cellar techniques, as well as the various types of wine, sparkling wine and distillate regulated by wine law, can be found under the heading Winemaking. Comprehensive information on wine law can be found under the heading Wine Law.

Picture Charente: By TobiToaster - photographed by himself, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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