Cognac in a tulip glass
Country of origin France
Region of originNouvelle-Aquitaine
Alcohol by volume 40%
FlavourVaries, though typically with characteristics combining nuts, fruit, caramel, honey, vanilla or other spices[1]
Related productsArmagnac

Cognac (/ˈkɒn.jæk/ KON-yak, also US: /ˈkn-, ˈkɔːn-/ KOHN-, KAWN-,[2][3][4] French: [kɔɲak] ) is a variety of brandy named after the commune of Cognac, France. It is produced in the surrounding wine-growing region in the departments of Charente and Charente-Maritime.

Cognac production falls under French appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) designation, with production methods and naming required to meet certain legal requirements. Among the specified grapes, Ugni blanc, known locally as Saint-Émilion, is most widely used.[5] The brandy must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais. Cognac matures in the same way as whiskies and wines barrel-age, and most cognacs spend considerably longer "on the wood" than the minimum legal requirement.

Production process

Cognac is a type of brandy, and after the distillation and during the aging process, is also called eau de vie.[6] It is produced by twice distilling wine made from grapes grown in any of the designated growing regions.


The white wine used in making cognac is very dry, acidic, and thin. Though it has been characterised as "virtually undrinkable",[7] it is excellent for distillation and aging. It may be made only from a strict list of grape varieties. For it to be considered a true cru cognac, the white wine must be made from at least 90% Ugni blanc (known in Italy as Trebbiano), Folle blanche and Colombard, while up to 10% of the grapes used can be Folignan, Jurançon blanc, Meslier St-François (also called Blanc Ramé), Sélect, Montils, or Sémillon.[8][9] Cognacs which are not to carry the name of a cru are freer in the allowed grape varieties, needing at least 90% Colombard, Folle blanche, Jurançon blanc, Meslier Saint-François, Montils, Sémillon, or Ugni blanc, and up to 10% Folignan or Sélect.

Fermentation and distillation

A Charentais-style alembic cognac pot still

After the grapes are pressed, the juice is left to ferment for 2–3 weeks, with the region's native wild yeast converting the fruit sugars into alcohol; neither sugar nor sulphur may be added.[10] At this point, the resulting wine is about 7 to 8% alcohol.[10]

Distillation takes place in traditionally shaped Charentais copper alembic stills, the design and dimensions of which are also legally controlled. Two distillations must be carried out; the resulting eau de vie is a colourless spirit of about 70% alcohol.[7]


Once distillation is complete, it must be aged in Limousin oak casks for at least two years before it can be sold to the public. It is typically put into casks at an alcohol by volume strength around 70%.[7] As the cognac interacts with the oak barrel and the air, it evaporates at the rate of about 3% each year, slowly losing both alcohol and water (the former more rapidly, as it is more volatile).[7] This phenomenon is called locally la part des anges, or "the angels' share". When more than ten years pass in the oak barrel, the cognac's alcohol content decreases to 40% in volume.[7] The cognac is then transferred to "large glass bottles called bonbonnes", then stored for future "blending."[7] Since oak barrels stop contributing to flavor after four or five decades, longer aging periods may not be beneficial.[7]


The age of the cognac is calculated as that of the youngest component used in the blend. The blend is usually of different ages and (in the case of the larger and more commercial producers) from different local areas. This blending, or marriage, of different eaux de vie is important to obtain a complexity of flavours absent from an eau de vie from a single distillery or vineyard. Each cognac house has a master taster (maître de chai), who is responsible for blending the spirits, so that cognac produced by a company will have a consistent house style and quality.[11] In this respect, it is similar to the process of blending whisky or non-vintage Champagne to achieve a consistent brand flavor. A very small number of producers, such as Guillon Painturaud and Moyet, do not blend their final product from different ages of eaux de vie, so produce a "purer" flavour.[12] Hundreds of vineyards in the Cognac AOC region sell their own cognac. These are likewise blended from the eaux de vie of different years, but they are single-vineyard cognacs, varying slightly from year to year and according to the taste of the producer, hence lacking some of the predictability of the better-known commercial products. Depending on their success in marketing, small producers may sell a larger or smaller proportion of their product to individual buyers, wine dealers, bars and restaurants, the remainder being acquired by larger cognac houses for blending.


VS (Very Special) cognac is aged for at least two years in cask
XO (Extra Old) cognac is aged at least ten years
"Champagne cognac" is produced from grapes grown in the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne zones of the Cognac region of France

According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), the official quality grades of cognac are:

Most names of the grades are in English because the historical cognac trade, particularly in the 18th century, significantly involved the British.[18]

Producing regions

Map of the Cognac region

Cognac is also classified by crus, tightly defined geographic denominations where the grapes are grown. Their distinctive soils and microclimates produce eaux de vie with characteristics particular to their specific location.

The cognac-producing regions called Champagne should not be confused with the northeastern region of Champagne, a wine region that produces sparkling wine by that name, although they do share a common etymology.

Companies and brands

Close to 200 cognac producers exist.[1] According to one 2008 estimate[20] a large percentage of cognac—more than 90% for the US market—comes from only four producers: Courvoisier (owned by the Campari Group), Hennessy (LVMH), Martell (Pernod Ricard), and Rémy Martin (Rémy Cointreau).[7][20] Other brands meeting the AOC criteria for cognac include Bache-Gabrielsen/Dupuy, Braastad, Camus, La Fontaine de La Pouyade, Château Fontpinot,[20] Delamain, Pierre Ferrand,[7] Frapin, Gautier, Hine,[20] Marcel Ragnaud,[7] Monnet, Moyet, Otard, Meukow, and Cognac Croizet.

In 2017, an agreement between the European Union and Armenia was signed, whereby Armenian producers will abandon the usage of the protected geographic name "cognac" from 2043.[21] The name "cognac" will be prohibited for the domestic Armenian market from 2032.[21]

Cognac-based cocktails

Cocktails marked with "IBA" are designated as IBA official cocktails by the International Bartenders Association.

Cognac-based liqueurs

In foods

In addition to being drunk as a beverage, cognac is also used as a flavoring in foods. Pastry dishes often pair cognac with flavors such as apple, raisin, prune, vanilla, and chocolate.[22]

The Role of the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC)

"The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) is a French organization that oversees the production, promotion, and protection of Cognac. The BNIC's primary responsibilities include setting and enforcing the standards for Cognac production, ensuring the authenticity and quality of the product, and promoting the brand on a global scale."[23]

See also


  1. ^ a b Hacker, Richard Carleton (23 February 2006). "Elegance in a glass". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  2. ^ "cognac". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). HarperCollins. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Cognac". Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  4. ^ "cognac". Dictionary. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  5. ^ Bespaloff, Alexis (14 March 1977). "The Noblest Brandy of them All". New York. p. 79.
  6. ^ In French, eau-de-vie means "brandy" (any brandy).
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lukacs, Paul (12 March 2002). "How Good is Cognac?". Saveur (22). Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  8. ^ "Appellation of Origin". Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2008.
  9. ^ "Harvesting and vinification". Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac. Archived from the original on 11 September 2016. Retrieved 12 February 2008.
  10. ^ a b Koscica, Milica (April 2004). "TED Case Studies – Number 728". Trade Environment Database. American University, School of International Service. Archived from the original on 10 December 2010. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  11. ^ Sales & Service for the Wine Professional, by Brian K. Julyan, p. 237
  12. ^ "Single Estate Cognac". 2009. Retrieved 21 July 2009.
  13. ^ a b c Cognac, BNIC - Bureau National Interprofessionel du. " - All about Cognac". Archived from the original on 23 December 2016. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  14. ^ "What does VSOP mean?". Camus Cognac. Archived from the original on 7 October 2018. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  15. ^ "Understanding a Cognac label (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, May 2008)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  16. ^ "A Field Guide to Cognac". 17 November 2015. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  17. ^ "Product specification for the Cognac or Eau-de-vie de Cognac or Eau-de-vie des Charentes controlled appellation of origin, officially recognised by French decree No. 2015-10 dated 7 January 2015, amended by the Order of 8 November 2018, as published in the Official Journal of the French Republic on 14 November 2018" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 July 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  18. ^ "FAQ". Archived from the original on 25 May 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  19. ^ a b c d e "Décret n° 2011-685 du 16 juin 2011 relatif à l'appellation d'origine contrôlée "Cognac" ou "Eau-de-vie de Cognac" ou "Eau-de-vie des Charentes" (MINISTÈRE DE L'AGRICULTURE, DE L'ALIMENTATION, DE LA PÊCHE, DE LA RURALITÉ ET DE L'AMÉNAGEMENT DU TERRITOIRE, June 2011)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 April 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
  20. ^ a b c d Steinberger, Mike (2 April 2008). "Cognac Attack!". Slate. Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  21. ^ a b "Armenia to drop 'cognac' use for its products by 2043 — Acting Deputy PM". TASS. 17 June 2021. Retrieved 18 June 2021.
  22. ^ Boyle, Tish (2012). Plating for Gold: A Decade of Desserts from the World and National Pastry Team Championships. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-118-05984-5 – via Perlego.
  23. ^ "What is Eaux-de-Vie, The "Water of Life" is The Essence of Cognac -". 25 December 2023. Retrieved 25 December 2023.