The first news regarding its production dates back to 1622, the year in which the Dutch taught the local inhabitants to distill wine. We're talking about cognac, one of two French Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) wine spirits along with Armagnac. The name derives from the city which was the main seat of trade and the cognac, to be defined as AOC, It can be produced in six subzones: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaries. We have explored some characteristics of its production and consumption with an expert in the sector, the Marketing and PR Director of Rinaldi 1957 Gabriele Rondani.
Cognac is a French distillate of white wine. Can you tell us about the production process?
Cognac is produced through the distillation of wine made with grapes from the white grape varieties Ugni Blanc, Folle blanche, Colombard and some other minor ones such as Sémillon and Montils. The distillation method is called charentaise, named after the river, Charente, which passes through the Cognac village, Jarnac and the other villages where the AOC (Appellation d'origine contrôlée) can be produced, the equivalent of our DOC Italian. This river was a determining factor in the success of cognac, favoring its trade, as the Armagnac area was more internal and difficult to reach. The distillation takes place in discontinuous mode, as in our best grappa, but in this case the wines and not the pomace are distilled. The wine is fermented, with the possible addition of yeasts permitted by the AOC regulations, without the addition of other ingredients before distillation.
With what instrument is the wine distilled and what characteristics does the final product have?
The wine is distilled with a curved still, which has a final temperature that is not too high. This allows all the essences to emerge in the final distillate. Unlike vodka and similarly to mezcal, in the final product a smaller part of alcohol and a more important part of organoleptic elements remain, which give an important aromatic note to the final distillate.
What are the secrets of a good cognac?
The main secret to obtaining a good cognac is to be able to bring out the volatile aromatic substances produced during fermentation, which can be found mainly in esters and aldehydes. It is also very important to prevent these aromas from being covered by the invasiveness of the wood, with which a balance must be found. Due to international trends, unfortunately, the market has favored very dark cognacs, which have absorbed too much woody notes. Lately, however, there has been a return for cognacs with a high aromatic finesse in which fruity and floral scents stand out.
How many years can a cognac be aged?
To be defined as cognac, the aging period must be equal to or greater than 2 years. In this case, we are talking about VS or De Luxe, one of the three legal names together with VSOP or Réserve, at least 4 years of aging, and XO, at least 6 years. There are also four traditional denominations, which are frequently used in the trade: Napoléon, Vieille Réserve, Hors d'âge and Extra.
In recent years, has cognac also become a protagonist in the mixing sector? If yes, in what way?
Yes, in recent years cognac has returned to the forefront of mixing: there are releases specifically designed for bartenders and by bartenders, such as H by Hine, from one of the oldest producers of this spirit, founded in 1763. In particular, they have been rediscovered some cocktails such as the Vieux Carré, which involves the use of Rye whiskey, red vermouth, Peychaud's Bitters and the French herbal liqueur Bénédictine, and such as the Highball cocktails, in particular a cocktail with ginger ale which is coming back into vogue in France. [:]