When we think of Cognac, most of us quickly think of the magnificent spirit enjoyed by kings, celebrities and now one of the main ingredients in the craft cocktail revolution. This spirit, which so many have grown to enjoy, is only part of the exciting story of Cognac.
The region of Cognac, which includes both the Town of Cognac and the Cognac AOC (which means "Controlled Appellation of Origin"), is located in the southwest part of France. The AOC borders the Atlantic Ocean to its west while the Town of Cognac is approximately an hour and forty-five minutes drive north of Bordeaux.
Cognac the Appellation
The Town of Cognac, which has approximately 20,000 people calling it home, is the axis of this diverse and scenic appellation. With its historic buildings, cognac houses and friendly pedestrian streets, Cognac is the perfect town to enjoy a leisurely walk. Walking along the Charente River, meandering its cobblestone streets and enjoying the cafes, restaurants and bars that are scattered through this quaint yet contemporary town is a quintessential French experience.
The delineated area that defines this appellation goes far beyond the Town of Cognac, expanding for over 2 million acres, including off its coast, the islands of Ré and Oléron. Of these 2 million plus acres of historic towns, rolling hills, rivers and coastline, 192,742 (78,000 hectares) are planted to vines.
To give you an idea of the vastness of Cognac's wine country here are some interesting numbers: Cognac is the 2nd biggest producer of wine in France and the 4th biggest vineyard area. It encompasses 10% of the French vineyard surface with approximately 4,333 winegrowers tending to it.
Cognac the History
Before being known as the home of one of the finest spirits in the world, Cognac was known for its salt trade and its wines. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Dutch were regular guests of the town, as they often visited the salt rich region looking for salt which was an essential element of the way of life amid this period.
During this time the wines of the region became some of the Dutch favorites and they began transporting them back home. In the 17th century, the Dutch, looking for better ways to transport the wines and after the double distillation process had made its way to the region, started transforming the local wines to eau-de-vie (water of life) before their long voyages. Along the way they realized that the eau-de-vie aged well in oak casks and Cognac was born.
In 1909, by the Decree of the 1st of May, the Delimited Region of Cognac was established.
Cognac the Spirit
The King of Brandies is the result of a very regulated process which insures the quality and character of this historic and transcendent spirit. It must be made from grape wine, double distilled in small batches and then has to be aged in oak casks for a minimum of two years. The grapes and the wines must be from within the AOC and the process must take place in the Delimited Region of Cognac as well.
Cognac's character, flavor profiles and alcohol content, which must be a minimum of 40%, are the result of the artisan process of "reduction" which is overseen by the Master Blenders.
The result of these Masters Blenders’ work of art are Cognacs with different aging designations. Your most popular designations being VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and XO (Extra Old). A VS Cognac youngest eau-de-vie in the blend must be at least 2 years old, in the VSOP at least 4 years old and in the XO at least 10 years old. You could also find Napoléon Cognacs which the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend must be at least 6 years old. Single Vintage Cognacs, although not as common, are Cognacs produced with eau-de-vie from one single harvest.
Cognac the Fun Facts
Impossible to note everything of importance of this storied region here are some facts that caught our attention:
Cognac the Destination
If you are looking for a vacation spot in which you can enjoy the beach, explore wine country and go spirit tasting at some of the most iconic Cognac Houses, this is the place for you.
Along the way you might want to have lunch at L'Arty Show, a charming restaurant focusing on farm to table ingredients, Le Verre Y Table a local favorite for the employees of the Cognac Houses or visit the tradition rich L'Yeuse where we experienced the best Creme Brulee we have ever tasted. Dinner at the forward thinking but quaint Poulpette is an absolute treat and a visit to the town’s oldest restaurant, Le Coq d'Or is a historic opportunity. If cocktails are your thing then a visit to Bar Louise to enjoy one of their Cognac craft cocktail experiences is a must.
If you have the time in your schedule, a visit to a cooperge could be something you really enjoy. We were able to visit Tonnellerie Doreau and were blown away by the craftsmanship and attention to detail in the barrel making process.
One of the highlights of our trip was a wine country tour by XO Madame in a vintage French car culminating with a private Cognac and Food pairing in a beautiful manor put together by Experience sur Mesure. This was an experience we will always remember.
We all know that the main focus when visiting this exciting and diverse region is exploring the historic and tradition rich Cognac Houses. During our time we had the opportunity to visit 7 producers. Listed in the order of our visits the seven houses are Cognac Hennessy, Cognac Courvoisier, Bourgoin Cognac, Cognac Martell, Cognac Rémy Martin, Château Royal de Cognac and Cognac Jean Fillioux. All of our visits were incredible and it was fascinating experiencing the distinct personalities of each property. We will be featuring each Cognac House in individual articles so make sure to keep an eye out for them.
Where to stay is always a big question. We were fortunate to enjoy the hospitality of the recently opened Hotel Chais Monnet. This five star hotel located downtown Cognac has all the amenities you will need to have a magnificent time.
Cognac the Next Vacation
As you look for inspiration for your next vacation, we hope that this blog post has inspired you to consider this adventure-filled and tradition rich region. We are certainly hoping to visit again next year! 🥃
P.S. We would like to thank Atout France and the BNIC for making this trip a reality. We would also like to thank the BNIC for taking the time to educate us on the region and for coordinating all of the logistics during our stay.