What is Cognac? Which One’s the Best?

Although I’m a wine merchant whose license is limited to the sale of fermented and fortified beverages, my clientele often asks about Whiskies, Brandies and Cognacs around the holidays. Today’s posting is about Cognac, a Brandy from a specific area within France, the commune that lends its name to its famed beverage (please note, in this reference, a commune is a demarcated governmental area, not a residential facility inhabited by un-related families or individuals sharing living quarters, expenses and duties).

Cognac vs Armignac

The two beverages are similar, and yet different. Both are brandies from defined areas within France (see map), Cognac being north of Bordeaux, Armagnac 180 degrees to the south. And their products are polar opposites as well, with Cognac undergoing a double distillation in a pot still and Armagnac a single column distillation in small batches. This leaves Armagnac with more robust aromatics and a thicker mouthfeel which many find intriguing. Traditionally, Armagnac has been small-batch and vineyard-specific, while Cognac is a blend of brandies dominated by big brands seeking to produce a uniform house style (not unlike the large houses of Champagne).

Deciphering Cognac Labels

V.S. – “Very Special” Indicates the youngest brandy in the blend is at least 2 years old at the time of blending.

V.S.O.P.  – “Very Special Old Pale” The youngest brandy is 4+ years old.

Napoleon – Youngest brandy is 6+ years old.

X.O. – “Extra Old” Youngest brandy is 10+ years old.


Which Cognac is the Best?

This is a common question from those seeking to purchase a truly fine gift for a valued client of special loved one. But the question is impossible to answer, as it is subject to personal taste and style.

However, I can tell you what the most expensive Cognac is this year – the Rome De Bellegarde X.O. Cognac. Despite the brand’s long history (dating back to King of France Henry III), it has only been since 2018 that the new generation of owners resurrected the brands old panache, reinforcing its world-wide reputation for exclusivity. The world’s most expensive Cognac is from grapes grown in the Grand Champagne region, so named for its white limestone soils similar to those of Champagne. The family leverages their Cognac’s relatively small annual production by limiting sales to Rome de Bellegarde’s website and a handful of well-chosen retail partners around the world.

As a marketer by training and trade, I have to admire this year’s promotional partnership with Britain’s prestigious leather goods brand, Ettinger.  This exclusive tailor has crafted a highly exclusive (only 50!) sets of leather-bound flasks packaged with a 100ml bottle of the Rome de Bellegarde X.O. Cognac (in this case, aged for 25+ years).

If you’re lucky enough to purchase one of them when they go on sale Dec 14th, the privilege will set you back about $610 (at current exchange rates) before shipping and handling.  If you’re interested, put your hat in the ring now – Happy Holidays indeed!

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