The quick guide to BRANDY

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Dark spir­its share a com­mon ground in the process of age­ing, as they are all aged in oak casks. The ex­cep­tion are three cat­e­gories: Pisco, aguar­di­ente and grappa.

Brandy, a re­sult of the dis­til­la­tion of wine into spirit con­cen­tra­tion, cov­ers the broad range of co­gnac, ar­magnac and brandies from sev­eral other re­gions such as Ar­me­nia, Italy and Greece. The dis­til­la­tion, which was orig­i­nally de­signed to al­low wine mer­chants to trans­port it more con­ve­niently to dis­tant lo­ca­tions, turned out to be a de­light­ful prod­uct af­ter stor­age in wooden casks, chang­ing in flavour with the dis­til­la­tion. The dis­til­late was termed

“eaux-de-vie”, or “wa­ter of life”, a term iden­ti­cal to aqua vi­tae.

Brandy dis­til­la­tion takes place in two stages, the first to re­move wa­ter and the lees from the base for a high con­cen­tra­tion wine, that is then dis­tilled in pot stills. The heart of the dis­til­late, the core, is pre­served, while the tail end is re­cy­cled and the first head tends to be dis­carded as it has a strong odour.


Co­gnacs are one of the most pop­u­lar cat­e­gories of brandies around and bear the same name as the French re­gion they come from. There are six main re­gions that demon­strate the ter­roir of the land, and three main grape va­ri­eties that are used in the pro­duc­tion, dou­bly dis­tilled in cop­per stills. The age­ing of co­gnac takes place in French Li­mousin oak casks, and ac­quires com­plex flavours in the process. Like whisky, the angels take their share from evap­o­ra­tion, and co­gnac mak­ers blend from var­i­ous vine­yards to cre­ate a mai­son style by their mas­ter blen­der.


Three main cat­e­gories of co­gnac ex­ist, with Very Spe­cial ( V.S.) the most ba­sic, with a min­i­mum age­ing of two years.

Very Spe­cial Old Pale ( V.S.O.P.) has a min­i­mum of dou­ble that, while Ex­tra Old (X.O.) needs to be aged at least six years. How­ever, most maisons age their co­gnacs far more than that.


The six ar­eas de­ter­mine the style of eaux-de-vie that is pro­duced. Blend­ing cre­ates the struc­ture found in each co­gnac, and varies from brand to brand. For ex­am­ple, Martell favours the Borderies re­gion, which pro­duces grapes with nut­tier and more fruity notes, giv­ing it a lighter and fruitier flavour on the palate, while Hen­nessyʼs bolder and more pow­er­ful at­ti­tude sug­gests pro­lific use of Grande Cham­pagne eaux-de-vie.

In gen­eral, Grande Cham­pagne offers a long fin­ish with a pow­er­ful style and flo­ral notes that are found in most older co­gnacs, and Pe­tite

How To Sam­ple Co­gnac

Whiskies and co­gnacs share some sim­i­lar­i­ties in the way they age and there­fore how they ma­ture and de­velop. Co­gnacs are gen­er­ally more com­plex, with up to hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent eaude-vies in the finest blended co­gnacs. It ex­plains the colour­ing, which is much darker, and the den­sity of aro­mas present.

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