The origins of brandy are unclear, and tied to the development of distillation. Concentrated alcoholic beverages were known in ancient Greece and Rome and may have a history going back to ancient Babylon. Brandy as it is known today, first began to appear in the 12th century and became generally popular in the 14th century.
Initially wine was distilled as a preservation method and as a way to make the wine easier for merchants to transport. The intent was to add the water removed by distillation back to the brandy shortly before consumption. It was discovered that after having been stored in wooden casks, the resulting product had improved over the original wine.
Grape Brandy is Brandy distilled from fermented grape juice or crushed but not pressed grape pulp and skin. This spirit is aged in wooden casks (usually oak) which colors it, mellows the palate, and adds additional aromas and flavors.
Pomace Brandy (Italian Grappa and French Marc are the best-known examples) is Brandy made from the pressed grape pulp, skins, and stems that remain after the grapes are crushed and pressed to extract most of the juice for wine. Pomace Brandies, which are usually minimally aged and seldom see wood, are an acquired taste. They often tend to be rather raw, although they can offer a fresh, fruity aroma of the type of grape used, a characteristic that is lost in regular oak-aged Brandy.
Fruit Brandy is the default term for all Brandies that are made from fermenting fruit other than grapes. It should not be confused with Fruit-Flavored Brandy, which is grape Brandy that has been flavored with the extract of another fruit. Fruit Brandies, except those made from berries, are generally distilled from fruit wines. Berries tend to lack enough sugar to make a wine with sufficient alcohol for proper distillation, and thus are soaked (macerated) in high-proof spirit to extract their flavor and aroma. The extract is then distilled once at a low proof. Calvados, the Apple Brandy from the Normandy region of Northwestern France, is probably the best known type of Fruit Brandy. Eau-de-vie ("water of life") is the default term in French for spirits in general, and specifically for colorless fruit brandy, particularly from the Alsace region of France and from California.
Brandy, like Rum and Tequila, is an agricultural spirit. Unlike grain spirits such as Whisky, Vodka, and Gin, which are made throughout the year from grain that can be harvested and stored, Brandy is dependent on the seasons, the ripening of the base fruit, and the production of the wine from which it is made. Types of Brandies, originally at least, tended to be location-specific. (Cognac, for example, is a town and region in France that gave its name to the local Brandy.) Important Brandy-making regions, particularly in Europe, further differentiate their local spirits by specifying the types of grapes that can be used and the specific areas (appellation) in which the grapes used for making the base wine can be grown


Armagnac, the region of France, has given its name to its distinctive kind of brandy or eau de vie, made of the same grapes as Cognac and undergoing the same aging in oak barrels, but without double distillation. Armagnac production is overseen by a Bureau National Interprofessionel de l'Armagnac (BNIA). Armagnac is the only true rival to Cognac for recognition as the finest producer of brandy in the world. Along with Cognac and Jerez in Spain, it is one of only three officially demarcated brandy regions in Europe.
Its quantity of production is significantly lower than that of the Cognac region; for every six bottles of Armagnac sold around the world there are one hundred bottles of cognac sold.
Armagnac has been making brandy for around 200 years longer than Cognac.


The Armagnac region lies between the Adour and Garonne rivers in the foothills of the Pyrenees. A part of this historical region is permitted to grow the grapes that are used in the manufacture of brandy that may be labelled with the Armagnac name. This area was officially demarcated when Armagnac was granted AOC status in 1936.
The official production area is divided into three districts which lie in the departments of Gers, Landes and Lot-et-Garonne. These are:
• Bas Armagnac - the largest area of production
• Tenarèze
• Haut Armagnac
Each of these areas is controlled by separate appellation regulations. Although the term bas means "lower" in French, the best armagnacs are principally produced in Bas Armagnac.

The region contains 40,000 acres of grape-producing vines.
The production of Armagnac differs in several ways from that of Cognac. Armagnac is only distilled once and at a lower temperature to Cognac, meaning that the former retains more of the fruit character, whereas Cognac's second distillation results in greater balance. Armagnacs are aged for longer periods than Cognac, though this has little impact on the grape once it has been distilled. Armagnac is aged in black oak giving them darker characteristics than Cognac.
Aging Requirements for Armagnac are
• Three star — 2 years
• VS — 3 years
• VO, VSOP or Reserve ADC — 5 years
• Extra, XO, Napoleon or Vieille Reserve — 6 years
• Hors d’Age — 10 years

Ten different varieties of grape are authorised for use in the production of Armagnac. Of these, four form the principal part:
• Ugni Blanc
• Folle Blanche
• Baco 22A
• Colombard
The remaining varieties include Jurançon and Picquepoul.
The main producers of Armagnac are:
• Sempe
• Larressingle
• De Montal
• Cerbios
• B. Gelas
• Samalens
• Darroze
• Laberdolive
• Marquis de Caussade

brand names
janneau, marquis de puysegur, chabot, samalens, maquis de montesquieu, sempe, laubade, armagnac lapostolle.


Cognac is the best known type of Brandy in the world, a benchmark by which most other Brandies are judged. The Cognac region is located on the west-central Atlantic coast of France, just north of Bordeaux, in the departments of Charente and Charente-Maritime.
The region is further subdivided into six growing zones: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Bois Ordinaries, Borderies, Fins Bois, and Bons Bois. The first two of these regions produce the best Cognac and will frequently be so designated on bottle labels.
Cognacs labelled Fine Champagne are a blend of Petite and Grande Champagne. The primary grapes used in making Cognac are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard.
The wines made from these grapes are thin, tart, and low in alcohol; poor characteristics for table wines, but oddly enough, perfect for making Brandy. Cognac is double distilled in pot stills and then aged in casks made from Limousin or Troncais oak. All Cognacs start out in new oak to mellow the fiery spirit and give them color. Batches that are chosen for long-term aging are, after a few years, transferred to used, or "seasoned," casks that impart less of the oak flavor notes while the Brandy matures. Virtually all Cognacs are a blend of Brandies from different vintages, and frequently, different growing zones. Even those from single vineyards or distilleries will be a mix of Brandies from different casks. As in Champagne, the production of local vineyards is sold to Cognac houses, each of which stores and ages Cognacs from different suppliers and then employs master blenders to draw from these disparate Brandies to create continuity in the house blends. Because there are no age statements on Cognacs, the industry has adopted some generally accepted terms to differentiate Cognacs. It is important to note that these terms have no legal status, and each Cognac shipper uses them according to his own criteria.
  •  V.S./V.S.P./Three Star: (V.S., very superior; V.S.P., very superior pale) A minimum of two years aging in a cask, although the industry average is four to five years. 
  • V.S.O.P.: (very superior old pale) A minimum of four years cask aging for the youngest Cognac in the blend, with the industry average being between 10 and 15 years.
Cognac, named after the town of Cognac in France, is a kind of brandy, which must be produced in the region surrounding the town. The wine to be distilled must be made from Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc or Colombard grapes. It must be distilled twice in copper pot stills and aged at least 2 1/2 years in oak barrels in order to be called "cognac".
A related drink produced in another region is Armagnac.

Producing region and legal definitions

The region of Cognac, divided up into six growth areas, or crus (singular cru), covers the department of Charente-Maritime, a large part of the Charente and a few areas in Deux- Sèvres and the Dordogne. The six crus are, in order of decreasing appreciation of the Cognacs coming from them:
  •  Grande Champagne,
  •  Petite Champagne,
  •  Borderies,
  •  Fins Bois,
  •  Bons Bois,
  •  and Bois Ordinaires.
A cognac made from just the first two of these crus (with at least 50 percent from Grande Champagne) is called "Fine Champagne" cognac, although no cognac has anything to do with the sparkling wine Champagne. ("Champagne" coming in both cases from old words alluding to agricultural fields.)
If a brandy is produced that fails to meet any of the strict criteria set down by the "governing body" of cognac, the BNIC – Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac – it may not be called cognac, nor sold as such.

A Cognac Pot Still

Map of the Cognac region
• It must be produced within the delimited region, from wine using certain grape varieties;
• It must be obtained through double distillation, in typical copper Charentais stills;
• It must age in oak barrels, which give it its color and part of its taste. Many of the cognac producers in the town allow visitors to taste their product; the bigger companies have guided tours.
Process of fabrication
Cognac is made from eaux-de-vie (literally, "water of life") produced by doubly distilling the white wines produced in any of the growth areas. The wine is a very dry, acidic, thin wine, not really suitable for drinking, but excellent for distillation. It may only be made from a strict list of grape varieties. Distillation takes place in traditionally shaped Charentais copper stills, the design and dimensions of which are also controlled. Two distillations must be carried out; the resulting eau-de-vie is a colourless spirit of about 70 percent alcohol.
Cognac may not be sold to the public, or indeed called 'Cognac' until it has been aged for at least two years, counting from the end of the period of distillation (1 April following the year the grapes were harvested). During the aging, a large percentage of the alcohol (and water) in the eaux-de-vie evaporates through the porous oak barrels. This is termed locally the "part des anges", or angels' share, a phrase also used in Scotch Whisky production. A black fungus, Torula
compniacensis richon, thrives on the alcoholic vapours and normally grows on the walls of the aging cellars.
The final product is diluted to 40 percent alcohol content (80 proof). The age of the cognac is shown as that of the youngest eau-de-vie used in the blend. The blend is usually of different ages and 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 creating this delicate blend of spirits, so that the cognac produced by a company today will taste exactly the same as a cognac produced by that same company 50 years ago, or in 50 years' time. In this respect it may be seen to be similar to a blended whisky or non-vintage Champagne, which also rely on blending to achieve a consistent brand flavour.

Grades include

• VS (Very Special) or *** (three stars), where the youngest brandy is stored at least two years in cask.
• VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), Réserve, where the youngest brandy is stored at least four years in cask.
• XO (Extra Old), Napoléon, Hors d'Age, where the youngest brandy is stored at least seven years in cask.
Each cognac house also produces its own premium-level cognac. These include:
• Louis XIII by Rémy Martin is composed of more than 1,200 of the finest eaux-de-vie aged between 40 years and a century in very old Limousin oak barrels.
• Richard Hennessy - produced by Hennessy, 'Richard' is a blend of over 100 eaux-devie aged up to 200 years. It is sold in a Baccarrat crystal blackman and is named after the founder of the company.
• L'Esprit de Courvoisier - Courvoisier's leading cognac, presented in a hand-cut Lalique decanter, blended from eaux-de-vie up to 200 years old, and individually numbered.

Brands include

• Braastad
• Courvoisier
• Hennessy
• Martell
• Rémy Martin
• Hine
• Meukow
Cognac is mainly sold by trading houses. Some of them were founded centuries ago, and still rule the market today.
• Bache-Gabrielsen
• Courvoisier (Owned by Allied Domecq)
• Delamain
• Hennessy (owned by LVMH)
• Hine
• Martell
• Rémy Martin
• Moyet
• Otard
• Pierre Ferrand
• Renault
• Meukow
• Birkedal Hartmann


Italy produces a substantial amount of Grappa, both of the raw, firewater variety and the more elegant, artisanal efforts that are made from one designated grape type and frequently packaged in hand-blown bottles. Both types of Grappa can be unaged or aged for a few years in old casks that will tame the hard edge of the spirit without imparting much flavor or color. Marc from France is produced in all of the nation’s wine-producing regions, but is mostly consumed locally. Marc de gewürztraminer from Alsace is particularly noteworthy because it retains some of the distinctive perfumed nose and spicy character of the grape. California pomace Brandies from the United States are broadly in the Italian style and are usually called Grappas, even when they are made from non-Italian grape varieties. This is also true of the pomace Brandies from Canada.


German monks were distilling Brandy by the 14th century and the German distillers had organized their own guild as early as 1588. Yet almost from the start, German Brandy (called weinbrand ) has been made from imported wine rather than the more valuable local varieties. Most German Brandies are produced in pot stills and must be aged for a minimum of six months in oak. Brandies that have been aged in oak for at least one year are called uralt or alter (meaning "older"). The best German Brandies are smooth, somewhat lighter than Cognac, and finish with a touch of sweetness.


Normandy is one of the few regions in France that does not have a substantial grape wine industry. Instead it is apple country, with a substantial tradition of producing hard and sweet cider that in turn can be distilled into an Apple Brandy known as Calvados. The local cider apples, which tend to be small and tart, are closer in type to crab apples than to modern table apples. This spirit has its own appellations, with the best brands coming from Appellation Controlee Pays d’Auge near the Atlantic seaport of Deauville, and the rest in 10 adjacent regions that are designated Appellation Reglementee. Most Pays d’Auge and some of the better Appellation Reglementee are produced in pot stills. All varieties of Calvados are aged in oak casks for a minimum of two years. Cognac-style quality and age terms such as V.S.O.P. and Hors d’Age are frequently used on labels, but have no legal meaning. In the United States, Applejack, as Apple Brandy is called locally, is thought by many to be the first spirit produced in the British colonies.


Calvados is an apple brandy from the French région of Lower Normandy. Like most French wines, Calvados is governed by appellation contrôlée regulations. The Appellation Calvados contrôlée area includes all of the Calvados, Manche, and Orne départements and parts of Eure, Mayenne, Sarthe, and Eure-et-Loir. The more restrictive Appellation Calvados Pays d'Auge contrôlée area is limited to the east end of the département of Calvados and a few adjoining districts.


Cut brandy is a liquor made of brandy and hard grain liquor. Sugar is used to soften taste.


Cognac Bottle Labeling

Cognac labels are the result of much creative and aesthetic research in the same way as are bottles and decanters.

(GIF) This does not prevent them from giving a lot of consumer information. Beyond all legal information - capacity, place of production or bottling -, the cognac label provides additional information on the product you are about to taste, including its age and its vintages.
The indications on age

Cognac, which has a worlwide reputation to protect, has established very strict rules to protect consumers but also to prevent its production and presentation from being counterfeited. This implies compliance to many rules beit for distillation, for stocking, for ageing or for assembly, etc.

A cognac that is ready to be commercialised must be at least two and a half years old starting from the 1st October of the year of harvest. For the different classes of Cognac, it is the age of the youngest spirit that determins its class.

***, V.S. (Very Special), Sélection, de Luxe. The youngest spirit of the assembly may not be less than four and a half years old. But often, the spirits are much older.

V.S.O.P., Réserve... The youngest spirit in the assembly for Very Superior Old Pales, also called Reserve Cognacs is between four and a half and six and a half years old.

Napoléon, Impérial, Hors d’âge, Vieille Réserve, X.O. All terms like Napoleon, XO or "very old" are assemblies of spirits that are at least six and a half years old. However, most Cognacs are well above this minimum imposed by the regulation. In fact some of the most prestigious names assemble spirits that are each at least dozens of years above the minimum required.
The indications on vintages

The term "Fine".

The term "Fine" is authorised by the law of 1938 and qualifies a vintage spirit. For example, a "Grande Fine Champagne" qualifies a Grande Champagne vintage cognac assembled with spirits that come solely from the Grande Champagne region.

On the other hand, the "Fine Champagne" appelation qualifies a cognac with at least 50% of Grande Champagne spirits and the rest from Petite Champagne.

The appelations by vintage. (GIF) A "Grande Champagne" or "Fine Grande Champagne" cognac is assembled with 100% Grande Champagne spirits.

A "Petite Champagne" or "Fine Petite Champagne" cognac is assembled with 100% Petite Champagne spirits.

A "Fine Champagne" cognac is the result of an assembly of Grande and Petite Champagne spirits with a minimum of 50% from Grande Champagne.

A "Borderies" or "Fine Borderies" cognac contains 100% of spirits from the Borderies area.

A "Fin Bois" or "Fine Fins Bois" cognac contains 100% of spirits from the Fins Bois area.

A "Bons Bois" ou "Fine Bons Bois" cognac contains 100% of spirits from the Bons Bois area.


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