THE GREAT SPIRIT OF COGNAC
Cognac is both the name of a world famous beverage and the French region that produces the drink. In that sense, Cognac is like Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy. However, while wine is fermented, spirits like cognac are distilled and, therefore, of a higher alcohol level.
In order to produce cognac, you have first to make the wine. Generally, 3 kinds of grapes are used in production. These are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard. Ugni Blanc is predominant, responsible for more than 95% of all cognac.
The wine that is first fermented to be later distilled into cognac is very acidic and incredibly sour. That acidity provides the ideal raw material for distilling. Distillation has the effect of accentuating and magnifying every tiny characteristic in the wine. Indeed, it takes 9 parts wine to produce one part cognac.
How Cognac is Produced?
Wine is boiled in a copper kettle. The rising vapors pass through a pipe, then traveling through a ‘serpentine’. Outside and all around the serpentine, cold water condenses the vapors, producing the ‘brouillis’, which will be distilled once again to yield the ‘bonne chauffe’. Taking the best part of the ‘bonne chauffe’ and forsaking the impurities in the head and tail, the expert distiller manages to extract the heart of the cognac.
When the spirit emerges from its double distillation, the alcohol level is about 70% - fiery to the point of being undrinkable. For cognac to become enjoyable, the spirit needs to be aged in oak. Time and air will then soften and smoothen it. Limousin and Troncais oak, both French, are preferred. The former possesses more tannins while the latter has more lignin's . Tannins not only impart color to the spirit, they also give structure to the cognac; lignins, on the other hand, blesses the cognac with a lovely vanilla and cinnamon flavor.
The spirit ages in barrel for a minimum two years before it may be sold as cognac. Most are, of course, aged considerably longer. The time spent slumbering in oak - and interacting with oxygen - has the magical effect of transforming an originally burning spirit into a smooth, caressing liquid work of art.