Grapes & Wine of the COGNAC Region of France
What makes Cognac so SPECIAL?
What makes cognac unique is a combination of three factors: the climate and quality of
the land, the distillation method, and the skill of the master blender.
The Cognac production area lies at a junction where a microclimate and rich, diverse
soil meet to produce the conditions that are favourable for the cultivation of vines used
to make the spirit. The microclimate is a result of the influence of the Atlantic Ocean on
the land. It is characterized by being ‘softly tempered,’ with ample amounts of sunlight and
sufficient rain, and an average annual temperature of 13.5°C (55°F). This microclimate,
combined with the special soil, is considered ideal for the production of high quality wines.
The soil itself is extremely diverse, ranging from open country chalky soils, to plains with
red clay earth, to green valleys. Quality variations in the soil are based on the amount of
chalk present, the hardness of the chalk, and the amount of clay mixed in with the chalk.
For example, more chalk in the soil increases its quality; the softer the chalk, the better;
and the less clay in the soil, the better its quality. Chalk in the soil is important because
it retains humidity (moisture). Also, the chalk-flecked soil reflects light and so helps to
ripen the grapes. Grand Champagne has the softest chalk and the least clay; therefore, it is
considered the best soil and produces the highest quality Cognacs.
Principal Cognac Grape Varieties
FACTS ON GRAPE GROWING & COGNAC-MAKING in COGNAC
Size of the vineyards: 79,771 hectares (74,614 ha white grapes)
Production volume: 6,279,949 hectolitres (640,000 pure alcohol)
Soil: Mainly limestone, Clayey limestone, sandstone and clay.
Weather: Bordeaux like, with abundant sunshine and Atlantic influence.
The Cognac Delimited Region is located at the north of the Aquitaine basin, bordering the
Atlantic Ocean. The production area covers the Charente-Maritime and most of the Charente
departments, and several districts of the Dordogne and Deux-Sèvres. The Delimited Region
has a total area of over one million hectares (1 095 119 ha), but the actual vineyards only
occupy 79 636 ha. Approximately 95% of them are used for Cognac production.
The Pineau Appellation area follows the boundaries of the Cognac Delimited region.
COGNAC, PINEAU and WINES of Cognac region
One needs to realise that there are different styles of cognac that suit and are appreciated
in different circumstances. They largely reflect the quality of their source fruit, their age
and the nature of the barrels used.
The young, say 7 year old will be fruity, fresh and lively with notes of nutmeg, cedar, broom
and orange. These are popular as an aperitif on ice or with tonic water, or as a cocktail mix.
The middle aged say 20 years old will be well balanced, round, generous in the finish, strong
and long on the palate with aromatic tones of cinnamon, vanilla, sandalwood and raisins.
A 20 year old cognac can be appreciated in a range of situations and I particularly enjoy
one in the evening with friends, or after a hard day to quietly unwind.
The well aged say 50 year old will have a beautiful dark robe with golden copper highlights.
The tasting is a succession of wonderful delights that have to be quietly savoured. They
start with initial notes of ripe fruit, plums, apricots and pineapples quickly followed by
notes of spice such as curry, saffron, nutmeg and sandalwood. The cognac then opens out in
the mouth to revel generous, mellow and round notes of candied fruits and vanilla. The great
length then blossoms into a sumptuous floral and very persistent finish. Obviously a drink to
be enjoyed in a reflective moment like after a fine dinner by a warm fire in the quiet of the
Worldwide Pineau des Charentes is an undiscovered gourmet delight. The French claim that
they only make a limited amount and I suspect that they want enjoy it themselves!
The legend of Pineau suggests that a wine maker in the town of Burie in 1589, accidentally
put new grape juice into a barrel containing a small quantity of eau de vie. And forgot about
it. A few years later, the wine maker tasted it, liked it and that is how Pineau des Charentes
Cognac is blended with the new grape juice within hours of grapes pressing to produce Pineau
des Charentes. Grapes must be very ripe in order to obtain grape juice that is rich in natural
sugars. Pineau des Charentes is the result of stopping the fermentation of the grape juice by
adding Cognac which must be at least one year old. Pineau des Charentes must contain between
16.5% to 22% alcohol. Production is strictly controlled to assure high quality through proper
blending and ageing.
The dominant white variety of pineau is made using the grapes Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and
Colombard, with occasional Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Montils. The mixture is aged for at
least 18 months in oak barrels, and is traditionally a deep gold in colour, but colours and
qualities vary from vineyard to vineyard. The taste is predominantly sweet, but is balanced
by both acidity and the increased level of alcohol.
Finer varieties are aged for over 5 years in barrel, and often for several decades.
The less common rosé variety, is made from the grapes Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon,
and Merlot, and is aged for at least 14 months in oak barrels and varies between a deep
mahogany brown colour and a very dark pink.