Cognac Encyclopedia

An encyclopedia dedicated entirely to Cognac, the famous French brandy from Charente, France. Cognac, being the most complex of the spirits, brings with it a specific vocabulary. Even a connoisseur will not know the complete Cognac terminology with words such as Rancio, Brouillis, Folle Blanche, and Demi John. Learn everything about Cognac vineyards, harvesting, distillation, ageing, blending, and bottling–with all its intricate procedures, people, materials, and utensils.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 

 A


  • Acidity – The level of acid in a Cognac or brandy. Cognac is made from grapes with high acidity.
  • Aging – The process of maturing Cognac or eau-de-vie in oak barrels. The wood interacts with the liquid, and the alcohol and water content gradually reduce.
  • Alembic – Also spelt ‘Alembic’. These are pot stills where distillation of wine takes place to create eau-de-vie. The designs and dimension are legally controlled. They are made from copper because of the metal’s ability to evenly conduct heat.

  • Angel’s Share – The volume of Cognac that is lost to evaporation during the aging process in oak casks.
  • AOC – Stands for Appellation d’Origine Controlee, and is the official regulator of Cognac.
  • Aroma – The scent of a Cognac–also referred to as the ‘nose’. There are five major aromas found in Cognac. These are: vanilla, prune, caramel, orange, and apricot.

  • Artisan – A small, craft creator of Cognac. One who doesn’t use intensive farming methods.
  • Assemblage – How a particular Cognac is put together. Carried out by the Cellar Master who decides which ages and vintage will blend well to create a quality Cognac.

 B


  • Balloon Glass – A traditional shaped glass from which to drink Cognac or brandy. So named because it’s shaped a little like a balloon. Also known as a ‘balloon snifter’.

  • Barrel – Made from Limousin Oak, a Cognac barrel is where the aging process of eau-de-vie takes place. Tannins in the wood react with the liquid to create unique flavors and aromas.

  • Baron Otard - A Cognac house founded in 1795. Very popular with Scandinavian Cognac drinkers.
  • Bisquit - A Cognac house founded in 1819 by Alexandre Bisquit. Sold to Pernod Ricard in 1966 and then by Distell in 2009. Reputed to be one of the favorite Cognacs of Winston Churchill.
  • Blend – A Cognac created from more than a single eau-de-vie.
  • Blending – The process of mixing different eau-de-vie to create a final ‘blend’. This is carried out by the Cellar Master and will determine the quality and taste of the final product.
  • Bois Ordinaires – One of the six growth areas of the Cognac region covering around 26,000 hectares. Has sandy soils and includes the islands of Ile de Re and Ile d’Oleron.
  • Bons Bois – One of the six growth areas of the Cognac region covering around 370,000 hectares of land. The soil quality is very mixed, consisting of clay, limestone, and sand.
  • Borderies – The smallest of the six growth areas of the Cognac regions covering around 12,500 hectares. The cru of Borderies is located on a plateau, with soils of clay and flint.
  • Bouilleur de Cru – A person who distills eau-de-vie. There are over 4,000 of these in the Cognac region. Many have their own pot stills. Some create their own Cognacs, others sell their eaux-de-vie directly to the trade.
  • Bouilleur de Profession – A person who is both a ‘bouilleur de cru’ but also is a trader in eaux-de-vie, both buying and selling. They might also carry out the distillation process for others. There are around 100 Bouilleur de Profession in the Cognac region.
  • Bouquet – The aromas or ‘nose’ that a Cognac emits. There can be many different aromas in a single Cognac that make up the bouquet.
  • Brandy – Like Cognac, brandy is made from grapes in a similar fashion. Only brandy grown and created within the region of Cognac and adhering to strict legislation is allowed to carry the name of ‘Cognac’.
  • Brandy Glass – A glass of varying shape that allows the aromas of the contents within to be intensified and directed up the nose. Common brandy glasses are known as the ‘balloon glass’, ‘tulip glass’, and ‘wobble glass’.

  • Brouillis – Cognac is distilled twice, or ‘double distilled’. After the first distillation of the wine the liquid is quite low in alcohol. This is called ‘brouillis’. This will then be distilled for a second time to produce eau-de-vie.

 C


  • Camus – The largest family run Cognac house with a history dating back to 1863. Today the house is run by Cyril Camus, and is known for its innovative approach to the making and marketing of Cognac.

  • Cask – Another word for a Cognac barrel. Also used to describe stronger proof Cognac, where this is higher than the standard 80% proof of most Cognacs. Such a Cognac doesn’t have any distilled water added before being bottled.

  • Cellar Master – The person who supervises and is responsible for the aging and creation of Cognacs. The role is very specialized, with knowledge being handed down through the generations, often from father to son.
  • Chais – The cellars where eaux-de-vie in oak barrels spends its years during the aging process. Also known as a cellar.

  • Champagne - In Cognac terms, this describes two of the growth regions: Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. A Cognac created from eaux-de-vie from both regions, with at least 50% being from Grande Champagne, is described as a ‘Fine Champagne’ Cognac.
  • Charente – Department in SW France where the town of Cognac is located. Much of this department is part of the delimited region for Cognac vineyards.
  • Charente Maritime – Department on the southwestern coast of France. All of this department is part of the delimited region for Cognac vineyards.
  • Cognac – 1. The town, located in the department of Charente. 2. The delimited region where the vines produce grapes that can be made into the brandy known as Cognac. It is the second largest wine region in France. 3. The brandy produced following the strict criteria that allow it to carry the name of ‘Cognac’.

  • Cognaçais – A French word describing the region covering around a quarter of the department of Charente, so called because of the city of Cognac. It contains the growth regions of Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, and Borderies.
  • Colombard – One of the three types of grape grown to create Cognac. It has more alcohol content than the two other grape varieties grown to make Cognac; Folle Blanche and Ugni Blanc. It is a traditional grape variety of the Charente region.
  • Conjure - A Cognac brand launched in 2009 by Cognac big player, Kim Birkedal Hartman (of the Cognac house, Birkedal Hartman), and US hip-hop star, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges.
  • Coupe – A wide rimmed, shallow glass traditionally used for drinking Champagne. Now often used as a glass to serve cocktails.
  • Courvoisier - One of the largest and most famous of all the Cognac producers, with a history dating back to 1828. Often referred to as the ‘Cognac of Napoleon’, due to legend saying that he took barrels of Courvoisier Cognac with him when exiled to St. Helena.

  • Cru – A word that describes the different growth regions of Cognac producing vines.

 D


  • Delamain - A Cognac house with a far-reaching history back to the 1600s. A family run brand that produces high-end and exclusive Cognacs.
  • Delimited Region – The strictly controlled region where Cognac grapes are grown. It covers the Charente Maritime, a large part of the Charente, and some of the Dordogne and Deux-Sevres. Consists of six growth areas, or crus, and contains around 79,000 hectares of vines.

  • Demi John – A rigid container or bottle, often enclosed in wicker, containing between 3-10 gallons of liquid (approx. 15-45 liters).

  • Distillation – Part of the Cognac making process whereby alcohol is extracted and filtered from the grape juice. This is done by heating and separating the various volatile components within the liquid to concentrate the alcohol. This part of the process is carried out in alembic pot stills. This results in the base component of Cognac, which is eau-de-vie.

  • Double-distillation  – Unlike other spirits such as whisky, rum, or tequila, the wine that Cognac is made from is distilled twice. This intensifies the aromas so that the eau-de-vie can age nicely in oak barrels to eventually become Cognac.

 E


  • Early Landed – A tradition of sending barrels of Cognac to another country (typically England) to be aged. The overall cooler and steady temperatures and higher humidity result in less evaporation of the eau-de-vie. This causes uniquely different flavors and aromas to develop. Hine Cognac is one brand that specializes in a range of Early Landed Cognacs.
  • Eau-de-vie – The clear, colorless spirit that is produced from grapes by fermenting them into wine and then distilling the wine, twice. The plural of eau-de-vie is eaux-de-vie.
  • Evaporation – The proportion of alcohol, water, and other compounds that are lost during the aging process of eau-de-vie. This represents around 2% of all the eau-de-vie produced in a single year.
  • Extra - A Cognac that is of a superior quality to an XO, generally having components that have been aged for a minimum of 15 years.
  • Extra Old – A quality of Cognac, abbreviated to simply, XO. To carry such a quality rating, the youngest component contained within the Cognac must have been aged for a minimum of 10 years. (Before 01 April 2018 this was 6 years).
  • Eye – The color and appearance of a Cognac. In general, the older the Cognac, the darker the color, although this can be enhanced by the additions of components such as caramel.

 F


  • Fins Bois – One of the six growth areas of the Cognac region, covering around 350,000 hectares of land. Has a mixed soil quality of clay and limestone.
  • Finish – The length of time the taste of a Cognac continues within the mouth after it’s been swallowed. In general, the older the Cognac, the longer the finish.
  • Folle Blanche – One of the grape varieties grown to produce Cognac. Sometimes called Folle Jaune or Folle Verte. Has a lighter percentage of alcohol content than the other grapes used to make Cognac.
  • Frapin - A family run Cognac house with a history traceable back to the year 1270.  The family own and farm 200 hectares of Grande Champagne vineyards. The house is known for producing high end Cognacs, and was the first to create a multi-vintage blend.

 G


  • Gautier - One of the oldest Cognac houses, and is located in a former water mill in Aigre. This proximity to water provides Gautier’s Cognacs with a unique taste and aroma. The family run concern was acquired by Marie Brizard & Roger International in 1995, which was in turn became a subsidiary of the Belvedere Group in 2006. They continue to create Cognacs under the brand name of Gautier.

  • Glass – 1. A receptacle from which to drink Cognac, traditionally a tulip glass or a balloon glass.  2. The material used to create the bottles that hold Cognac.

  • Grande Champagne – Considered the best of all of the growth areas of the Cognac region thanks to its chalky soils. Covering an area of around 34,700 hectares and referred to as the ‘premier cru’.
  • Grape – The fruit from which Cognac is produced. The three varieties used are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard.

  • Growth Area – A term used to describe the six different areas, or cru, of the Cognac region. These are, Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires.

 H


  • Hennessy - A producer that is perhaps the best-known name in the world when it comes to Cognac. Established in 1765 by Irishman, Richard Hennessy, it is today part of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy Group.

  • Hine - A Cognac producer located in the heart of Grande Champagne. Known for producing small quantities of exceptional standard Cognacs, with a trademark of sending some casks of eau-de-vie to be aged in cellars in Bristol, England. These Cognacs are known as ‘early landed’.

  • Hors d’Age - An unofficial age classification for a Cognac that translates as ‘beyond age’. Technically this is an XO Cognac, which is the oldest official quality that a Cognac can be. However, the term ‘Hors d’Age’ is generally used for Cognacs that have been aged for a minimum of 30 years. Some could be much older, even up to 100 years of age.

  • House – The term for a Cognac producer or brand, known as a Cognac house.

 J


  • Jarnac – A town in the Charente region located around 8 miles east of Cognac. Lies on the Charente River and is home to producers such as CourvoisierHine, and Louis Royer.

 L


  • Limited Edition - A Cognac produced in a limited run, such as 100 bottles or 500 bottles. Many are numbered and come with a certificate of authenticity.

  • Limousin – An agricultural region in south-central France, known for its beef farming and cattle. With regards to Cognac, this is the area that oak trees are grown, and from where the wood is used to make the barrels in which Cognac is aged. It is the most expensive of all woods used to make oak barrels, and imparts strong vanilla aromas and flavors to the eau-de-vie as it ages.

 M


  • Maison – The French word for house. So a Cognac house might be referred to as a Maison du Cognac, or Maison Hennessy, for example.
  • Maître de Chai – The French term for a Cellar Master, the person who holds overall responsibility for the aging and creation of Cognac.
  • Martell - One of the largest of all the Cognac Houses and the oldest of the ‘big 4’. Located in the center of Cognac itself, Martell is well known for creating the highest quality Cognacs. Owned by Pernod Ricard, the house produces some iconic blends, such as the Martell Cordon Bleu XO.

  • Master Blender – Another term for ‘Cellar Master’ or ‘Maitre de Chai’. This is the person responsible for both the aging of the eau-de-vie and the creation of blends to make the finished Cognacs.
  • Meukow - A Cognac house founded in 1862 by two Russian brothers. Known for its famous ‘pouncing panther’ trade mark, it now belongs to the CDG Group and has a strong international presence.

  • Millesime – A vintage: A Cognac from a single harvest and single year. Such Cognacs are strictly controlled by the BNIC, whereby an inspector seals the cask and places it under lock and key in the chais (cellar) where the producer has no access. This process allows the producer to state the year that the Cognac was harvested when it’s eventually bottled and sold.

 N


  • Napoleon - An unofficial age determination for a Cognac that’s generally at least as old as an XO (where the youngest element in the blend is more than 10 years of age, as from 01 April 2018 when the rules changed from six years). In most cases, a Napoleon Cognac is much older than this.
  • Nose – The aromas that can be smelled in a Cognac. There are common aromas, such as vanilla, prune, orange, and apricot, and those that are much less common, such as chocolate, leather, and tobacco leaves.

 O


  • Oak Barrel – The wooden barrels used to age eau-de-vie, made from oak grown in the Limousin region of France.

  • Organic – A Cognac produced using no chemical intervention. To be labeled as organic, a farmer must have cultivated his grapes for a minimum of three sequential years using no chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.

 P


  • Palate – The taste of a Cognac and how it feels in the mouth. The flavors that are apparent, such as spices, floral, or sweetness, and the texture, or ‘mouthfeel’ that it gives.
  • Paradis Cellar – The aging cellars where a Cognac producer keeps their oldest and most valuable eaux-de-vie.

  • Petite Champagne – One of the six growth areas of the Cognac regions, next to and surrounding Grande Champagne on three sides. Also has chalky soils and produces grapes that are of high quality. Covers around 65.600 hectares of land.

  • Phylloxera – A tiny insect, known as Phylloxera vastartrix, that caused the decimation of the vineyards throughout France and beyond during the mid-1860s. Before then, the grapes grown in Cognac vineyards where mainly Folle Blanche and Colombard. After this they were mostly replanted with Ugni Blanc grapes that are far more resistant to such pests. Doing so changed the flavor of Cognac forever.
  • Pierre Ferrand - A small, specialized Cognac producer that specializes in old and very old Cognacs. Located in the Chateau de Bonbonnet et Ars, 10km from the town of Cognac, the house comes under the larger umbrella group, Ferrand Cognac.
  • Pineau des Charentes - A fortified wine made from fresh grape juice and young eau-de-vie that has been aged in oak barrels. Often enjoyed as an aperitif, or with a mixer.

  • Poitou Charente – A region of SW France made up of four separate departments. These are, the Charente, Charente Maritime, Deux-Sevres, and Vienne.
  • Producer – A person or Cognac house that creates Cognacs. There are over 300 Cognac houses/producers.
  • Prunier - A family run Cognac house that doesn’t own any vineyards. They purchase eaux-de-vie directly from the farmers and distillers, aging them in their cellars in the heart of Cognac.

 R


  • Rancio – A phenomenon that occurs in Cognacs after around 10 years of aging in oak barrels. This intensifies over the years, and is apparent on both the nose and the palate.  Some describe it as nutty, cheesy, mushroom-like, and a little bitter. Rancio becomes more apparent the longer a Cognac is aged.

  • Reduction – The process of reducing the natural alcohol content in Cognac. During the aging process this reduces by around 2% per year. However, this natural process is not enough, and the process of reduction has to be carried out in careful stages. This is done by the addition of pure, distilled, or demineralized water.
  • Remy Martin - One of the largest and most famous of all the Cognac producers. The house only produces Fine Champagne Cognac. In other words, they only use Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne eaux-de-vie in their products. Owned by the Cointreau Group, Remy Martin’s most famous Cognac is the treasured Louis XIII.

  • Reserve - An unofficial term used to describe the age of a Cognac. Officially this is equal to an XO Cognac, where the youngest eau-de-vie must be aged for a minimum of 10 years. However, a good Reserve Cognac is usually far older than this, and is of a higher quality than a Napoleon, XO, or an Extra Cognac. The average age of a Reserve Cognac will be more than 25 years.

 S


  • Single Estate – A Cognac created from eau-de-vie that’s been grown on a single estate, rather than a blend of eaux-de-vie from various different estates and/or regions.

  • Snifter – A type of Cognac or brandy glass, also known as a ‘balloon glass’.  A traditional glass so named for its balloon-like shape. This intensifies the aromas of the Cognac, directing them upwards and towards the nose of the taster.

 T


  • Tannin – An organic substance found in wood or bark. In regards to Cognac, the tannins found in the Limousin oak used to make the barrels in which eau-de-vie is aged impart strong flavors and aromas of vanilla to the liquid.

  • Terroir – The soil and grounds of the six different growth regions of the Cognac area. These are, Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaire.

  • Three Star – A lesser-used term for a VS quality Cognac. Denotes that the youngest element in the blend has been aged for a minimum of 2 ½ years. The same terminology is often found in other brandies, as well as Cognac.
  • Tulip Glass – The Cognac tasting glass of choice for the Cognac connoisseur. Long and thin in shape, with a narrow rim, it allows the drinker to look at the Cognac, and intensifies the aromas to best appreciate the bouquet. Is so named because of its ‘’tulip-like’ shape.

 U


  • Ugni Blanc – One of the three grape varieties grown to create Cognac. Perhaps more well-known by its Italian name, Trebbiano. This grape is known by many other regional names, such as Saint Emilion and Muscadet, amongst others. A very disease resistant grape, and is the most predominant in the Cognac vineyards.

 V


  • Vigneron Independent – A trade association of small, independent wine growers. To qualify, the wine maker must work and harvest their own vineyard, and carry out all of the production methods to create their wares. They are then able to use the association’s logo on their products.
  • Vine – A climbing, trailing, woody stemmed plant on which grapes grow.

  • Vinification – The term that describes the conversion of grape juice into wine by fermentation.
  • Vintage - A Cognac from a specific year’s harvest.

  • Vineyard – An area covered in vines specifically grown to produce grapes for winemaking.

  • VS - The youngest quality of Cognac, and stands for ‘Very Special’. Cognac of this quality have been aged for a minimum of two and a half years.

  • VSOP - Stands for ‘Very Special Old Pale’ and denotes a quality of Cognac that have been aged for a minimum of four years.

 W


  • Wine – An alcoholic drink made from grape juice. Eau-de-vie-de-vin is a wine brandy that is more acidic than wine (also referred to as simply, eau-de-vie). This is the product that is used to create Cognac.
  • Wobble Glass – A Cognac or brandy glass that’s similar in shape to a balloon glass, but it has no stem. This allows the glass to roll around on the table, moving the Cognac and releasing further aromas.

 X


  • XO - The highest official rating for a quality of Cognac. Stands for ‘Extra Old’. Such a Cognac must be aged for at least 10 years (as of April 2018). Before this date an XO had to be aged for a minimum of six years to quality.