Cognac is a brandy obtained from the double distillation of specific white wines from the Poitou-Charentes region of France. It is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 30 months and must reach an alcohol content of at least 40° in order to be sold commercially. Pineau des Charentes and Grand Marnier are derived from Cognac.
Cognac is subject to strict specifications imposed by its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, and to frequent inspections. A glance at its label will allow you to appreciate its area of production. The most prestigious Cognacs include the words “Grande Champagne” or “Petite (Fine) Champagne” on their label. The next categories are those showing “Borderies,” “Fins,” “Bons Bois,” and “Bois de Terroir” Cognacs. Other information also includes the age of the brandy. A Cognac aged in barrels for 20 to 54 months also includes the mark VS or VO. A Cognac aged for 54 to 78 months is classified as VSOP or “Reserve.” Otherwise, it is identified by the marks XO or “Napoleon.”
Cognac is mainly used in cooking to flambé meats, but also fritters and caramelized fruits, such as banana and pineapple.
Cognac is used in moderation because of its high alcohol content. According to purists, it is traditionally served at room temperature in a tulip glass. As an aperitif, it can also be served with ice and sliced lime, or mixed with soda.
Even when opened, a bottle of Cognac can be kept for months or years if stored in a cool and dry place. Make sure the bottle is closed well to limit evaporation of the alcohol.