Cognac is a city in France which gives its name to this world famous drink. It is a brandy produced by doubly distilling white wines, which are otherwise not suitable for drinking. The distillation is done in copper stills known as alembics. The end product is a colorless spirit which has an alcohol content of above 70 percent. This distilled product is then aged for at least two years before it can qualify as a cognac. This is then diluted with distilled water and some caramel to color the cognac. The final product has an alcohol content of about 40 percent.
Cognacs are enjoyed the world over as after dinner brandies and are known for their rich textures and flavors. It is also used as a combination with tonic, orange juice or with a touch of syrup. Cognac drinking is considered an acquired art and has lot of traditions that are attached to it.
You first need to select your cognac. Cognacs are graded officially as per their age. The VS or Very Special grade is brandy that has been kept in a cask for at least two years. The VSOP or Very Special Old Pale is where the brandy has been stored for at least four years. The XO or Extra Old brand is brandy that has been stored for at least six years, with the premium brands claiming storage of at least 20 years. As all cognacs are generally blended, the manufacturer has to ensure that the cognacs claiming these grades have the youngest brandy of the age mentioned in each grade.
The ritual for drinking cognac starts with the selection of the wineglass. Experts prefer the tulip shaped wineglass, though low spherical wineglasses are also accepted for cognac drinking. Initially you need to pour about 25 ml of cognac into the selected wineglass and hold the wineglass in your hands so that the palms cup the wineglass. This has to be held for about 10 minutes till the cognac reaches body temperature. Some people do use burn in lighters to warm the cognac, but purists pour scorn on this.
Once the cognac is warmed, you need to look at the surface of the cognac. The color of the cognac reveals the age of the cognac. It can vary from straw yellow for the youngest cognac to amber, golden and auburn red for the older cognacs. Now you need to inhale the montant odors of the cognac. This is the first odor that you get. It could again vary from floral or fruit odors. You could smell violets, iris, rose, pear, cherry, apricot, plum, fig, quince, grapefruit, jasmine, chestnut, orange zest, nut, or peach. Once you have completed this process, shake up the cognac and bring the wineglass to your noise and inhale again. You may find a different aroma.
This is when you are finally ready to take your first sip of the cognac. Let the sip be small and bring you all the warmth that drinking it among close friends can bring to you. Enjoy it with coffee, cigars or chocolates. Coffee goes well with an XO grade while chocolate is more suited to VSOP or XO. Cigars and cognac also make a good combination.