Cognac is the most famous member of the brandy category: a distilled spirit made from the juice, pulp or skin of a fermentable fruit.
There are two regions of Cognac production - Charente and Charente-Maritime - just north of the Bordeaux region. Within this there are six regions of production, with Grande Champagne, Petit Champagne and Bordieres said to produce the best spirits as they have the chalkiest soils. There are eight grape varieties which can be used in Cognac production, with Folle Blanche being the most important before the Phylloxera plague hit between 1872 and 1890, but Ugni Blanc being the most common now.
The wines they produce for distillation into Cognac are low in strength (8-10%) but high in acidity. The spirit is twice distilled in traditional 'pot charentais' to a strength of up to 72%. This is then matured in casks if Troncais or Limousin oak for a minimum of two years, often being blended along the way to ensure a continuity for the big blending house brands which dominate the industry. The categories of aging are as follows:
VS - 2 years old
VSOP - 4 years old
XO - 6 years old