Saturday, November 28, 2009

The World's Most Famous Brandy - Cognac

Cognac is not just a drink, it's a city in southwest France that's filled with cobblestone streets, museums and shopping. And, of course, there's also cognac. The town of Cognac sits on the banks of the Charente River, about a three-hour TGV train ride southwest of Paris. The region may be known for its brandy, but you don't have to look far for its other charms.

The pace is enjoyably slow, the climate pleasantly mild. The river winds through the countryside, its tranquil waters reflecting images of vine-covered hillsides, small towns, well-tended farms and weathered châteaux framed by geraniums, pink roses and oleander bushes.

Tours of one of the great Cognac houses: Hennessy, Martell, Rémy Martin or Courvoisier range from about $10 to $25 --
including tasting... The region's Cognac houses play host to
about 200,000 visitors a year, many of them Americans.

All cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac. Like champagne, cognac has to come from a designated area of France by law —the Charente region near Bordeaux. It is also made according to strict, legal guidelines. Once blended, cognac has to be matured in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The spirit’s quality is measured by the average age of maturation—VS is usually aged 2 years and is perfect for mixing with soda, ginger ale or as part of a cocktail. VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) is aged around 4 years and can be enjoyed mixed or neat. The highest grade, XO (Extra Old), is aged a minimum of about 10 years and should be savoured on its own.
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