Years ago, brandy was a drink reserved exclusively for the affluent population, who would gather after a rich dinner with their snifters (rounded, stemmed drinking glasses filled with brandy) and sip to help digest their meal. These days brandy has become a treat enjoyed at room temperature, as the warmth helps fight off the chill of an evening breeze.
By far the most famous and exclusive brandy is cognac. Named after the quaint town of Cognac in a wine growing region in France, cognac must subscribe to a rigorous production process to earn the right to use the name on its bottle. French law dictates very specific production requirements, right down to the grapes used, to retain the exclusivity of the 300 year old tradition.
By law, cognac must be made from at least 90% Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, or Colombard grapes, although Ugni Blanc have become almost exclusively the only grapes used in modern cognac production. The liquid must be distilled twice in pot stills and aged for at least two years before it can legally be called cognac.
Unlike scotch, which demands the bottle display the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle, cognac uses a more generalized grading system: VS, or Very Special, where the youngest brandy is aged at least two years in the cask; VSOP, or Very Special Old Pale, where the youngest brandy is aged five years but the others often much longer; and XO, or Extra Old, where the youngest brandy is aged six years, but the average age is closer to 20 years.
The end result of these stringent conditions is a brandy that has received centuries of positive feedback, and earned the title of “mother of all brandies.” So pour yourself an after-dinner glass and sip the warm amber spirit that has delighted the upper classes for ages.