What is Cognac/Armagnac? 

Cognac and Armagnac are French brandy from the Cognac region and Armagnac region of France respectively. They are made from grapes, while Calvados is made from apples. While Cognac and Armagnac are both made from grapes, the region they are from is not the only difference between the two.

Cognac is usually distilled twice as opposed to Armagnac which is mostly distilled only once, so it tends to be smoother than Armagnac’s of a similar age. For a brandy to be called a cognac it must be made from authorized grapes, twice distilled in copper stills and aged in French oak barrels for at least two years. Like whisky, cognac is aged until it reaches what the distiller considers to be its peak or another time appropriate for bottling. The cognac region is comprised of six zones, or “cru”: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bois Ordinaire and Bon Bois.

Armagnac is commonly distilled only once unlike Cognac which is distilled twice, and produced from specific authorized grapes. Like whisky, the spirit is then aged in oak barrels.

Cognac and Armagnac branded VSOP have been aged for five years and the XO have been aged for six.

When buying a Cognac, it is important to be aware of its age (remember, just because something is labelled “XO” does not guarantee that all the cognac is “old” – it just means that the cognac is at least 6 years old unless otherwise stated) and appellation or cru. Cognac from Grande Champagne has long been considered to be the finest, closely followed by Petite Champagne. The differences between the crus are the result of their different soil, and the fact that Grande Champagne has more chalky soil.

Cognac appellation/cru  Terrain features Eau-de-vie features
Grande Champagne Uneven ground, chalky soil, less compact Finesse, floral bouquet, fruit notes
Petite Champagne Chalky soil, compact Less finesse than Grande Champagne, floral and fruity
Borderies Flat, clay, flint stones Fine, floral (mostly violets), rounded
Fins Bois Clay, limestone, mixed soil, red coloured and stonychalky/clay soil Rounded, smooth, fruity
Bons Bois Mixed soil, sand, clay, limestone Fruity
Bois Ordanaries Predominately sand Coastal character, quick aging

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