Cognac is France’s best-known brandy and is named after the town of Cognac in southwest France in the department of the Charente. Produced primarily from the Ugni Blanc grape (curiously, known locally as Saint Emilion), the wine is double distilled in copper pot stills and then aged in French oak barrels for at least two years – although in reality most Cognacs are aged for much longer.
There are six production zones ranging in order of prestige – Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaire. A blend of Grande and Petite Champagne (with a minimum of 50% Grande Champagne is known as Fine Champagne. The official quality grades of Cognac range from V.S. (Very Special) to V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale), X.O. (Extra Old) and finally to Hors d’Age (Beyond Age). The English nomenclature reflects the importance of the British market from the 18th century onwards. There are about 200 Cognac producers, with four of the houses representing over 80% of the market. Marcel Ragnaud is one of the few prestige family owned companies.