What is the difference between Cognac & Brandy?

Is Cognac just the same as brandy?

The literal definition of brandy is: any distilled spirit that is made from fruit juice (apples, pears, grapes). And yes, Cognac is also a distilled spirit made from fruit juice (so it actually is a type of brandy), however its the regulations around the making of the Cognac that make it distinctive.  Lets look into it in more detail…

Where do they come from?

Where brandy can be made anywhere in the world, Cognac can ONLY be made in a certain region in South-Western France, in the small grape-growing region surrounding the town of Cognac (about a 3-hour train ride from Paris and just north of the world-renowned wine region of Bordeaux). The more premium Cognac’s are from the Grande Champagne or Petite Champagne sub-regions, while the Borderies, and Fin Bois are sill considered to produce very high quality.

What are they made from?

Brandy can technically be made with any fruit juice (although it is mostly made with some sort of grapes). Cognac must be made up of a minimum of 90% of little known varietals  Folle Blanche, Colombard &  Ugni Blanc. with up to 10% of varying other grape varieties being allowed.

What is the distillation process?

Brandy can be distilled using any distillation process (most commonly it is a continuous method). Cognac however, has severe regulations around distillation: it must be double-distilled, a far superior and more expensive method that results in a highly alcoholic and very pure spirit. And it must be distilled in copper. What difference does this made? Think of the difference between cooking potatoes in boiling water, or frying them in butter… copper adds flavour that simply can’t be replicated!

What is the ageing process?

Brandy can be aged in any style of oak casks, and while in some countries (ie France) classify it in the same age scale as Cognac, some countries do not have the same regulations. Cognac is always aged in Limousine or Tronçais oak casks.

VS (Very Special) 2+ years

VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) 4+ years

XO (Extra Old) 10+ years

Essentially:  Cognac is to brandy what Champagne is to sparkling wine… Similar in so many ways, yet made in one location in a superior fashion, resulting in an exclusively French premium product (that can also fetch much higher prices!). 

 

About Grand Breuil…

Grand Breuil is exclusive to Vendimia in Australia, carefully selected by the Vendimia tasting panel from many of the Cognac houses for its superior quality but great affordability compared to the 4 big brands (think Martell, Rémy Martin, Hennessy and Courvoisier).

For cognac-makers and siblings Lilian & Jerome Tessendier, the art of crafting Grand Breuil cognac is to turn time into an ally. Having learnt the art of distillation through experience, passion and history, this pair are said to have noses like none other in the Cognac world! Fruity, floral and woody scents give their cognac prestige and nobility. As well as flavour and aroma, the very history of the prestigious Grand Breuil cognac is unveiled at each tasting occasion.

 

FUN FACT: When the distillation process is finished, the Cognac comes out as a clear spirit (like Vodka) and has 70% alcohol. The ageing in oak barrels gives it the colour & the alcohol percentage is actually watered down to the standard 40% using highly sophisticated blending techniques.

Comparing your Shiraz’s

While many wine drinkers make their wine selection simply based upon a preferred variety (a nice pinot noir over a merlot for example) they can sometimes be quite surprised by the results in the bottle. And why should we find this unusual? While all wine labels must clearly state the variety, vineyard & vintage, they can never truly represent all the specific characteristics of a wine deeply shaped by their growing region and vintage. In this short review of three of our beautiful–yet–different featured shiraz offerings, Peter Bourne introduces us to the wonderful world of terroir…

HUNTER VALLEY, NSW – OAKVALE SHIRAZ ’17

The Hunter Valley is regarded as the birthplace of Australian wine and is undoubtedly a great example of terroir. Why? Because on the face of it the warm, humid climate of the Hunter Valley is not conductive to winegrowing, with sub-tropical storms in the peak January/February growing season diluting flavours and increasing disease pressure. However, in the dry years, such as 2014, the afternoon cloud cover and cool overnight temperatures slows the ripening process so the grapes build more flavour. Flavours of Hunter shiraz are variously described as savoury/umami, or in the ‘olden’ days — sweaty saddle and cow shed. The 2014 is in the former mould, with intense wild blackberry flavours, hints of clove and a taut tannin structure. Drink now with a rare steak or cellar for five or more years.

 

MCLAREN VALE, SA –MONTERRA RESERVE SHIRAZ ’17

Although the Barossa and McLaren Vale are just hours apart, there’s a distinct difference between the two winegrowing regions, with shiraz being the perfect mirror to compare the two terroirs. McLaren Vale is unashamedly hot in summer but the breezes off St Vincent’s Gulf moderate the heat, with the mix of sandy soils near the coast and more complex red and brown loams in the Clarendon Hills bringing a juicy, red & black fruit flavours with a more compact tannin profile. Mike Farmilo makes his Monterra Shiraz in the traditional style with oodles of flavours that just cry out for a barbecue – chops, sausages or a good hamburger.

BAROSSA VALLEY, SA – BETHANY EAST GROUNDS SHIRAZ ’16

While the more inland Barossa valley region enjoys the same warm conditions as the McLaren Vale, the combination of a more continental climate (with cooler nights) and its richer soil adds depth and power to the Barossa shiraz style. The Schrapel family have farmed the Eastern Hills of the Barossa Ranges for 150 years with the 2016 East Grounds Shiraz a  typically dense, intense shiraz with dark chocolate and black fruits bouquet, a rich compact core of equally dark fruits and a skein of compact tannins binding the wine together. Best with a leg of lamb and lots of roasted vegetables.

 

Journals of a wine buyer: Day One

It is October. I head west from the Hume as the sun breaks over the rolling hills behind me. Its golden glow spreads over the tapestry of green. Dotted between the fields, vineyards and livestock are magnificent Victorian federation buildings. It’s clearly a region that enjoyed wealth from the mid 1800’s gold rush. Entering Rutherglen it’s easy to see the town’s past wealth – this region was second only to Ballarat in the gold days. The town that is today a vibrant community of about 2500 once serviced around 30000. Heading just west of the township is surreal. Clustered together within what seems a stones throw are all the major names in finest fortified wines that we have grown up knowing – Stanton & Killen, Buller, Campbell’s and within a few kilometres Morris. There is something special going on here – a small patch of this vast country that nowhere else can emulate. Unique soil, minerals and growing conditions produce world class Muscat and Tokay that compare only with the best that comes from the fortified homeland of the world – Portugal. It seems bizarre that only a few kilometres away in the neighbouring wine growing regions of Beechworth and King Valley it cannot be repeated. In fact, it doesn’t seem like they can produce the same quality even on the other side of town.

First stop, Stanton and Killen, where I’m introduced to Wendy Killen. I am amazed that a family planted and run vineyard and winery that is a major exporter and one of Australia’s premier fortified makers is so hands on and family run. This is a James Halliday Red 5 star rated winery – the highest rating in Australia. It was established and planted in 1864 by Timothy Stanton. I proceed to have 4 hours with head wine maker Andrew Drumm. The aroma of this place is almost intoxicating – a combination of old wood barrels and sweetness – magnificent. After a full
tour, including inspecting storage barrels still full of wine from the middle of last century, we head to the lab. Here we work on our Master’s Blend mix – a perfect combination of their very finest fortifieds blended to a tasting profile to suit the requirements of our community. An amazing experience – Tawny for its “port” flavour, tannin and structure, blended with a percentage of aged Muscat to add a raisin sweetness, thickness and lusciousness and just 15% of a very old Topaque which perfectly integrates the flavours and adds depth. After trying over 20 combinations, this was it! It was amazing how much variation the smallest changes in percentage made! This blend is now available as a premium “community blend’ – available in 5 litre bulk drums.

Next stop – Buller wines, and I am surprised. Buller is one of the biggest names in the fortified industry and they dominate the Dan Murphy shelves – yet their establishment is surprisingly humble. It has had a chequered history in recent years. The business went into administration in 2013 and was taken over by the local Judd family. Nowadays, their cheaper wine is produced in the Swan Hill region and only the high end fortified is from the premium Rutherglen vineyard. Thankfully, the takeover included the purchase of all the old storage barrels, so the legend continues. It’s another Halliday 5 star rated establishment – and I’m in for a treat! Entering the tasting room I introduce myself and am taken through a standard tasting. Buller also does a full range of table wines – including Durif’s which are the best that this country produces. Durif is a high tannic, intensely inky dark and brooding wine which obviously likes the same soil and hot, dry growing conditions. We have included their delicious Nine Muses Shiraz in the current subscription. These guys also produce a magnificent Pedro Ximenez, the dark , intense Spanish Sherry that has gained a following for use in cooking – but seriously, it’s better than that, it’s an incredible drop!

Dave Whyte, the head wine maker takes me on a tour of the storage barn – an old shed full of the largest, oldest barrels I have ever seen. One large barrel is full of wine from 1940 – and it is stored very close to the roof on the 2nd floor. In summer its temperature rises dramatically and winter it lowers. This is apparently part of the maturation process. I am then taken on a full tasting flight of the oldest and rarest wines. Amazing and unbelievable! You simply can’t sip and spit this stuff, it’s like liquid gold! All of these products are in the hundreds of dollars a bottle.

As I leave Rutherglen, the thick syrupy sweetness lingers and I ponder a tiny part of our vast country so close to other wine regions yet so very unique. An area that looks innocuous and low key with the simplest of wineries and facilities – still run by small hands-on family’s, producing pure magic. I can’t help pondering how fortunate we are. This really is the lucky country.