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Cognac is a variety of brandy named after the town of Cognac, France. It is produced in the surrounding wine-growing region in the Departements of Charente and Charente-Maritime.
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Cognac production falls under French Appellation d'origine contrôlée designation, with production methods and naming required to meet certain legal requirements. Among the specified grapes Ugni blanc, known locally as Saint-Emilion, is most widely used. The brandy must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais. Cognac matures in the same way as whiskies and wine barrel age, and most cognacs spend considerably longer "on the wood" than the minimum legal requirement.
The region authorised to produce cognac is divided into six zones, including five crus broadly covering the department of Charente-Maritime, a large part of the department of Charente and a few areas in Deux-Sèvres and the Dordogne. The six zones are: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and finally Bois Ordinaire. A blend of Grande and Petite Champagne Cognacs, with at least half the eaux-de-vie coming from Grande Champagne, is known as Fine Champagne.
Cognac-producing regions should not be confused with the northeastern region of Champagne, a wine region that produces sparkling wine by that name, although they do share a common etymology – both being derivations of a French term for chalky soil.
Cognac is a type of brandy and, after the distillation and during the aging process, is also called eau de vie. It is produced by doubly distilling white wines produced in any of the designated growing regions.
The white wine used in making cognac is very dry, acidic and thin. Though it has been characterized as "virtually undrinkable", it is excellent for distillation and aging. It may be made only from a strict list of grape varieties. In order for it to be considered a true cru, the wine must be at least 90% Ugni blanc (known in Italy as Trebbiano), Folle blanche and Colombard, while up to 10% of the grapes used can be Folignan, Jurançon blanc, Meslier St-François (also called Blanc Ramé), Sélect, Montils or Sémillon. Cognacs which are not to carry the name of a cru are freer in the allowed grape varieties, needing at least 90% Colombard, Folle blanche, Jurançon blanc, Meslier Saint-François, Montils, Sémillon, or Ugni blanc, and up to 10% Folignan or Sélect.