There is an old adage that states “All Cognacs are brandies, but not all brandies are Cognacs.” In order for a brandy to be considered Cognac, it must meet the standards of the growing, distilling and aging standards of the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac.
Cognac is the world’s premiere brandy that is rarely referred to as brandy, rather nearly always as “Cognac”. France, however, is also home to other grape-based brandies. Here are some of them:
Pineau des Charentes
Pineau des Charentes, or Pineau, is a brandy that is produced, like Cognac, in the Charente Department of France and shares many of the characteristics of Cognac.
Pineau is made from eaux-de-vie from the Cognac region, but unlike Cognac that blends various eaux-de-vie and ages them in French oak barrels for years or even decades, Pineau is made by blending eaux-de-vie with fresh grape juice (a process known as assemblage) from the current year’s vintage. The eaux-de-vie and grape juice mixture is then aged in French oak barrels for at least 18 months. If the mixture is barrel aged for five years, the Pineau can earn the designation of vieux (old) and if for ten years, tres vieux (very old).
The alcohol content of Pineau ranges from 16-22%, while most cognacs are 40% alcohol, although some extra proof cognacs may reach 53%.
Types of Pineau
What Grapes Are Used in Pineau?
The grapes used in producing white Pineau are essentially the sames as those used in producing Cognac, mostly Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche.
The grapes used in producing red and rose Pineau are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Who Makes Pineau?
Like Cognac, the production of Pineau is governed by a standards body – The Comite National Du Pineau des Charentes that established in 1945 Pineau des Charentes as an appellation d’origine contrôlée product.
Armagnac is another brandy produced in France but, like Cognac is rarely referred to as a brandy, but simply as “Armagnac”. Armagnac is produced from grapes grown in the Gascony region of southwest France, about 150 miles south of Cognac. Like Cognac and Pineau, the production of Armagnac is governed by a standards body – the B.N.I.A., or Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac. The Armagnac growing region was granted the designation Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) in 1936.
Armagnac is single distilled product, unlike Cognac which is double distilled in copper pot stills (the Charentaise distillation method). Armagnac, in contrast, utilizes column stills rather than pot stills. Armagnac is produced in three growing crus: Bas-Armagnac, Armagnac Tenarèze and Haut-Armagnac.
Types of Armagnac
Armagnacs can be distinguished by their growing crus as well as by their age with similar designations as Cognac (e.g. V.S., V.S.O.P., Napoleon and X.O.)
What Grapes Are Used in Armagnac?
Armagnac is made from many of the same grapes as Cognac: Colombard, Folle Blanche and Ugni Blanc. Armagnac also uses another grape Baco which is a hybrid of Folle Blanche and Noah created by a gentleman of the name of François Baco during the phylloxera crisis of the 19th century.
Who Makes Armagnac?
A variety of small producers make Armagnac. The production of Armagnac is about ten times smaller than cognac’s and no one producer dominates production.
Brandy Francais or French brandy is the name of any brandy made in France that is not produced in a designated Appellation d’origine contrôlée.
What Grapes Are Used in French Brandy?
Since French brandies are made outside the purview of a governing body like the BNIC or BNIA, any type of grape may be used and brandies may be blended with other wines and brandies as the producer wishes.
Types of French Brandy
French brandies can carry the designations of V.S., V.S.O.P., Napoleon and X.O., but such terms have no AOC or legal significance. French Brandies tend to be far less expensive than similar aged Cognac or Armagnacs, although some well-aged French Brandies can get pricey.
Who Makes French Brandy?
The largest producer of French Brandy is St. Rémy, a company owned by Rémy Cointreau, maker of Rémy Martin cognacs. St. Rémy produces a wide range of French Brandies including VSOP, XO, Réserve Privée and Small Batch offerings.
St. Rémy was established in 1886 in north-western France about 150 miles north of Cognac. St. Rémy touts itself as the world’s number one French brandy.