A lot of visitors to Bordeaux, France focus only on the wines.
That would be a mistake, since we really enjoyed touring France’s Cognac region, where the famous brandy is produced. It was a very different and worthwhile day trip from Bordeaux. It’s also less touristy than some of Bordeaux’s wine regions, even though it’s only an hour Northeast of the city. I was impressed – and I’m not much of a brandy drinker.
We had a wonderful experience touring France’s Cognac region with Xavier of 33Tour Bordeaux & Chateaux, a small, local company specializing in wine and Cognac tours.
Cognac, first produced in the 17th Century, is made primarily from the Ugni Blanc grape, and sometimes blended with Colombard and Folle Blanche. It is distilled in a traditional, two-stage method and aged in oak barrels, and blended with different “eaux-de-vie” (“waters of life”) so that the Cognac achieves a consistent profile from year to year. Some of the eaux-de-vie blends used are very old. The alcohol content of the end product must be at least 40 percent.
A brandy can only be called Cognac if it’s made in the Cognac region. There are six official appellations in Cognac; according to experts, the two best are Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. There are more than 200 producers in the region, including some of the most famous “maisons” ("houses"), such as Hennessy and Courvoisier.
Cognac also has specific aging designations. The youngest Cognac (VS) is at least two years old; VSOP is at least four years, and so on to (XO) (10 years) but some bottles are aged for much longer.
A bottle can cost thousands of dollars. For instance, a 70cl bottle of “Extreme,” produced by Tesseron (discussed in more detail below) costs 5,670 euros.
Cognac has seen a bit of resurgence lately, due to clever marketing, a move to new glass bottles, and the rise of its use in cocktails.
The first distillery we visited in our experience touring France’s Cognac region was Rémy Martin, founded in 1724. While most Cognac is now made outside of the village of Cognac, Rémy Martin does produce some of its Cognac in town. All of its eight wine growers are from Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. We enjoyed an excellent, extensive tour of the grounds, distillery, and cellars.
We then enjoyed a sit-down tasting. We sampled:
The “harmony” cocktail, comprised of VSOP, lime juice, apple juice, and almond syrup 😊😊 paired with brioche and cheese.
The XO, created in 1981, very smooth and complex 😊😊 paired with chocolate.
It is possible to visit multiple distilleries in one day of touring France’s Cognac region, but that’s a lot of brandy, considering the alcohol content and generous pours. How you design your trip is up to you. We opted to break up our tastings with a three-course al fresco lunch in a lovely garden at the charming hotel-restaurant L’Essille in the village of Bassac. We also tried “pineau,” the local aperitif made of Cognac and grape juice that you’ll rarely find outside of the region. 😊😊
We next visited family-owned Tesseron in the village of Chateauneuf-sur-Charente. It’s a much smaller distillery than some of the well-known producers, but its Cognac is of great quality. The family used to sell its grapes to the big maisons; about 20 years ago it decided to produce its own label.
Its youngest Cognac is 25 years old, and some are 70 years old. Its grapes also come only from the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne regions. Tesseron has some of the oldest eaux de vie for blending, dating back to the 19th Century. Some of its cellars were once part of the 12th Century crypt of the local church.
We had another wonderful, extensive tour of the cellar and distillery.
We then returned for a tasting.
We sampled five different Cognacs:
Aged two years 😊
Aged five years 😊+
Aged 10 years😊++
Aged 25 years 😊😊
And the “Extreme,” Tesseron’s very reserve Cognac, aged in the crypt 😊😊
We hope you enjoyed learning about our experience touring France’s Cognac region. For more information on how to divvy up your time in the Bordeaux area, go to our post about prioritizing your Bordeaux wine experience.
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