Sipping a snifter of cognac after a meal is a decidedly decadent activity, encouraging us to slow down, savor a special occasion, and set aside day-to-day worries. But what's actually in that glass? Cognac is a special spirit, distilled from grapes and made only within the confines of the designated region in southwestern France. Like many French wine appellations, cognac restricts the grape varieties that can be used to produce the elegant spirit.
Cognac is made exclusively from white grapes, specifically grapes that are relatively low in sugar and high in acidity. While six grape varieties are legally permissible for use in cognac, three varieties account for nearly all cognac production. Chief among them is Ugni Blanc (also called Trebbiano Toscana in Italy), followed by Colombard and Folle Blanche. Ugni Blanc is the hero of Cognac; it accounts for roughly 95% of the total grape production in the region. Colombard and Folle Blanche were far more widely planted in the region historically, but Ugni Blanc is easy to grow and is also less susceptible to diseases that can affect yields from less hardy grape varieties.
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What Other Grape Varieties Are Permitted In Cognac?
Interesting fact: Ugni Blanc is the most widely planted white grape in all of France, though some wine enthusiasts may never have heard of it. The rest of the grapes cognac producers can use are limited to no more than 10% of the blend. While the distillers of cognac may choose to include the other three grape varieties in addition to Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanche, they're typically present only in very small quantities, if at all. What are these lesser-known varieties? Semillon, Montils, and Folignan are also used in modern-day cognac, and a slew of additional obscure varieties were distilled into cognac historically, though their use is no longer permitted.
While cognac is frequently sipped neat, as an after-dinner treat, it's also an essential ingredient in several classic cocktails, like the French Connection, which combines cognac and amaretto, and the sidecar, which plays the depth of cognac against bright, tart lemon juice and a little Cointreau for sweetness. Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanche are grape varieties that aren't terribly distinctive when vinified for table wine, but they're elevated into luxurious greatness when distilled into cognac.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.