Like any type of alcohol, it is essential to drink Cognac responsibly. However, if you are new to this spirit, there are a few things you should know.
Cognac is made from distilled white wine and is typically aged in oak barrels for at least two years. It has a distinctive flavor that is often described as being fruity and floral.
When choosing a Cognac, paying attention to the age statement is important. The longer the spirit has been aged, the more complex the flavor will be.
Beginner-friendly Cognacs to try to include Remy Martin VSOP and Hennessy VS. If you are feeling adventurous, you can also try a XO or Courvoisier Exclusive.
If you’re new to the world of cognac, it can be hard to know where to start let alone the best Cognacs for beginners.
There are hundreds of brands and expressions to choose from, and the prices can vary widely. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best cognacs for beginners.
Whichever Congac you choose, be sure to enjoy it neat or on the rocks. Cognac is a perfect spirit for sipping and savoring slowly with its unique flavor profile.
History of Cognac
Cognac is a type of brandy that is produced in the Cognac region of France. It is made from white wine that has been distilled twice and then aged in oak barrels for at least two years.
The history of Cognac stretches back to the 1600s when wine exported from the region to Holland was deemed unsatisfactory.
The Dutch had already begun distilling gin, so they began distilling the wine they were receiving, too. As they took notice in France, winemakers then shifted to distillation themselves.
Some of the largest brands formed quite early. For instance, this year offered notable anniversaries for two: Martell, the oldest continually operational Cognac brand, with a history stretching back to 1715, celebrated its 300th anniversary; and Hennessy, with its own history dating back to 1765, marked its 250th anniversary.
What is Cognac
Cognac is a type of brandy made from grapes grown in the Cognac region of France. The grapes are distilled twice and then aged in oak barrels for at least 2 years.
This aging process gives Cognac its unique flavor, which has notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak.
Cognac is often enjoyed neat or on the rocks, but it can also be used in cocktails. In addition to its distinctive flavor, Cognac is also known for its smoothness.
This makes it a popular choice for older adults and those who don’t want the harshness of straight alcohol.
The Best Cognacs for Beginners
When it comes to cognac, the options are seemingly endless. So where does someone start? The best place to begin is with some of the more popular and easily accessible cognacs on the market.
Here we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorites that should be perfect for any beginner.
- Marancheville XO Grande Champagne
- Park Napoleon Borderies Cognac
- Bache Gabrielsen American Oak
- Remy Martin VSOP Mature Cask Finish
- Hennessy VS
Marancheville XO Grande Champagne
This is a well-aged cognac that originates from the Cognac region of France. The Marancheville family has been producing cognac since 1782, and their experience is evident in this exceptional spirit.
XO cognacs are required by law to be aged for a minimum of six years, but the Maranchevilles age their cognac for even longer, allowing it to develop a deep and complex flavor profile. The result is a smooth and slightly sweet cognac with notes of dried fruit, vanilla, and oak.
Marancheville XO usually sells for around $100. However, it can often be found for as little as $70, making it a great value for the money. This Cognac has deep, spicy notes that make it perfect for enjoying in the winter months.
It also pairs well with coffee, making it a perfect digestif after a meal. When enjoying Marancheville XO, be sure to use a snifter or tulip glass so you can fully appreciate the aromas of this Cognac.
Park Napoleon Borderies Cognac
Park Napoleon Borderies Cognac is a relative newcomer to the world of cognac, but it has quickly become a favorite among connoisseurs.
The cognac is made from the rarest and most prized type of grape, the Petite Champagne, which gives it a complex flavor profile.
The cognac is aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels, which helps to round out the flavors. Park Napoleon Borderies Cognac is relatively affordable, retailing for $70.
Making it a great option for those who want to enjoy a high-quality cognac without breaking the bank.
Park Cognac is produced by a family-owned company that can be traced back to the year 1880, when Gaston Tessendier, a mathematics teacher, acquired a vineyard in the Cognac region.
Tending to the vines himself, he was such a successful part-time winemaker that he expanded his area and eventually built a distillery to produce wines and Cognac.
Over time, the company became one of the largest bulk suppliers in the whole region and still remains in the family to this day.
Today, Park Cognacs are known for its high quality and smooth taste, and the company continues to be a leader in the industry. With over 130 years of experience, Park Cognac is truly a brand that knows how to make a great Cognac.
There are many ways to enjoy Park Borderies Cognac. Sip it as an aperitif or digestif, neat or even on the rocks. For a sumptuous dessert pairing, try sipping it alongside caramel cake or banana flambé with chocolate sauce.
- Double Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2015
- Silver Medal – International Wine & Spirit Competition 2015
- Silver Medal – 5th Challenge to the Best French Spirits for Asia 2015
- Double Gold Medal – WSWA Tasting Competition 2014
Bache Gabrielsen American Oak
Bache Gabrielsen is another great option. While most cognacs are aged in French oak barrels, Bache Gabrielsen American Oak is aged in charred white oak barrels, giving it a unique flavor profile.
Notes of vanilla and spice are balanced by a delicate floral sweetness, making it a complex and intriguing cognac. It’s also incredibly smooth, with a long and lingering finish.
The Bache-Gabrielsen cognac company has been in the business of producing high-quality cognacs for over a century.
In recent years, they have expanded their operation to include the production of Tennessee oak barrels.
The American Oak is a blend of eaux-de-vie that has undergone its normal maturation process in Limousin Oak casks, but then for the final 6 months, Cellar Master Jean-Philippe Bergier selected the Tennessee oak barrels for the final touch.
The result is a Very Superior Old Pale (VSOP) Cognac from the Fins Bois cru, with a smooth and elegant finish.
- Best Cognac at Spirits Innovation Awards / Cocktails Spirits France, 2017
- Gold Medal at New York International Spirits Competition USA, 2017
- Silver Medal at San Francisco World Spirits Competition USA, 2017
- Very good, strong recommendation – 87 pts at Ultimate Spirits Challenge USA, 2017
- Silver Medal at Cognac Masters Drinks Business London, 2017
Remy Martin VSOP Mature Cask Finish
The Rémy Martin VSOP cognac is a signature product of the House of Rémy Martin. This vibrant gold-colored cognac has dominant notes of vanilla, dried apricot, and candied pear.
The versatility of the Rémy Martin VSOP makes it enjoyable neat, on the rocks, frozen, or in a cocktail, such as a Rémy Ginger. To best enjoy the VSOP neat or on the rocks, it is recommended to use a tumbler glass.
With its bold, intense flavor, Remy Martin VSOP Mature Cask Finish is a great choice for those who want to try a cognac with a bit more body.
The notes of vanilla, oak, and spice are well-balanced, and the long finish is smooth and lingering.
This cognac is best enjoyed neat or on the rocks, making it a perfect after-dinner drink. It’s also versatile enough to be used in cocktails, so don’t hesitate to experiment.
Hennessy is probably the most well-known cognac and is a great entry-level cognac for those who are looking to explore the world of cognac without spending too much money.
Hennessy V.S is the modern-day equivalent of the original Hennessy 3-Star. It is an expression of expertise and consistency, centuries in the making. Hennessy V.S is one of the most popular cognacs in the world.
Matured in new oak barrels, Hennessy V.S is bold and fragrant. Its beguiling character is uniquely Hennessy, a timeless choice with an intensity all its own. Hennessy V.S offers toasted and fruit notes, with a rich, clearly defined palate and a welcoming exuberance.
Hennessy V.S expresses its vibrant and dynamic personality through its beguiling character, bold flavor, and clear structure. Whether enjoyed neat or on the rocks, Hennessy V.S invites you to explore its layers of flavor and complexity.
Its tantalizing aromatic blend of toasted wood and fresh fruits fills the nose while rich flavors of honey and spice coat the palate, leading to a long, warming finish. Hennessy V.S is truly an expression of expertise and consistency, centuries in the making.
It is made from a blend of different grape varieties, and it is aged for at least two years in oak barrels. The result is a well-rounded cognac with notes of vanilla, spice, and citrus.
Hennessy VS is best enjoyed neat or on the rocks, but it can also be used in cocktails. The most popular cocktail made with Hennessy VS is the Sidecar, which combines cognac with lemon juice and triple sec.
The Cognac Industry Today
The global Cognac market is highly concentrated, with the top four brands accounting for over 90% of the market in 2019.
Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin, and Courvoisier are the leading players in the Cognac market and are expected to continue to dominate in the forecast period.
The high market concentration can be attributed to the strong brand loyalty of Cognac consumers and the wide geographical reach of the leading players.
The top four brands have a significant presence in key markets such as France, China, and the US, and have been able to maintain their position despite intense competition from smaller brands.
In addition, the leading players have invested heavily in advertising and promotion, which has helped to build strong brand equity and awareness. As a result, it is likely that the high market concentration will continue in the forecast period.
What to Look For in a Bottle of Cognac
The spirit in cognac is graded by its age, with the youngest eau de vie component aged for a minimum of two years.
VS, or “very special”, Cognacs are the youngest category and are typically used in cocktails or long drinks. VSOP, or “very superior old pale”, Cognacs are aged for at least four years and can be enjoyed on their own or in cocktails.
XO, or “extra old”, Cognacs must be aged for at least six years and are typically served over ice or neat. Older Cognacs may also be available, such as Paradis and Vieux, which are typically only found in private collections.
The two main types of oak used for Cognac are sessile and pedunculate oak. Sessile oak is known to release less tannin (which can make Cognac astringent) and more methyloctalactones (aka “whiskey lactone,” which are impact compounds that give off aromas of wood, cola, and coconut).
pedunculate oak, on the other hand, tends to release more tannin into the Cognac. Tannin adds astringency and body to the Cognac, but too much can make it bitter. The choice of which type of oak to use is up to the Cognac maker, and each will produce a slightly different flavor profile.
Cognac gets its color and many of its rich aromas (caramel, toffee, leather, coconut, and spice) from oak aging. Oak barrels traditionally come from the Limousin and Tronçais forests in France, although today they may come from elsewhere.
The flavor profile of Cognac aged in French Oak will be different from Cognac aged in American or other types of oak due to the differences in the trees themselves as well as the environment
Cognac Price Range
Cognac can range in price from around $30 to $500 or more per bottle, depending on the age and quality of the spirit. The most expensive cognacs are typically those that have been aged for the longest period of time, often 20 years or more.
These ultra-premium cognacs are usually only found in the finest liquor stores or online retailers. For most people, though, a good mid-range cognac like Hennessy VS will be more than sufficient and can be found for around $40-$50 per bottle.
Best Cognacs For Beginners Conclusion
Cognac can be a great choice for everyday drinking, and it is particularly well suited for beginners.
If you are new to cognac, or if you are looking for an easy-drinking spirit that can be enjoyed on any occasion, then consider giving any of the above-listed cognacs a try.