Pronunciation: [KON-yak]

Hailing from in and around the town of Cognac in western France, this potent potable is the finest of all brandies. Cognac is double-distilled immediately after fermentation. It then begins its minimum three-year aging in Limousin oak. Stars on a cognac label denote the following oak-aging: one star — aged three years; two stars — aged at least four years; three stars — aged at least five years. Older cognacs are labeled V.S. (very superior), V.S.O.P. (very superior old pale) and (very, very, superior old pale). A cognac label can no longer legally claim more than seven years aging. It's been difficult for authorities to accurately keep track of Cognacs aged longer than this, so they've limited what producers may claim. Label terms X.O., Extra and Reserve usually indicate a Cognac is the oldest a producer distributes. Fine Champagne on the label indicates that 60 percent of the grapes came from a superior grape-growing section of Cognac called Grande Champagne. One designating Grande Fine Champagne proclaims that all the grapes for that cognac came from that eminent area.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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