Cognac begins with wine, both in its production and its history. It was in the 16th century that Dutch traders discovered that the wine of France’s Charente region could be preserved during long sea voyages by distillation. The technique was further refined over time to develop the distinctive Charente method of double distillation that’s used today.
Wine became brandy, and brandy became Cognac – the name a guarantee of quality thanks to the region’s climate, soil, grape variety, maturation techniques and human expertise. By law, you can’t make Cognac anywhere else.
Today, you can find Cognacs for every pocket and in an increasingly diverse array of styles, from the simple delights of a young VS to the depth and complexity of a sumptuous XO.
Here are eight of the best, at less than £100 per bottle.
Best Cognac under £100/$100 to try
Camus Ile de Ré Cliffside Cellar
Extreme Cognac? The Ile de Ré is an Atlantic island near La Rochelle – as far away from Cognac’s heartland as you can get. Camus has been working here for nearly 20 years, developing a range of Cognacs including this typically fruity example, which combines fragrant mandarin with a beguiling, maritime salted caramel character. Alc 40%
Among the ‘big four’ Cognac houses, Courvoisier treads a fine stylistic line: rich, but elegant; opulent, but never allowing wood to dominate. This is perhaps the greatest of its core expressions: tropical fruit, mocha, polished antique furniture and seasoned leather. A brilliant blend of eaux-de-vie from Grande and Petite Champagne, plus Borderies. Alc 40%
Delamain Pale & Dry XO
A classic. This, remarkably, is the entry point to the superlative Delamain range, and it’s a great place to start, thanks to its trademark elegance, beautiful fruit and gentle spice and tang. There’s a new Pale & Dry to mark the blend’s centenary, but it’s a tad more expensive
– so snap this up while you can. Alc 40%
A VSOP for north of £50/$50 a bottle? But this is a box of delights that can give many an XO a run for its money. Exclusively produced from Frapin’s Grande Champagne vineyards, it mingles flowers and fruit in equal measure, backed up by a deceptively powerful structure, soft spice and gentle vanilla. Alc 40%
Guillon-Painturaud Réserve Grande Champagne Single Estate
Do your cheeseboard a favour and pour a glass of this gorgeous Cognac from an excellent family producer with 19ha of Grande Champagne vines. Aged for 10 years, it’s effectively an XO, but not in price, and it offers a perfectly poised combination of aromatic florals, vanilla and light ginger and nutmeg. Alc 40%
Hine Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2008
Hine has always been strongly connected to wine – both cellar masters are former winemakers – and the Bonneuil vintage bottlings aim to express the essence of the company’s Grande Champagne vineyards. A light touch in the cellar makes for an expressive, highly aromatic and youthful Cognac with a distinctive red fruit character. Look out for the newly released 2010 too. Alc 42.7%
Ragnaud-Sabourin No 10 VSOP
That this is designated a VSOP illustrates the imprecision of Cognac’s age classifications. It’s aged for 10 years and is a decadent, comfort Cognac of the first order. Fragrant, ultra-ripe fruit with lots of complexity coming from the oak: light honey, cinnamon and darker notes of cacao and a little liquorice. Alc 41%
Tesseron Composition Fine Champagne
The first non-XO-and-beyond release from the Tesseron family of Pontet-Canet fame, this is both a lovely sipping Cognac and a blue-chip base for a hedonistic Sidecar. All the Tesseron trademarks are here: prune, plum, vanilla and a long-lasting chocolate note on the finish. Alc 40%