Vintage cognac unlike popular belief is not a French creation but is in fact British. The French have been fiercely protective of their cognac and have laws that govern cognac making strictly. Stringent rules must be followed when choosing the grapes, distilling, aging and blending the brandy to give it the name of a cognac. In fact according to the French laws if a brandy is made using all the governing principles of a cognac but is made anywhere else other than in the native towns of Jarnac and Cognac then it cannot be termed as a cognac.
Vintage cognac is a relatively newer and a rather unexplored trend. Until 1989 the production of vintage cognac was not allowed by the French law. It is for this reason that this cognac was not available in the market for purchase until the nineties. So what is vintage cognac? Vintage cognac is essentially a blend of cognacs that have been distilled from the eau de vie of a single year.
It is not very difficult to identify a vintage cognac. While a cognac that has been matured in the cognac houses of France will not have a date mentioned on the bottle, a vintage cognac will.
A bottle of genuine vintage cognac has a date mentioned on the bottle which tells the date on which this cognac blend was bottled and the vintage of cognac it comes from. This becomes important as it is indicative of the length of time for which the cognac has matured. The significance of these dates lie in the fact that once bottled a cognac stops maturing and doesn’t become better in the bottle irrespective of the years it has been bottled.
There are primarily two types of vintage cognacs. These types are the Jarnac matured vintage cognac and early landed vintage cognac. The primary difference between the two vintages is the method used in aging these cognacs. The storage conditions, climates and the barrels used to age and mature the cognacs renders its unique taste. The cognacs from Jarnac are matured in drier cellars. It is because of this that the brandies produced from this region are darker because of the high oxidization rate and high water evaporation. It is because of these reasons that the alcohol content of the cognacs from this region is more. In order to lower the alcoholic strength of the cognac from the Jarnac region a little bit of water is added to the cask.
In contrast to the cognac from Jarnac, early landed vintage cognac is aged in England. The place where most of this early landed cognac is aged is Bristol. This early landed vintage cognac is made from the brandy that is sent to Bristol in a cask a year or two after the vintage distillation. Once the brandy reaches its destination in England it is left to age in the English cellars which are very damp. There is no requirement of adding additional water to the casks of these cognacs since a damp cellar makes sure that water evaporation is much slower. The content of alcohol thus tends to fall naturally because of the humid conditions of the cellar.