When it comes to drinking Cognac, one of the most important questions to understand is – how to taste Cognac?

Now, if you’re new to the joys of drinking and tasting good Cognac, this concept of there being a right way in which to taste the drink might seem a little complicated and even intimidating.  After all, the last thing anyone wants to do is make a faux-pas when in distinguished company.  Do you taste first or swirl?  What does the color tell you about the Cognac you’re drinking?  And how long should you hold your Cognac in the glass before taking that all important first sip?

Confusing, isn’t it?  Well fear not, because here comes the Cognac-Expert guide on how to drink Cognac and enjoy your eaux-de-vie.

1. The eye

Firstly, swirl the glass and look at the beads of alcohol. The softness of the ‘legs’ indicates the complexity of the cognac.  Look at the color of the Cognac – is it a light golden color or a deeper hue?  However, don’t be fooled by the fact that you might know that Cognac darkens with age, because in many cases caramel is added to a Cognac to produce a darker drink.  Coloration alone does not give you an accurate indication of the age of a Cognac.


2. The nose

Holding the glass at chin level, inhale the vapors and try to identify what it is that you can smell. Concentrate on noticing flowers and spicy notes. Flowers and fruits indicate a younger Cognac, whereas jammier notes imply an aged Cognac. Often one might find hints of Vanilla, although this might be very subtle in some cases. Nutty notes can also be noticed.

3. The palate

Have a sip, but keep the liquid in your mouth. Remember, Cognac is sipped and savored, not drunk.  This is because you want to taste all the different nuances.  Your tongue has different sensors in different areas, and you want to ensure that the Cognac touches all of these.  Taste at the tip for sweetness, the back for bitterness and at the sides for saltiness and sourness.  Also, pay attention to the length of the flavor in your mouth, and to the balance of the different flavors.


Now, as we mentioned earlier, some Cognac producers add caramel to darken their product.  This way, they appear older than they actually are.  So whilst the colour on its own is not an accurate indication of the age of a Cognac, on the palate you can notice it quite easily: It’s noticeable as a very early, sweet vanilla note on the tip of the tongue, which then quickly vanishes, and is not present elsewhere on the palate.

In addition to the above, there are some more general ‘rules’ for tasting:

Most importantly is, don’t be in a rush to drink a Cognac.  It’s important that a Cognac should be allowed to breathe for at least 30 seconds per year of it’s age.  So, for example, an XO Cognac at 20 years should breathe for a minimum of 10 minutes before tasting it.

Different flavors in Cognac you might detect

1. Fruit

In a younger Cognac (older than VSOP or older than 8 years) you should be able to find fruity notes. Typical fruits that you might recognise are raisins, apricots, oranges, lemons, apples and/or peaches.

2. Flowers

Middle-aged Cognacs (older than 14 years) normally present a certain nuance of flowers, either in the nose or on the palate.  Flower flavours can be roses, clover and/or honey.  Cognacs produced from the Borderies growing region often have notes of lavender.

Cognac aroma wheel: so many different tastes and nuances (source BNIC)
3. Spices

You might find nutmeg, cinnamon, coffee, ginger, coconut, toffee and other notes in older Cognacs (over 20 years).  Some Cognacs even combine fruits and flower with those spicy aromas.

4. Rancio

This is a specific term, describing a characteristic sense of sweet nut, influenced by the taste of wood and oak in a Cognac, with a long finish.

5. Chalk 

 When one can taste nuances of earth or oaky flavours in the upper half of the mouth.

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Max is a spirits expert and speaker, into marketing, technology, startups, and business development. He’s also a farmer. He likes tools and machines, Game of Thrones, and Better Call Saul. Included in his Top 10 Cognacs are the Audry XO and Bache Gabrielsen 1973. Max founded Cognac Expert in 2010 at his family’s estate in Poullignac, in the Cognac region, France. Started as a blog, today Cognac Expert is the world’s largest website about all things Cognac, a blog, and a specialized online shop featuring 800+ different Cognac bottles.


  1. Avatar

    Or, drink it. If you like it, drink a little more. If you don’t like it, don’t drink it again.

  2. Pingback: How to taste Cognac | Cognac Review

  3. Avatar

    See now this is confusing because just about EVERY place I’ve looked has said something different and different combinations. One says it doesn’t need to breathe and should NEVER be swirled, another says swirl and don’t let it breathe, another says the opposite of that, this says both….

  4. Avatar
    Joshua Streeter (@joshuastreeter)

    I quit reading after your comment: “Your tongue has different sensors in different areas…”

    No it doesn’t. Do your research. That is an old, old myth.

    Cognac expert?

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    Good article although I see your respondents perhaps haven’t grasped the difference between tasting and drinking. In my very limited experience I’ll happily confess that Cognac smells much better than it tastes.

    Do you have links to more comprehensive tasting resources? I’m doing a WSET Diploma so looking

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    Tonia Williams

    it was recognized as an old school drink. Rappers and singers talk about drinking it in songs. After reading Ross comment, I have to wonder if it’s anything like taking Robitussin. I’ll try it once with Pepsi.

  7. Avatar
    Michael holmes

    Everybody should get remy 1738. My fav

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