TOP 10 Cognac misunderstandings: From Conyak to Hennessey

Sometimes, some people get it wrong.  And in the world of Cognac where it’s sometimes hard to understand the somewhat confusing terminology, that’s fine. So we at Cognac Expert are going to do our bit in helping to set the record straight.

Cognac Misunderstandings

Here is a list of the TOP 10 misunderstandings regarding the most famous of all brandies, Cognac:

1. It’s Hennessy, not Hennessey.

First of all, Hennessy is French and should not be confused with American products.  It’s a Cognac brand, and spelt without an “e” before the “y”.

2. It’s called Cognac, named after the town in the vineyard region of Charente in Southwest France.  Sometimes people write Coniak, Coniac or even Conyak…  That’s just not right!

3. “I have a Eastern European Cognac…”

Errr, no you don’t!  Because the name, Cognac, is strictly a protected trademark.  Only brandy produced in the region around the town of Cognac, and adhereing to strict rules in its creation, is allowed to bear the name.  This means that there can’t be Cognac from Russia, USA, Japan, or anywhere else in the world.  What is true, however, is that Cognac is a brandy.  But not every brandy is a Cognac.

4. The Cognac is really dark and tastes slightly sweet.  Wow, that’s round and so mellow. It must be a brandy which aged for a long time.

Now, pay attention here, because it gets a little technical!  Sometimes the producer of a Cognac can manipulate the process in which its made.  This can be done by the addition of caramel to make the color darker.  This is done because, in general, the darker the color, the older and more mature the Cognac.  This happens because the wooden barrel in which a Cognac is aged influences the color of the spirit within – the longer it’s in there, the darker it becomes.

The addition of caramel can also make the Cognac sweeter.  But this should only be done at the beginning of the aging process, not usually at the end.

5. An XO is a really old Cognac.

OK, more complicated explanations (sorry).  In one way this is true, but not necessarily.  What you need to understand is that to qualify as an XO quality, the youngest eaux-de-vie in a blend must be at least six years old.  So, one could create a blend with a little tiny drop of really really old XO (let’ say 30 years old) and fill the rest of with ‘just’ six year old Cognac – and you could call the bottle an “XO with eaux-de-vie up to 30 years old”.

However, in reality this doesn’t often happen, because it would lead to a lowering of the reputation of the producer/Cognac house.  Those in the know would realize such a blatent marketing ploy when tasting.

Read more about the age in our section about What is Cognac?

6. Very Special is a really good Cognac grade.

Ahm, no – not quite.  VS means Very Special and is the minimum age of a Cognac. So it is the youngest and in a way the cheapest Cognac one can make.  A VS (or sometimes denoted by three stars ***) is the youngest quality of Cognac.  It has to be aged a minimum of 2 1/2 years to qualify.

7. Hennessy Pure White is made from white grapes.

This is indeed true.  But every Cognac is made from white grapes.

See our article on the white “Henny” here.

8. Ludacris crafted his own Cognac.

Now people, that’s a marketing gag.  This simply isn’t possible because to truly create a Cognac you have to be a master blender.  These guys are only able to do this because they’ve developed an highly refined senses to actually smell and taste Cognac. If you want to become a real blender, then you would have to taste Cognac every day for 5 years… and perhaps 10 different eaux-de-vie every day in different stages. (Get to the back of the queue if this sounds like your dream job!)

Read more about Ludacris’ Conjure here.

9. The bottle and the design is so classy, it has to be something very special.

Well, “Very Special” yes, because it can be a VS (see point 6).  But it’s all about bottling, packaging, and selling for the eyes and the imagination of the customers.  Sp, don’t necessarily trust your eyes, but your brain, sense of smell, taste, and experience of trying many different Cognacs.

10. Old Cognac, like from the 1800s, must be so very good – so mature, so round, and aged

No, not necessarily.  While wine actually ages in bottles, this isn’t so with Cognac.  The moment you put a Cognac into a bottle the spirit stops ageing and remains the same. It is more the idea, the fantasy, that makes people buy older Cognacs such as these.  And the very early Cognacs weren’t that good compared to very old Cognacs (50 years and older) that one can buy today.

That means, you can find a really old bottle in your cellar.. and discover it’s a VS (it was aged in a wooden barrel for at least two and a half years): So it’s a young, old Cognac – if that makes sense. If you’re interested in finding out more about old Cognac bottles, check out our section “You’ve got a bottle?


Comments (4)

  1. Igor October 20, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Your point #3 is not correct. Armenian Ararat won grand-prix award in Paris in 1900 and was allowed to be legally branded as a cognac. But this is the only exception I’m aware of.

  2. Peter February 12, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Advice Request

    I’d be grateful for your advice.

    I have very little knowledge of wines and I’d like to buy a gift for someone who has an encyclopedic knowledge of wine as it has been their passion for 40 years.

    I wish to purchase a 1951 Cognac or wine.

    Do you think this is a good idea and if so, what could you recommend?

  3. Captain awesome August 17, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    I have some bottles of congacs of different but noble make. Some are in thier bottles for the last 10-15 years. Will that make them any better ..?

  4. il farmacista goloso November 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    @ Igor : point #3 IS correct… the armenian brandy got the right to call itself cognac in 1900 after the Universal Expo of Paris, but after WW2 it mantained its name only in Soviet Union countries; nowadays it can legally be called only brandy.

    There’s actually only one exception worldwide, and really not very well known: a type of brandy made following the french rules in URUGUAY may still be called cognac, as it got permission by the French authorities; this name will be withdrawn in 2015, upon decision of the European union.

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