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Only brandy made from Grapes grown in the delimited district of France in the Charente known as Cognac may be named cognac. The boundaries of this area were set down in 1909 and have been subdivided into seven divisions of varying quality. In order of preference, they are: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, Bois Ordinaires and Bois à Terroir. All cognac is made from wine that is fermented from whole grapes - flesh, skins, seeds and all. The resulting wine is double-distilled in pot stills, and the heart of the second distillation is destined to become cognac. It is aged in new oak casks for one year, and then transferred to used oak casks, lest it take on too much tannin from the virgin oak.
The letters on the label V.O. and V.S.O.P. mean that the cognac has been aged for at least 4 and a half years, although in practice V.S.O.P. cognacs have usually been aged for at least 8 years. If the label is printed with the words Extra, Napoléon or Vieille Réserve, the French government warrants that the cognac in the bottle has been aged for a minimum of 5 and a half years. Stars found on cognac labels came from a superstitious shipper of brandy who put a star on his bottles to pay homage to the great "Comet" vintage of 1811, one of the best ever for cognac. Today, French law states that three-star cognac, the youngest, must be aged for a minimum of 18 months.
Unlike most of the world’s other brandies, cognac is produced by the double distillation of a high-acid white wine. Good cognac must begin with a good wine, such as that made from the Lhéraud family’s vineyards. Lhéraud’s cognacs are made in a traditional alembic copper-pot still. Distillation begins in December, after the second fermentation, and is done by hand, without electronic controls or devices. The choices made during distillation — gentle or strong heating, where to make “la coupe,” or “the cut,” separating the first and last distillate from “le coeur,” or “the heart” — all greatly affect the eaux de vie.
Lhéraud cognacs are aged in Limousin and Tronçais oak barrels, some for decades. Young cognacs are put into new barrels for a few years, which impart oaky flavors; after this period, the cognacs are transferred into older barrels for longer and proper aging. Over time, the water in the brandy evaporates, as does the alcohol; between 2 and 5 percent of pure alcohol, called the angels’ share, evaporates from each barrel each year. Throughout the process of evaporation and concentration, the brandy is also acted on by oxygen, causing the brandy to soften and become more fragrant, as well as take on a rich brownish amber color.