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Champagne cognac is a type of brandy made from grapes. Like other types of cognac, it is produced by a double-distillation process from white grapes grown in the Cognac region of western France. Champagne cognac refers specifically to cognacs from Grande Champagne or Petite Champagne, two of the Cognac region's six zones. It is commonly regarded as the finest form of cognac due to the quality of the soil in these areas. It is unrelated to the French sparkling wine called champagne, which is produced in the Champagne region of northeastern France.
The soil of the Cognac region is very chalky, and higher chalk levels in the soil tend to produce better grapes for distillation into brandy. The soil in the Grande Champagne area has the highest chalk levels, followed by Petite Champagne. Thus the finest cognacs are usually made from grapes grown in these areas, especially the former.
These grapes are harvested, pressed, and fermented. This results in wine that tends to be ill-suited to drinking by itself but very good for distillation. After a few weeks of fermentation, this wine is distilled twice in a specially shaped copper still. This process produces a distilled spirit called eau-de-vie, which is about 70-percent alcohol. For a brandy to be called Champagne cognac, at least 90 percent of it must come from eaux-de-vie made from Columbard, Ugni Blanc (also commonly called Trebbiano), or Folle Blanche grapes, with any remainder coming from other designated varieties of white grapes.
Each eau-de-vie is aged in an oak barrel for a minimum of two years, though most cognacs are aged longer, and some fine cognacs are aged for decades. The wood used in the barrels is an important influence on the taste of the final product. Several different aged eaux-de-vie, each with its own characteristics, are then carefully blended to create the final product. These eaux-de-vie are usually of different ages and in some cases come from different areas, with the age of the cognac dated according to the age of its youngest constituent.
The brandy produced as a result is called Grand Champagne or Petite Champagne cognac, according to its region of origin. A blend made with grapes from both regions is referred to as fine Champagne cognac, provided at least 50 percent of its constituent eaux-de-vie by volume is from Grand Champagne. Like wine and whiskey, cognac matures with age due to chemical processes that occur while it is stored in barrels, so older cognacs tend to be superior. The maturation process of liquor stops once it is removed from its barrel and bottled, so a cognac's age refers to the amount of time it spent maturing rather than its year of origin.
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