Wine Guide
Cognac fine wine
A region better associated with Brandy rather than fine wine, you might be surprised to know that Cognac has a wine production output to rival the whole of Burgundy. Of course, we all know about the region’s eponymous product, but rather like all wines from Champagne are not necessarily Champagne, not all wines from Cognac are Brandy (although similarly the title is protected).

We are of course taking about Cognac’s fine wine trade. Little known by the mainstream, the regions Charente and Charente Maritime have a winemaking history that dates back to the 3rd century. This is in addition to having the largest vineyards in France; a massive 80,000-hectares at last count (and yes, most of it is planted for Cognac fine wine production). So in amongst all those Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche grapes, don’t be surprised these days to see a fair offering of Chenin, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Reds and rosés are making a reappearance too: think Merlot, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet-Franc and Cabernet-Sauvignon.

So how is it that fines wines from Cognacs that aren’t Brandy are still relatively unknown? Much of this is to do with marketing; when a bigger, bolder, sexier wine is being produced in far greater quantities on the doorstep, it’s no wonder savvy marketers prefer to spend their annual budgets on the big names. Secondly there is an element of revival surrounding the region’s fine wine business. Once a stalwart of France’s fine wine production, Charente and Charente Maritime found it harder to get back on their feet after the deadly phylloxera virus of the early 20th century. Also, there is no classification system which makes it hard for the consumer; quality wines from Cognac and the rest of the region for a long time were simply labelled as ‘Vins de Pays Charentais’ (although this has now been changed to IGP or Indication Géographique Protégée).

Yet we need to think beyond Brandy when it comes to Cognac. Because wine producers all the way from the Ile de Re to Angouleme are producing fine wines to rival those of their Burgundian neighbours. The literal fruits of these viticulturist’s labours is beginning to show: at the 2018 Salon de l ’Agriculture in Paris, 19 IGP fine wines from Charente were awarded medals, including nine golds.