(Reuters) - Cognac is a brandy made from white grapes grown in the region surrounding the western French town of the same name. Here are some facts about cognac and the four main brands: Hennessy, Remy Martin, Martell and Courvoisier.
- The Cognac region has had vineyards since Roman times, but it was 16th century Dutch traders who began to distil the wine into brandy so it would survive long sea journeys.
- The Cognac AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) is strictly regulated, dictating the six growing areas, grape varieties, distillation and aging. For example, distillation must finish by 31 March following a harvest and the resulting "eau de vie" must be aged for at least two years in oak casks.
- Cognacs often blend dozens of eaux de vie. The main categories are VS, VSOP and XO - acronyms for "Very Special," "Very Superior Old Pale" and "Extra Old". In a bottle of VS that may cost $33, the youngest eau de vie will have been aged for two years, while for XO, which can cost around $200, it will be at least six years.
- Louis XIII de Remy Martin, a luxury blend of up to 1,200 eaux de vie which takes over 100 years to make, can cost around $3,000. The brand just made a film staring Hollywood actor John Malkovich that will be stored for 100 years. A thousand guests will be given invitations to pass on to their descendants to attend its "premiere" in November 2115.
- About 98 percent of all cognac is exported. The biggest markets by volume are the United States, China, Britain, Russia and Germany. According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, the industry shipped 155 million bottles last year, worth 2.13 billion euros ($2.3 billion).
- Hennessy, the leading brand, has a seven-member tasting committee, plus a Master Blender, that meets every day and tastes up to fifty eaux de vie. Members typically don't voice opinions until they've spent a decade on the committee learning. Master Blender Yann Fillioux is the seventh generation of his family to serve in the role.
Compiled by Martinne Geller in London; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle