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Wine Not? – A series of Videos by Mr. Ch’ng Poh Tiong, a lawyer by training.

CH’NG Poh Tiong published ‘The Wine Review’, the second oldest wine magazine in Asia from 1991, and the world’s first Guide to Bordeaux in Chinese from 2000 to 2014.
  • Vice-Chairman Decanter Asia Wine Awards
  • Regional Chair Decanter World Wine Awards
  • Senior Judge The World of Fine Wine’s Best Wine Lists in the World Competition
  • Director of JudgingThe Singapore World Spirits Competition
  • Chairman of KEC – Koshu Expert Committee – Japan
  • Contributor – academieduvinlibrary.com
  • Keeper of the Quaich

A Short Summary of Whisky

Though Whisky is now distilled in many countries, the standard or benchmark that is most use will certainly be that of the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association), the custodians of the image, quality and provenance of this noble beverage that is synonymous with Scotland.

Having earned the respect and reputation the world over, the SWA stipulates regulations and procedures on production, aging and classification for Scotch Whisky distilleries and independent bottlers that endeavour to have their whiskies labelled as Scotch Whisky. These strict rules were instituted to ensure quality standards and to protect the Scottish branding of their Whiskies. We hope that the following explains the processes and various classifications of Scotch Whisky that can sometimes be confusing even to veteran consumers of Whisky.

Whisky or Whiskey?

Whisky : Scotland, Japan, Canada & Australia
Whiskey : Ireland & USA

Whole Grains used in Whisky
Rye – Spice, Dried Fruit
Wheat – Mellow, Honey
Corn – Sweet, Spicy, Oily
Barley – Cerial, Biscuity

Scientific Definition of Malt: Germinated Whole Grain Hence in Science, malt could be germinated Rye, Wheat, Corn or Barley BUT, in the world of Whisky it only refers to Germinated Barley.

3 main Classifications of Whisky:

Malt Whisky

  1. Single Cask Malt
    • A truly unblended Malt Whisky
    • Whisky from one Malt Whisky Cask
  2. Single Malt
    • A Blend of various Malt Whiskies from One Distillery
    • Whisky from more than one Malt Cask
  3. Blended Malt

    The legal term for Malt Whiskies put together from more than one Distillery

    Also classified as:

    • Vatted Malt
    • Pure Malt
    • All Malt
    • 100% Malt

Grain Whisky

Distilled from any Mash combination of:
Wheat – Unmalted or Malted
Rye – Unmalted or Malted
Corn – Unmalted or Malted
Barley – Unmalted
Plus must have Malted Barley for conversion of complexed sugars in the Mash Bill to simple sugars as well as to give richness and structure.

  1. Single Cask Grain
    • A truly unblended Grain Whisky
    • Whisky from one Grain Whisky Cask
  2. Single Grain
    • A Blend of various Grain Whiskies from One Distillery
    • Whisky from more than one Grain Cask

Blended Whisky

A Blend of one or more:

  • Malt Whiskies
  • Grain Whiskies

Simply it is the mixing of the 2 categories above ie Malt and Grain Whiskies from as many distilleries as needed, hence sometimes termed “Scotland in a Bottle”.

Many custodians of noble beverages that have earned a respected reputation and image will institute protocols that protect their brands. In order to wear the badge of quality and appellation, producers will only be permitted to put on these hallmarks on their labels if they adhere to strict rules of provenance and production. In the case of Cognac, this includes boundaries of viticulture, vivification, distillation, maturation and classification. Here we attempt to summarise the processes and various sub-classifications of Cognac to assist the consumer better understand the markings on Cognac bottles.

Cognac Decrees

May 1st 1909
“Delimited” wine growing regions in:
Charente-Maritime Department – All areas
Charente Department – Most areas
Deux-Sèvres Department – Minor parts
Dordogne Departments – Minor parts
May 15th 1936
AOC given to:
Eau-de-Vie de Cognac
Eau-de-Vie des Charentes
January 13th 1938
Six Cru Districts defined in the “Delimited” Area

Cognac 1938 AOC Varietals

Main Grapes min. 90%
Ugni Blanc 98%
Folle Blanche
Jurancon Blanc
Meslier St-Francis
Sémillon (not used now)

Minor Grapes max. 10%
Folignan (introduced 2005)

Ugni Blanc

Italian Varietal – aka Trebbiano
Good Resistance – Grey rot & disease
High Acidity – Good natural preservative as SO2 not permitted
Late Maturation – more time to absorb flavours
Good Physiological Ripeness @ Low Sugar Levels ie less alcoholic wines with fuller flavour per ABV distilled. 9 litres of wine is required to produce 1 litre of Cognac

Viticultural Restrictions

No Irrigation
No Shoot Thinning
No Green Harvesting
No Leaf Removal
No Red Grapes
All Training Systems Allowed – mostly Double Guyot

Vinification Rules

Low Alcohol – 7% ABV min. to 12% ABV max.
High Acidity – 12.25 milliequivalents/litre max.
Additives below not Permitted:

  • Chaptalization (sugar)
  • Sulphur Dioxide

Two Consecutive Fermentations (Saccharomyces cerevisiae FC9 )

  • Alcoholic – 4 to 8 days
  • Malolactic – 5 days (not mandatory)

Cru Districts

Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac BNIC
Grande Champagne – 34.7/13.25k h (17%)
Petite Champagne – 65.6/15.25k h (22%)
Borderies – 12.5/4k h (5%)
Fins Bois – 350/31.2k h (43%)
Bons Bois – 370/9.3k h (12%)
Bois Ordinaires or Bois à Terroir – 260/1.06k (1%)
Total – 1093 / 74kh

Cru Terroir & Characteristics

Grande Champagne ( Limestone & chalk )
Aroma – floral bouquet, lime blossom, dry wood
Palate – Subtle Elegance yet Powerful. Very complexed
Length – Very Long
Aging– Slow Aging

Petite Champagne ( Limestone & chalk )
Aroma – Grapevine Floral & Fruity
Palate – Elegant, subtle complexity
Length – Long
Aging – Slow Aging

Borderies ( Clay from chalk and flint stones )
Aroma – Floral – violets & Iris
Palate – Delicate & Subtle nutty
Length – Good Length
Aging – Ages fast

Fins Bois ( Red clay-limestone, stony )
Aroma – Lightly Floral, Grapes
Palate – Rounded, oily, good intensity
Length – Medium to Long
Aging – Fastest Aging

Bons Bois ( Varied, clay-limestone, sand )
Aroma – Fruity Crushed Grapes
Palate – Terroir dominant
Length – Usually medium
Aging – Fast

Bois Ordinaires or Bois à Terroir ( Sandy, maritime & rustic )
Aroma – Fruity
Palate – Terroir dominant, Maritime
Length – Medium Short
Aging – Fast

Cognac AOC Distillation

  1. Distilled before April following Harvest
  2. Copper Alembics/Charentais Pot Stills
  3. Open Flame
  4. Distilled to less than 72.4%
  5. Distilled Twice (repasse)

First Distillation Still max. 140hl
Max. 120hl wine
produces Brouillis (cloudy 28-32%ABV)

Second Distillation Still max. 30hl
Max. 25hl Brouillis
produces Bonne Chauffe

Cognac AOC Aging

  1. Min 2 years in Chais or Paradis from 1st April each year
  2. First aged in New Oak then older “roux”, then very old Oak just for oxidation & evaporation.
  3. Sessille/Durmast or Pedunculate Oak from Limousin or Tronçais
  4. Age statement is that of the Youngest
  5. Distilled or Demineralized Water for reduction
  6. Bottle Strength min 40%
  7. Caramel Colouring Allowed
  8. 2% Syrup Allowed
  9. Oak boisé Allowed

Age Classifications

  1. ✯✯✯ – min 2 years
  2. VS Very Special – min 2 years
  3. VSOP Very Superior Old Pale – min 4 years
  4. Reserve or Vieux– min 4 years
  5. Napoléon – min 6 years
  6. XO Extra Old – min 10 years (as of Apr’18)
  7. Extra – min 10 years
  8. Hors d’âge – “beyond age” – min 10 years
  9. XXO Extra Extra Old – min 14 years

Champagne Cognac Classifications

Minimum 90% eau de vie from Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche or Colombard.
Remainder Folignan, Jurancon blanc, Blanc Rame, Montils or Semillon.produces Bonne Chauffe

Grande Champagne
100% Grande Champagne

Fine Champagne
Min 50% from Grande Champagne, balance from Petite Champagne

Producer Classifications

Bouilleurs de Cru
Farmers who grow the vines, harvest and produce wines that they distil and age their own Cognac

Can be Bouilleurs ie from start to end, but can also purchase grapes, wine, eau-de-vie or aged brandy. They then further process them, blend and bottle under their name.

Maître de Chai
Although a chai is a warehouse he is not just a Cellar Master. Maître de chai is part of the purchasing process and oversees storage, maturing & blending.

The Custodians of Armagnac, Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (B.N.I.A.) institute protocols that protect the well earned and respected reputation and image of this noble beverage. In order to wear the badge of quality and appellation, producers will only be permitted to put on these hallmarks on their labels if they adhere to strict rules of provenance and production. In the case of Armagnac, this includes boundaries of viticulture, vivification, distillation, maturation and classification. Here we attempt to summarise the processes and various sub-classifications of Armagnac to assist the consumer better understand the markings on Armagnac bottles.

Armagnac in Brief

Oldest (1310AD) French grape based eau-de-vie produced of France in the heart of Gascony. The department of Gers became the first registered wine growing region.
Armagnac terroirs and the production methods have to meet strict rules laid down by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée obtained by this eau-de-vie in 1936
In 17th Century the Dutch tried to corner all the still wines from the French Atlantic coast but, as the British controlled Bordeaux distribution they stopped all still wines coming down the River Garonne. However spirits were not controlled and the Dutch took advantage of this loophole.
Unaged eaux-de-vie was inconsistent in those days, so stocks of good spirits from certain vintages were kept in oak cask for future consumption. This aging inadvertently added flavour and complexity to the spirit which lead to more structured classifications and aging regimes.
The decree of 25th May 1909 marked out the production zone for the Armagnac eaux-de-vie and it’s three regions, followed by the decree of 6th August 1936 that defined the ‘Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée’ Armagnac and its production conditions.

Regions & AOC

Armagnac, Côtes de Gascogne and Floc de Gascogne
Grown over Three French Departments

  1. Landes (Bas-Armagnac)
  2. Gers (Haut-Armagnac & Bas-Armagnac & Armagnac Tenarèze)
  3. Lot-et-Garonne (Armagnac Tenarèze)

The Fallières Decree, 25th may 1909 market out the initial districts for Armagnac which were refined on 6th August 1936, then 2005 & 2014.

5 Armagnac Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée :

  1. Bas-Armagnac 57% (Landers & Gers) Major Towns: Eauze, Cazaubon and Nogaro
  2. Haut-Armagnac 3% (Gers) Major Towns: Marciac, Lectoure & Auch
  3. Armagnac Tenarèze 40% (Lot-et-Garonne & Gers) Major Towns: Condom, Castelnau-d’Auzan
  4. Armagnac
  5. Blanche Armagnac AOC (Unaged) – Decree of 2005 & 2014

Armagnac shares the same AOC limits with IGP Côtes de Gascogne and PDO Floc de Gascogne. In total they cover 15,000 or 20,000 hectares of vines of which 5,200 hectares exclusive for Armagnac:

Bas-Armagnac in the West with poor, acidic clay loam soils & pockets of reddish brown iron elements called ‘tawny sands’. The characteristic sediment in the region are predominantly silty soils termed ‘boulbènes’. This zone produces light, fruity, delicate and highly reputed eaux-de-vie.

Haut-Armagnac is very spread out and sparse in the South and East. Hills are of limestone and clay-limestone with valleys sometimes covered with boulbènes. The vineyards here are quite sparse.

Armagnac-Ténarèze (1993) in the centre is a transitional zone. Here we find ‘boulbènes’ and clay-limestone soils that are heavy yet fertile called ‘terreforts’. Armagnac-Ténarèze benefit from extended aging as these eaux-de-vie are generally richer and more full-bodied.

Armagnac 1988 AOC Varietals

  1. Baco 22A 30% developed in Armagnac after phylloxexa
  2. Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano)
  3. Folle Blanche (Piquepoult) Traditionally used
  4. Colombard
  5. Clairette de Gascogne
  6. Jurancon Blanc
  7. Plant de graisse / Blanquette
  8. Meslier St-Francis
  9. Mauzac Blanc & Rosé
  10. Dame Blanche

Armagnac Age Classifications

  • ✯✯✯ – min 1 year
  • VS Very Special – min 1 year
  • VSOP Very Superior Old Pale – min 4 years
  • Napoleon – min 6 years
  • XO Extra Old – min 10 years
  • Hors d’âge – “beyond age” – min 10 years
  • Age Statement – Youngest Cask
  • Vintage – Year of Harvest
  • Brut de Fût – Cask Strength
  • For export to the US, min. 2 years

Armagnac AOC Distillation Rules

  1. 95% Single Distillation Continuous Armagnacais Alembic of which 20-30% are Mobile Alembics
  2. 5% Double Distillation Cognacais Alembic for lighter, floral early aging Armagnacs
  3. La blanche d’Armagnac 52% to 72% ABV
  4. Due to low ABV they are often not diluted
  5. Distilled before 31st March following Harvest
  6. Vinasses or residue removed from bottom of boiler
  7. Open Flame Used (usually gas) Copper Stills

Armagnac AOC Aging

  1. Min 1 year in Oak
  2. Bottle Strength min 40%
  3. Oak Cask usually 400L to 420L
  4. Gascony or Limousin Oak used
  5. Age statement is that of the Youngest
  6. Petites Eaux – independently aged Armagnac & Distilled Water used for reduction

Blanche Armagnac AOC

  • Minimum 3 Months Aging in inert containers
  • Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Baco & Colombard used either pure or as a blend
  • Can be double distilled
  • Distilled to a higher ABV than Armagnac
  • Batch-by-batch sampling, analysis and tasting expert jury before release.
  • Fruity & Aromatic
  • Decree of 2005 & 2014
  • Declaration of plots by 31 July following Harvest
  • Blanche Armagnac cannot be converted to Armagnac

Other notes of Aging Armagnac

The distillate is aged in new 400 or 420 litre oak cask for at least one year. Armagnac interacts with the oak and the air, evaporating at the rate of about 3% percent by volume and ½% by ABV a year. To avoid over extraction from the oak, the eaux-de-vie is transferred to older used cask. However, after 40 to 50 years the oak ceases to contribute flavours and at this stage or when the Cellar Master decides it has reached it optimum, and it transferred to large inert glass carboys called Demijohns / Dames-Jeannes/ bonbonnes for future blending.
Petites Eaux or independently aged Armagnac and distilled water is used to adjust the ABV before bottling.