How can a Cognac be a fine Champagne? - You may well ask - as did one of our customers the other day.
Let's get a few things straight here whilst confusing the hell out of everyone - it's a little bit like the famous tea towel that describes the very English game of cricket
You have two sides,
one out in the field and one in.
Each man that's in the side that's in
goes out, and when he's out he comes in,
and the next man goes in until he's out.
When they are all out, the side that's out
comes in, and the side that's been in goes
In the case of Cognac and champagne you have 2 very different drinks, although they are both made from grapes (ironically Champagne is partially made from a red grape, pinot noir, whilst Cognac is solely made from white, colombard, folle blanche and ugny blanc!).
One is a fermented grape juice (Champagne), the other is fermented and then distilled (twice in the case of Cognac, though this is not true of all brandies).
Champagne is a sparkling wine but not all sparkling wines are Champagne as they have to come from a specific area in France and be made in a particular way to be called Champagne. Cognac is a brandy (from the German Brandwein meaning burnt wine - ie distilled) but not all brandies are Cognacs as they have to come from the Cognac area of France and be made a specific way to be called Cognac.
All clear so far? Good - because there's more! So we now know that Cognac is a Brandy and Champagne a sparkling wine - so how come when I look at my bottle of Courvoisier VSOP it says that it is a "Fine Champagne"?
Given the English nature of V.S.O.P. (which stands for "very special old pale") you would be quite justified in thinking that "Fine Champagne" was also English, but it's not. In this case it's French and it is refering to a blend of grapes from a small growing area in France which is in the heart of the Cognac growing region and is made up of 2 smaller areas "Grande Champagne" and "Petite Champagne". In order to qualify for this denomination, 50% of the grapes have to come from the Grande Champagne area. Of the 6 different growing areas in the Cognac region these are at the centre and considered the best - most mid-range Cognacs are made from grapes from these 2 areas whilst the older, more expensive Cognac blends tend to be solely from the "Grande Champagne" (an area of aproximately 80,000 acres, of which 17% is planted with vines) where the "terroir" (soil condition) is considered the best.
So when you see Fine Champagne on the label it means that the grapes used to make the Cognac you're about to drink come from the centre of the Cognac area, it has nothing to do with the sparkling wine known as Champagne. If you see Grande Champagne on the label the same applies, but this time 100% of the grapes are from that tiny area at the core of the Cognac area. Confusingly you can also get "Grande Fine Champagne" and "Petite Fine Champagne" - just knock out the "fine" to get where they come from.
See - simple!