Cognac Basics for Beginners

New to cognac? Learn the basics with Rémy Martin – what cognac is, how to drink it, which to choose, what to pair it with, and more.

Vials of different cognac blends in a cellar

New to Cognac?

You are about to discover one of the finest aged spirits in the world. A type of brandy distilled from wine, cognac is a spirit made exclusively from grapes grown in France’s prestigious Cognac region. There is an official grading system that classifies cognac by age, including: VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and XO (Extra Old). 

Rémy Martin produces VSOP & XO aging grades, as well as signature cognacs that embody the creativity of our cellar masters and the unique expressions of our terroir. Read this guide to learn the basics you need to know to understand, experience, and appreciate Rémy Martin cognacs.


Understanding Cognac Basics

What makes cognac, cognac? As a fruit brandy distilled from the wine of grapes, cognac not only comes from Cognac, France but is also protected and defined under French laws including an “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (AOC or controlled designation of origin).


3 Main Requirements to Satisfy

To be recognized as an “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée”, there are three main requirements to satisfy:

  1. Cognac must be made exclusively from specific grape varieties, such as Ugni Blanc, one of the dominant grapes in the region.
  2. Cognac must be twice distilled in a specific type of copper pot still called a “Charentais” or “Alembic” pot still.
  3. Cognac must be aged in oak barrels for a specific amount of time, at minimum: 2 years for VS, 4 years for VSOP Cognac and 10 years for XO Cognac. Learn more about cognac ageing.

Thanks to these requirements, cognac captures the original fruity aromas of these particularly aromatic grapes to create a dense and rich spirit of the highest quality.


Savoring Cognac

Not sure where to begin? As a spirit, cognac is incredibly versatile and accompanies a wide range of occasions – whether by yourself or with friends, neat or as part of a cocktail, as a digestif, an aperitif, or paired with food.

Cognac Neat

The most common way to enjoy cognac is on its own, served neat after a meal as a digestif. Cognac can be served in a variety of glasses that each affect the cognac’s delicate balance of flavors. For tastings, we recommend using a short-stemmed tasting glass: the long and narrow shape helps capture the richness of the cognac over the alcohol.
If serving cognac with a meal, we also recommend enjoying it neat.

Cognac On The Rocks

Alternatively, cognac can be served on the rocks in a large tumbler glass with two ice cubes. These will further dilute the cognac and reduce the alcohol percentage, revealing the same aromas while making the taste more refreshing. This can be held in your hand, helping to melt the ice and making it easier to appreciate the scent and the taste of the liquid.

Cognac Cocktails

Can you use Rémy Martin cognac in cocktails? Yes, there are really endless ways to mix cocktails featuring cognac that appeal to both beginners and the most experienced bartenders.


Cognac-based cocktails are an enduring trend in cocktail bars around the world, having already been a quintessential part of the history of mixology. With a rich aromatic profile that is very fruity and floral, yet also spicy, cognac lends itself well to playing with a variety of options on the ‘cocktail wheel’.

Cognac can also easily replace the base ingredients in classic cocktails such as the Manhattan, Tom Collins, Mint Julep, or even Mojito. Dry cocktails, such as the Sidecar or Sazerac are best enjoyed after dinner, and an Old Fashioned with XO, which is rich and full of flavor, would be perfect paired with a dessert.

Rémy Martin Tip: Mix Rémy Martin VSOP with tonic soda or ginger ale to enjoy the typical apéritif favored by locals in Cognac.

Cognac Food Pairings

What pairs well with Rémy Martin cognac? Exciting food pairings can open up a whole world of new sensations, amplifying cognac’s flavors and revealing new facets. To start, the spicy, full-bodied flavors of aged Roquefort and Parmesan cheese pair very well with cognac.

The fatty flavors of the Roquefort and the aromatic strength of the Parmesan are able to match cognac’s strength. Or, on the sweet side, the bitter, fatty flavors of a pure, black chocolate also combine well with the floral, spicy notes found in the cognac.


Explore the Rémy Martin Collection

tumbler glasses for VSOP
Rémy Martin VSOP
A Perfect Starting Point

Meet the Classic:

Versatile, well-balanced, and multi-layered, Rémy Martin VSOP embodies the perfect harmony of powerful and elegant aromas. With warm oaky vanilla, dried apricot & candied pear notes, VSOP balances with dried fruit flavors and subtle licorice aromas, and rounds out with a satisfying mouthfeel and a silky texture.

Rémy Martin VSOP Tip:
Drink neat, on the rocks, or in a Rémy Ginger. Pair with fatty cheese, blue cheese, or baked apple tart.

Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal
A Distinctive Flavor Profile

Meet the Singular: 

Particularly smooth with a creamy aftertaste, Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal is a truly distinctive French cognac born from the cask and named after royal approval. With generous aromas of plum and fig jam, and intense oaky notes of toffee, toasted bread and toasted barrels, 1738 Accord Royal is an exceptionally round and creamy cognac with concentrated nutty aromas.

Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal Tip:
Drink neat, on the rocks, or in a Rémy Sidecar cocktail. Pair with chocolate.

Rémy Martin XO Cognac
Exploring the Richness and Opulence

Meet the Icon:

Full-bodied, complex, and opulent, Rémy Martin XO is a unique blend of hundreds of eaux-de-vie that reflects our Cellar Master’s mastery of the art of blending. Sublimely smooth with an explosion of flower and fruit aromas, it progresses through ripe plums, dried figs, and candied orange to spices like nutmeg and freshly ground hazelnuts, and finishes with gourmet notes of roasted cocoa beans and honeyed gingerbread.

Rémy Martin XO Tip:
Drink neat, on the rocks, or in an Old Fashioned cocktail. Pairs well with chocolate, figs, dried fruit, or parma ham.

Rémy Martin Tercet
A New Way to Discover Cognac

Meet the Talent:

Fruity and fresh, Rémy Martin TERCET is a unique Cognac Fine Champagne blended from aromatic eaux-de-vie with notes of fresh and tropical fruits. Opening with an explosion of lychee, mango, pineapple, and banana, it then progresses to the gentle spice of cinnamon, nutmeg, and preserved ginger, and rounds out with a smooth finale and surprisingly long finish.

Rémy Martin TERCET Tip:
Drink neat or on the rocks. Pair with tropical fruits.


A New Approach to Tasting

Now you’ve selected your first cognac, how exactly do you taste it? Here are the simple steps to best enjoy a Rémy Martin cognac.

Step 1. Select a clean glass.
Step 2. Add a little cognac to a short-stemmed tasting glass and swirl it around to completely coat the inside.
Step 3. Pour yourself 1 oz of cognac and prepare your senses.

First, smell the aromas

Hold the glass under your nose at heart height: here, you can already begin to detect the first aromas. Inhale slowly to discover the complex aroma facets of cognac, similar to a perfume. From top to base, you will enjoy a myriad of aromatic notes such as fruits, flowers, and spices. Full notes of fruit and florals, or perhaps slight traces of spice and oak?

Bring the glass up to your chin to explore a new wave of aromas. Gradually, bring the glass up to your nose and experience the fragrances up close.

Second, taste the liquid

Start with a tiny drop of the cognac to prepare the palate and awaken the senses. Then, take a small sip and focus on the experience. Let the liquid slowly move around your mouth and see if you can detect the subtlety of flavors. The tip of your tongue should detect sweetness, while the sides detect saltiness and sourness, and finally bitterness at the back. A few seconds later, you can appreciate the fluid texture across the palate and enjoy the lingering finish. Do you feel the balance and harmony of flavors?

Congratulations, you just tasted your first cognac!

Final Words

We hope you’re inspired to delve into the world of cognac and its rich tapestry of flavors and sensations. From the versatile elegance of Rémy Martin VSOP to the opulent complexity of Rémy Martin XO, our House offers a journey of discovery for novices and connoisseurs alike. Whether enjoyed neat, mixed in cocktails, or paired with food, Rémy Martin cognacs promise to reveal unique and unexpected experiences with every sip.

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