Just like Scotch can only be made in Scotland, tequila can only be produced in a certain section of Mexico, and bourbon can only be made in the United States (including outside of Kentucky), Cognac can only be made in the region of the same name in France.
As a quick primer, Cognac is a French brandy that’s made from fermented grape juice. It’s distilled two times in copper pot stills before being matured in French oak barrels for at least two years. It’s only produced, in accordance with the grape harvest, from early October until the end of March. Regulations also stipulate that it can only be made in Cognac (hence the name) and the surrounding wine-growing areas of Charente and Charente-Maritime départements.
Like with any popular spirit, you can spend a ton of money on a great, long-aged, nuanced bottle of cognac. But you also don’t have to spend the equivalent of a car loan or mortgage payment to get your hands on a great bottle. There are myriad bottles to be found for less than $100.
Rémy Martin 1738
Rémy Martin is one of the biggest names in the Cognac world. While you can’t go wrong with any of this renowned Cognac house’s expressions, Remy Martin 1783 has the perfect quality-to-price ratio. Named for the reward of excellence Rémy Martin got from King Louis XV in 1783, this blend is known for its sublimely oak-forward, vanilla, toasted barrel, fruity flavor profile. It’s perfect for sipping neat on a cold evening.
H By Hine
This popular expression is a blend of 20 (yes, you read that right) Cognacs that were all aged for at least four years. It’s made up of Grand Champagne and Petite Champagne grapes. It’s well-known for its easy-drinking, highly-mixable flavor profile of dried apricots, vanilla beans, buttery caramel, oak, honey, cracked black pepper, and spicy ginger. It’s a truly complex, highly memorable cognac you won’t soon forget.
Camus Borderies VSOP
Camus Borderies VSOP is a single-estate Cognac that gets its name from the smallest and oldest cru in the appellation. It’s aged longer than some of its other cognacs and is known for its minerality and chocolate, candied orange peel, dried fruit, grape, vanilla, and gently spicy flavors. It’s truly a complex Cognac that could easily cost way more than it does. Lucky for you, it’s priced under $100.
This award-winning Cognac comes from ABK6, a family-owned brand. So, if you’re looking to enjoy something independent from the usual big names, this traditionally-made Cognac is for you. It’s a single estate Cognac made using grapes that were matured for at least four and a half years. It’s loaded with flavors like rich oak, toasted vanilla beans, candied orange peels, and buttery toffee.
Martell Blue Swift
Martell Blue Swift is a Cognac for bourbon fans. It starts as an already exciting, flavorful VSOP Cognac that is then finished in ex-bourbon barrels. What is created is a complex Cognac that begins with the aromas of tropical fruits, coconut, vanilla, and caramel. Sipping it reveals notes of toasted oak, vanilla beans, butterscotch, dried fruits, and gentle wintry spices. It’s a nice sweet, fruity, lightly spicy Cognac perfect for the end of a busy day.
Pierre Ferrand Ambre
This award-winning Cognac is made from a blend of eaux-de-vie from Colombard and Ugni Blanc grapes. It was matured for a minimum of 10 years in French Quercus Sessiliflora oak casks. This long aging in barrel houses with extreme temperature changes creates a Cognac with aromas of stone fruits, candied apples, and toffee and a palate of almond cookies, dried fruits, vanilla, and oak.
Hardy Legend 1863
This surprisingly inexpensive, well-balanced Cognac was matured for at least 12 years in Limousine oak casks. This blend of Petite Champagne and Borderies grapes eaux-de-vies is known for its complex flavor profile featuring notes of candied orange peels, vanilla beans, butterscotch, coffee beans, and oak. Crack open a bottle and enjoy it neat, slowly on a frigid winter evening in front of a roaring fire.
Hennessy VSOP Privilège
Another one of the big names in the Cognac world, Hennessy is one of the most popular Cognac houses. While all of its Cognacs are noteworthy, the best expression below $100 is its VSOP. This blend of more than 60 eaux-de-vies is matured in French oak, creating a noteworthy, exciting Cognac with hints of clover honey, chocolate, sticky toffee pudding, ripe grapes, and bold oak.
A de Fussigny Grand Champagne VSOP
You might not have ever heard of this Cognac brand, and that’s okay. The Cognac world is dominated by a few big names, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try great expressions like A de Fussigny Grand Champagne VSOP. Made up of eaux-de-vies made up of Premier Cru grapes, it’s matured for at least four years to create a well-balanced, nuanced cognac with bold flavors like prunes, almond cookies, coconut, vanilla beans, dried fruits, and wintry spices.
D’Usse Cognac VSOP
Not only does it come in one of the coolest bottles in the Cognac world, but D’Usse Cognac VSOP is also a great, flavorful expression. This versatile sipping Cognac was matured for at least four and half years in French oak. It’s beloved for its flavors of dried figs, clover honey, toffee, vanilla beans, and rich oak. The finish is sweet, slightly spicy, and totally warming.