Cognac is named after a town of the same name in Charentes, and is distilled from white wine grown in specific vineyards, although the wines of Armagnac used to be used for making Cognac as well. Most of Charentes and the Charentes-Maritime provide wines for making Cognac from Ugni Blanc and Saint-Émilion grapes, as do some offshore islands. The best Cognac comes from around the town itself, with almost concentric circles of decreasing quality radiating outwards. That from the immediate vicinity of Cognac is Grande Champagne. Beyond that come the highly regarded Petit Champagne and Borderies, Fins Bois and then Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires. Fine Champagne may mean a combination of Grand and Petit Champagne or be from either one. Cognac is double-distilled immediately after fermentation and then aged in wood.

Three star ‘***’ cognac is under 4½ years old. VS (Very Superior)/VO/VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) is at least 4½ years old. Extra/Napoleon/XO/Grande Réserve is at least 5½ years old with part of the blend likely to be much older.