The word Brandy comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, ("burnt wine"), which is how the straightforward Dutch traders who introduced it to Northern Europe from Southern France and Spain in the 16th century described wine that had been "burnt," or boiled, in order to distill it. The origins of Brandy can be traced back to the expanding Moslem Mediterranean states in the 7th and 8th centuries.
Cognac is the best known type of Brandy in the world, a benchmark by which most other Brandies are judged. The Cognac region is located on the west-central Atlantic coast of France, just north of Bordeaux, in the departments of Charente and Charente-Maritime. The region is further subdivided into six growing zones: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Bois Ordinaries, Borderies, Fins Bois, and Bons Bois.
Brandy has a rating system to describe its quality and condition; these indicators can usually be found near the brand name on the label:
• A.C.: aged two years in wood.
• V.S.: "Very Special" or 3-Star, aged at least three years in wood.
• V.S.O.P.: "Very Special Old Pale" or 5-Star, aged at least five years in wood.
• X.O.: "Extra Old", Napoleon or Vieille Reserve, aged at least six years, Napoleon at least four years.
• Vintage: Stored in the cask until the time it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date.
• Hors d'age: These are too old to determine the age, ten years plus is typical, and are of great quality.