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Cognac and Health

1- Introduction
2- Cognac & Diabetics
3- Cognac & Cardio-vascular Disease
4- Cognac & Digestion
5- Cognac & Obesity
6- Cognac & Cancer

Consumers world wide are becoming more aware of health issues relating to food and drink and have a growing interest in the extra health benefits of the products they buy.

The following is an attempt to highlight some of the more detailed studies that have relevence to people who appreciate and enjoy Cognac.

At the same time it is important to make some general comments to put these studies on health and Cognac in to context.

Cognac is a by law in France a strong alcoholic drink with a minimum of 40 % Alc vol which the consumer has the option to be take straight as a digestive after food as in the case of the older XO types or diluted with varying degrees of ice and water as aperitif as per the younger VSOP VS Cognac types. However in spite of the flexibility of Cognac it is always subject to the normal caution that it should be always taken in moderation.

Cognac is unique product which only originates from the region of Charente in France and should not be confused with brandy ,it is exclusivily made from white grapes and is as much a product of the climate and land as the people itself. Its manufacture is subject to very strict Appellation controls which are also enshrined in local and national French law decrees that go back May 1909, though Cognac as been produced to high and excacting standard since the 17th Centuary.

These laws and decrees cover every aspect of Cognac manufacturer even to the extent that 90 % of the grapes must be Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Colombard these grapes traditionally have a low sugar and alcoholic content: and it was for this very reason the Dutch in the 16th Centuary found these wines did not travel well and were forced to invent ways of extending their life and hit on transforming them into'burnt wine' - 'brandwijn' to preserve them.

Cognac by French law bans additives, this is so controlled that even additives such as Sulphates which are now taken for granted by the consumer in red wine and can cause alergic reactions in very special cases or the practise of adding additional quantities of sugar which are found in many other spirits and do increase artificially the calorific value of these products which can go up to a value of 91kcal and above;

These practises are completely prohibited in the making of Cognac it is therefore not suprising that Cognac it is therefore regarded by many as one of the purest and natural products available today.

Cognac has a exceedingly low natural sugar content( 0.32 g ie 1,28 kcal for 4cl dose) and levels are monitored throughout, fermentation is restricted to less than 2-3 weeks , the banning of the continuous press and the use of the slower traditional horizontal plate press systems . Even at this stage the early grape juice has only approximately 8% of alcohol by volume .

Cognac under French law must be double distilled, it has no other option to it , it must also use the smaller Charentais Copper Stills the only type that can be used which only have a maximum load of 25 hl so quality can be properly monitored in small production units. The whole distilling process by law has to be completed by the 31st March 5- 6 months after the picking of the grapes in September / October, the rest of the time amazingly the Charentais Stills lie idle in a quite silence for the next 6 months to ensure that the quality is never compromised.

These French government decrees go as far as to specify the actual type of wood used. This must be oak and traditionally comes from the Troncais and Limousin forests in France.These woods are preferred because it has be found over the years that Cognac can extract more tannin from these than any other type of wood.It also adds bouquet, natural balance and taste of vanilla to the older Cognac. Even the age of the eau d'vie and the aging of the Cognac in oak casks is decreed as a minimum of 2 years for VS, 4 Years for VSOP, 6 Years for a XO it is only then , it finally becomes Cognac. Due to the traditonal system of ageing in Cognac which means oak casks are rarely emptied and tend to be kept half full to keep the barrel's condition this means that the average age of Cognac often far exceed these minimums.

This is particularly the case with some private family cognac producers for example like Pierre Boullmer Extra Age Cognac which is certainly among this group Pierre Boullmer VS is approximately aminimum of 4 years, Pierre Boullmer is VSOP 8 years and the XO Premier Grand Cru over the 30 years this does mean these types of Cognacs are allowed the maximum time to benefit from the aging process.

Lastly it is important to stress that with the very strong controls that Cognac obviously has both at government and local levels of its processes and the mature and proven infrastructure of the Cognac Appellations are well placed to insure that its vines, grapes are kept free from genetically modified experiments. This stituation is not so clear with many other spirits who tend have raw materials such as grain and sugar cane which are also used predominantly in the food industry rather than the drinks industry and therefore are under increasing and considerable economic pressure to experiment in cheaper genetically modified foods (GM FOODS) which due to their very nature are difficult to control.

Recently a few experiental studies and research has been carried out on Cognac and here are some of the following examples:
Différentes études expérimentales ont été récemment menées sur le Cognac ; on peut ainsi citer à titre d'exemple :
CHAUGIER et al. (1998)
SFRI Laboratoire (Société Française de Recherche et d'Investissement) Bordeaux - France

The antioxidant effect of Cognac has only recently been able to be seen due to a new clinical test called the 3 D Test ( Damage DNA Detection). This effect is is mainly due to the constituents found in oak wood particularly Ellagic Acid which has a strong antioxidant activity protecting the DNA from antioxidative damage.
Le pouvoir antioxydant du Cognac est démontré grâce au nouveau test 3D (Damage DNA Detection). Cet effet est dû notamment aux composants du bois de chêne et en particulier à l'acide ellagique qui à une forte activité antioxydante protègeant l'ADN contre les dommages oxydatifs des radicaux libres.
ARIMOTO et al. (1998)
Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Graduate School of Natural Sciences and Technology, Okayama University, Tsushima, Okayama - Japan

Unlike Ethanol and a few other alcohols, it has been proved that Cognac has an antimutagenic effect against a specific group of cancerous substances. This effect is particularly due to the numerious Polyphenolic constituents contained in Cognac, after aging in oak barrel.
Contrairement à l'éthanol et à certains alcools, il a été démontré notamment pour le Cognac, un effet antimutagène contre un groupe de substances cancérigènes. Cet effet est dû en particulier aux nombreux composés polyphénoliques contenus dans le Cognac, grâce à un vieillissement en fûts de chêne.
Dipartimento di Scienze degli Alimentari, University of Udine - ltaly

The effect of Cognac in reducing the hardening of the arteries has been tested and it has been shown that the more heavily weighted molecules of Polyphenols contained in Cognac are one of the main agents for chemical roots trappers or anti-root activity
L'activité antiradicalaire de quelques Cognacs a été testée, et il a été démontré que les polyphénols de haut poids moléculaire présents dans le Cognac sont les principaux responsables de l'activité "piégeurs de radicaux" (scavenger)


2- COGNAC & DIABETICS ( Cognac & diabète ) :

The negative effect of alcohol in Dibetes: Alcohol increase the " Hypoglycemic" effect which is found particularly in people suffering from Diabetes which increases the likelyhood of comas so many Diabetics are advised to eat small and regular quantites of sugar to balance this effect: see note one.
L'effet négatif de l'alcool : L'alcool a un effet hypoglycémique qui est majoré dans les cas de diabète. Aussi, en cas de consommation d'alcool, il convient de manger de petites quantités de sucres lents, pour éviter l'hypoglycémie.

One advantage of Cognac is that Cognac is very low in sugar content ( 0.32 g ie 1,28 Kcal for 4cl dose) this is very small when this is compared to the calorific value found in alcohol(91Kcal) and this has proved important in the study of Diabetes- Obesity syndrome see note 1)
D'autre part, le cognac contient une faible quantité de sucre (0,32 g soit 1,28 Kcal pour une dose de 4 cl), négligeable par rapport à l'apport calorique dû à l'alcool (91 Kcal).

The Positive Effect of Alcohol: Studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption has a favourable effect on the surounding areas of insulin resistance and particilarly on the adipocytes.
L'effet positif de l'alcool : Des études font ressortir un rôle favorable à la consommation modérée d'alcool sur l'insulinorésistance périphérique, notamment des adipocytes.

Also, polyphenols contained in Cognac have a vascular -protector effect due to the antioxidantes properties.
Par ailleurs, les polyphénols du Cognac ont un rôle vasculo-protecteur du fait de leurs propriétés antioxydantes.

1. BELL (DS.) Alcohol and the NIDDM patient, Diabetes Care 1996 May ; 19 (5) : 509-13
AL QATARI (M.), SMIH (MF.), TABERNER (PV.) Chronic ethanol consumption ameliorates the maturity-onset-diabetes-obesity syndrome in CBA mice, Alcohol 1996 January ; 31 (1) : 89-99


3- COGNAC & CARDIO-VASCULAR DISEASE ( Cognac et maladies cardiovasculaires ) :


In the case of a moderate alcohol consumption, the protection effect of polyphneols & ethanol from cardiovascular diseases are shown: see note 2 below.
Les effets protecteurs de l'éthanol et des polyphénols contre les maladies cardiovasculaires sont démontrés, dans le cas d'une consommation modérée d'alcool.

Indeed, alcohol in moderate doses has positive effects on the fat or grease build up mechanisms and the formation of blood clots, limiting cardiovascular disease risks.The polyphenolic constituents assist in this effect of antioxidants and anti coagulants.
En effet, l'alcool à dose modérée agit sur les mécanismes des graisses et de formation des caillots, limitant ainsi les risques de maladies cardiovasculaires. Les composés polyphénoliques ont des effets antioxydants et anticoagulants bénéfiques.

However, keep in mind that alcohol consumption has to be controlled , limited, in the case of obesity and high blood pressure.
Il faut toutefois rappeler que la consommation doit être limitée dans les cas d'obésité et d'hypertension artérielle.

Cognac belongs to that sector of alcohol drinks that are rich in phenolic constituents with high antioxidant properties as red wine and can contribute to reducing risks.
Le Cognac fait donc partie des boissons alcoolisées contenant des composés phénoliques à propriété hautement antioxydante, au même titre que le vin rouge, et peut contribuer significativement à la réduction des risques cardiovasculaires.

2. CARANDO (S.) et al. Athérosclérose: Physiopathologie Boissons alcoolisées et cardiopathies ischémiques. Cahier de nutrition et de diététique, 1998 33 182-187. Editions Massons
CRIQUI (MH.), Do know cardiovascular risk factors mediate the effect of alcohol on cardiovascular disease ? Novartis Found Symposium, 1998; 216; 159-167
IMHOF (A.) et al. Effect of alcohol consumption on systemic markers of inflammation. Lancet 2001 March 10; 357 (9258) : 763-7
GOLDBERG (DM.), HOFFMAN (B.), YANG (J.), SOLEAS (J.) Phenol constituents, furans, and total antioxidant status of distilled spirits. J Agric Food Chem 1999 Oct; 47 (10) ; 3978-85


4- COGNAC & DIGESTION ( Cognac et digestion) :

Ethanol has a double action on the digestive system but is very different from the action on cardiovascular problems.
L'éthanol agit d'une double façon sur le système digestif, mais de façon plus nuancée que pour les problèmes cardiovasculaires.
These possible effects on the digestion lead to advise an moderate Cognac consumption. However, the high quantity of polyphenols contained seem to play a role in adding to to the protection effect of the gastric mucus membrane and is a extra protection factor.
Les effets potentiels sur la digestion amènent à recommander une consommation modérée de Cognac. Toutefois, la présence de polyphénols en quantités importantes, qui semblent jouer un rôle de protection de la muqueuse gastrique, constitue un facteur protecteur potentiel supplémentaire.


5- COGNAC & OBESITY ( Cognac et obèsité) :

It has been shown that a moderate consumption of alcohol has no significant effect on men's weight and even has a mild slimming effect on women.
Il a été démontré que la consommation modérée d'alcool n'a aucun effet sur le poids des hommes et a même un faible effet amaigrissant chez les femmes.

On the other hand it is strongly advised to avoid drinking alcohol where there are hepatic and liver related problems and risks
En revanche, il est fortement déconseillé aux obèses de consommer de l'alcool étant donné les risques de problèmes hépatiques qui y sont liés.


6- COGNAC & CANCER ( Cognac et cancer ) :

Though alcohol, in the case of moderate consumption, protects the cardiovascular system from disease and aids the digestion it can increase the risks of cancer of the upper aerodigestive tract : see note 3.
Si l'alcool à faible dose protège contre les maladies cardiovasculaires et améliore la digestion, en revanche, il augmente les risques de cancer des voies aérodigestives supérieure

However,due to their antioxidants properties, polyphenols are anticancerous and antimutagenic, protects from cells oxidative damage including lipidic peroxudation. As Cognac is rich in in polyphenic constituents, so it has been shown that the ellagic acid can inhibite cancer of the lung, liver and oesophagus can as tests have shown: see note 3 below.
Toutefois, du fait de leurs propriétés antioxydantes, les polyphénols sont anticancérigènes et antimutagènes. Ils protègent des dommages oxydatifs des cellules incluant la péroxudation lipidique. Or le Cognac est particulièrement riche en composés polyphénoliques. Ainsi, il est démontré que l'acide ellagique peut inhiber les cancers du poumon, du foie et de l'œsophage chez les rongeurs.

3. YANG (CS.) et al. Inhibition of cancerogenesis by dietary polyphenolic compounds. Annu Rev Nutr 2001; 21 : 381-406
CHUNG (KT.) et al. Tannins and human health : a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1998 Aug ; 38 (6) : 421-464
KAUL (A.), KHANDUJA (KL.) Polyphenols inhibit promotional phase of tumorigeneris : Relevance of superoxide radicals Nutr Cancer 1998 ; 32(2) : 81-5
STONER (GD.) MUKHTAR (H.) Polyphenols as cancer chemopreventive agents. J Cell Biochem Suppl 1995; 22 : 69-80


> Last up dated on 10/5/02 / www.pierreboullmer.com / e-mail : Pierre Boullmer


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