Cognac Tasting In Cognac France

Day Trip From La Rochelle To Cognac and Saintes In France

Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

We Started In La Rochelle, France

After our quiet day exploring the town of Brest, our ship headed to La Rochelle, France and we headed out for cognac tasting in Cognac. It was a tasty stop on our cruise along the coast of Northern France.

We always loved to sample local products when we travelled. When we visited Porto in Portugal, we made sure we had port in Porto. On our travels in Prague, we learned more about Absinthe. We were in the heart of the Bordeaux region and there were a whole range of wine tours. On our later port stop in Bordeaux we definitely toured the local wine region.

But on our stop in La Rochelle, we booked an excursion and did cognac tasting in Cognac. It was a full day outing with lunch and walking tours in addition to our cognac visit. We visited the small town of Saintes and got a quick look at La Rochelle. It was a busy day that left us wanting more.

Heading To Cognac

We boarded our bus in La Rochelle. The bus took a small causeway and got off the commercial pier. There were three islands off of La Rochelle. Two (Ré and Oléron) were connected to the mainland by large causeways. These islands were used historically for salt marshes. Bordeaux finishing salt might make it home as a souvenir!

La Rochelle Port.jpg

La Rochelle Port.jpg

La Rochelle Sea Salt.jpg

A third (Aix) was a small island with only 240 inhabitants. But it had two museums and Fort Liédot. Napoleon spent his last days in France here before he surrendered to the English. And then went to exile on Elba.

The bus headed out for our cognac tasting in Cognac. The route went along the La Charente River – past Rochefort, Saintes and Cognac. It was a lovely day for the drive in the country. Our guide explained that Rochefort was created to be the military port while La Rochelle was the deep water commercial port.

Wine Fields.jpg

We knew we were close when we started to see vineyards.

We Started With A Visit To Chateau De Cognac

The bus stopped at Otard Chateau de Cognac for our cognac tasting in Cognac. Like most historic properties, the chateau had a long and colourful history.

The chateau was a fortress during the Hundred Year War. Francois I was born in this castle and went on to become king of France. The Otard family left Scotland in exile. Otrard descendants bought Chateau Cognac as their estate and made cognac here since 1796.

Chateau Otard.jpg

Chateau Otard.jpg

Our visit started with a tour of the inside of the Chateau De Cognac. It was a large stone chateau and was largely empty. We did not see a historically restored chateau as we did when we visited St Petersburg. In one area we saw the remnants of stairs that used to go to private quarters.

Chateau Otard Inside - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Chateau Otard Inside - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Chateau Otard Inside.jpg

Chateau Otard Inside.jpg

In several of the rooms historical plaques, carvings and busts detailed the history of the chateau. Francis I used the salamander as his symbol. We found it everywhere as we toured the chateau.

Chateau Otard History.jpg

Chateau Otard History.jpg

In one room we saw various posters that showed the history of Otard as a cognac house over the years.

Chateau Otard History - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Chateau Otard History.jpg

A tour of Chateau de Cognac was a great start to our cognac tasting in Cognac.

Learning More About How Cognac Was Made

We got a little eduction about cognac during our tour. There were six regions in the area of Cognac that produced cognac. Chateau de Cognac was located in the Grande Champagne region.

Chateau Otard Tour.jpg

Otard does not own vineyards nor does it do the distillation at the chateau. The chateau had the ideal conditions though to age the cognac for 10 to 70 years. The Chateau de Cognac had 3 metre thick walls. The close proximity to the Charente River resulted in a very high humidity in the cellars (90%). The temperature was maintained at 17℃.

The first part of our tour took us through the dark and damp cellars. Spider webs were everywhere. Spiders were a good thing since they ate the bugs!

Chateau Otard Cellar Tour - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Chateau Otard Cellar Tour.jpg

Chateau Otard Cellar Tour.jpg

Distillation And Aging Of Cognac

Cognac was produced from white grapes with a double distillation. One of the secrets to making cognac was said to be the swan’s neck-shaped alembic still used to distill cognac. There were 3 stages of liquor produced during the distillation. Otard buys the middle stage for its cognac.

Producing cognac resulted in a very large amount of evaporation. Evaporation was often called the “angels share”. The evaporation in high humidity environments such as these was mostly alcohol. This made the ceilings and walls dark. We learned that in the Cognac region, 23 million bottles evaporated each year. Otard itself had about 300,000 bottles of evaporation. We saw evidence of this evaporation in black walls of the buildings.

Chateau Otard Tour.jpg

Cognac was aged in oak barrels. The new barrels were toasted before they were used. After 60 years the barrels were sold and used for whisky production. We heard the same thing about barrels used in wine production in other regions of Bordeaux.

Once the cognac was aged, it was stored in white barrels. Once in the the white barrels, there was no more aging.

Chateau Otard Cellar Tour - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Chateau Otard Cellar Tour - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Insight into the process to produce cognac was a great introduction to our cognac tasting in Cognac.

We Did Cognac Tasting In Cognac

As we toured the cellars, we got a hands-on opportunity to see various facets of cognac production. The first exhibit was about aroma. We were surprised to learn that aromas were actually added to the cognac. Different aromas were added to different vintages. The aromas added included vanilla, coconut, floral and spicy. We certainly smelled the different aromas in the samples.

Chateau Otard Smell Test Flavours - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

After we learned about the process of distillation, we got to smell the different stages of evaporation. The middle stage that was used for Otard cognac had a definite smoother smell. Next we did a smell test of the various vintages produced at Otard. The top of the range offered was “1795 Extra” Several other vintages were offered down to VSOP and VS blends.

Chateau Otard Smell Test Flavours - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Chateau Otard Smell Test Flavours 1795 - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

After all the teasing, we finally got to try cognac tasting in Cognac. We taste tested two different vintages (VS and VSOP). At 3270€ (about $4,000 USD) a bottle for “Crystal St Louis”, we did not taste test the top of the line cognac.

Chateau Otard Tasting.jpg

Chateau Otard Tasting Crystal St Louis - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Chateau Otard Tasting - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

After the tasting we wandered the shop and looked at the wide variety of cognac for sale. Many people went home with bags. A perfect way to celebrate our cognac tasting in Cognac.

Chateau Otard Store - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Chateau Otard Store.jpg

A Very French Lunch Break

We left Chateau De Cognac and the bus dropped us off at a town square. Our short walk to and from the bus was our only view of the small town of Cognac.

Town Views.jpg

Town Views Hotel du ville.jpg

Town Views Francois I Statue.jpg

Town Views Francois I Statue - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Our lunch was a delicious slow multi-course French meal with fresh local produce. Of course it was served with local wine. There was a lot of chatter around the table about our morning cognac tasting in Cognac.

French Lunch.jpg

French Lunch.jpg

Roman History In Saintes

From Cognac we headed to the town of Saintes. Saintes was first occupied by the Romans. Remnants of the Roman period still stood in the town. We started with a photo stop at the Roman amphitheatre. Not much of the original structure still stood. But it was clear that it was still used as an outdoor venue. We saw the steeple of St Eutrope Church in the background and again over the town.

Saintes Town Amphitheatre - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Saintes Town Church Steeple.jpg

The Charente River ran through town. We got a view along the river banks and then saw the quiet streets of the town. We stopped for a close up view of the L’Arc de Triomphe roman arch by the water. This used to the gate into Saintes.

Saintes Town River.jpg

Saintes Town Arc de Triomphe.jpg

Saintes Town Arc de Triomphe - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

We saw the St Peters Cathedral tower in the distance as we drove by. It was built in 1500 but then destroyed in religious wars before it was re-built.

Saintes Town St Peters Cathedral - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

Our final short stop was at the Abbey of the Girls (Abbaye Aux Dames). This was the first Benedictine abbey for women in this region of France.

Saintes Town Abbaye Aux Dames.jpg

Our visit to the old town of Saintes offered a very different view of this region than our cognac tasting in Cognac!

Photo Stop In La Rochelle

We raced the clock back to La Rochelle. As we entered the city, the bus went past the large train station. It took only 3 hours by fast train to reach Paris.

Even with a tight deadline to get back on board before the ship sailed, our guide set out on yet one more fast walk. She was determined that we see a little of La Rochelle before we left.

La Rochelle Town Train Station.jpg

The bus parked and we started our tour at the waterfront. We saw the towers that once guarded the entrance to the harbour. A large regatta was on and we saw many sailboats in the harbour. There were two lighthouses in the port.

La Rochelle Town Waterfront - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

La Rochelle Town Waterfront.jpg

We wandered through the small alleys of the old town. Several people peeled off from the walking tour and shopped. We then waited for them when we re-boarded the bus. Our guide pointed out several buildings with slate seams where wooden seams once were.

La Rochelle Town Protestant Temple - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

La Rochelle Town Slate Tiles.jpg

Old Churches In La Rochelle

There was a short stop at the Dames Blanches Cloister. This was a quiet green space in the middle of the old town. At times exhibitions were held here.

La Rochelle Town Abbaye aux Dames Blanches - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

La Rochelle Town Abbaye aux Dames Blanches Cloister.jpg

We stopped outside the L’Eglise Saint-Sauveur Church. We saw remnants of the original church decaying on the outside. There was a service in progress so we did not get to go inside.

La Rochelle Town Church LEglise Saint-Sauveur - Day Trip From La Rochelle - Cognac Tasting In Cognac France.jpg

La Rochelle Town Church LEglise Saint-Sauveur.jpg

The bus headed back to the dock. Our Oceania Cruises ship had already started up when we arrived. We saw the smoke coming out of the funnels. It was a long day for cognac tasting in Cognac.

Great First Visit To French Wine Country

It was a great first excursion into French wine country on our cruise along the north coast of France. Our visit for Cognac tasting in Cognac was delicious and informative.

The little town of Saintes offered us a view into the history of this region. But the short stop in La Rochelle just teased us for a return visit.

We were headed to Bordeaux next for a two day stop. One day we explored the city of Bordeaux. On the second day we did an excursion into Bordeaux wine country and visited to St Emilion.

Have you done a cognac tasting in Cognac? Have you toured this wine region?

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About TravelAtWill 619 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!

64 Comments

  1. Lovely blog post! It’s so nice that you got to see the wine making process, beautiful scenic places and historical monuments and churches too. I am a bit scared of spiders, big ones especially ! Your photographs are stunning. The food looks yummy. 🙂

  2. Ah, this sounds fantastic. Although I don’t even like Cognac, I would try it for the experience alone – and then probably purchase the most expensive bottle that I’d never drink. I love those authentic settings – I did some wine tasting in St Emilion a couple of years ago. Suddenly I found bottles I had never bought at my local wine store at that price a bargain….

  3. This sounds like such a fun trip!! I have never tried Cognac before but there is always a first time for everything! Whenever I think of traveling to France I think of wine now cognac, but experiencing this for a day trip sounds lovely!
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. It sounds like it took an awful lot of time until you got to the actual tasting 🙂 ! But I would totally love to learn more about Cagnac in its birthplace. We went for a week of whiskey tasting to Islay two years ago – I can recommand that as well. Great fun! The harbor front of La Rochelle looks very cute too!

    • It did feel like a long time for us too before we got to taste. But we appreciated it more knowing a bit about the process. We love trying local food and drink. So we would surely try a whisky tasting.

  5. I’m not really a Cognac drinker, but I can’t think of a better place to sample some! Plenty of other things to do too.

  6. You packed a lot into this stop! The little town of Cognac looked beautiful, and tasting all the different cognacs in the place it’s named for is a not-miss! Great architecture in Saintes and La Rochelle. I hope you got the fleur de sel 😉

  7. I have to admit, I’m not much of a drinker, but I had no idea that Cognac is so pretty! I’d love to visit and see all of the beautiful buildings! I suppose you can’t really visit without trying a tipple though can you so I’d give it a while. What an amazing experience to sample Cognac in Cognac!

  8. Aaah, to be sitting in France sipping cognac. But that VOP is pricey! Great shot of all the flags lined up – the wind was cooperating. Curious why Francis choose the salamander.

  9. Well this sounds really amazing. And the bottles are so beautiful. I learned a lot…I had no idea. Now adding to the very long list of things I still need to do in Europe…hopefully soon.

  10. I wouldn’t be interested in a cognac-tasting tour, but I was super impressed with the medieval architecture of the Chateau de Cognac! And your photos of the Abbey and other nearby sites make me want to explore this region some day.

  11. I am loving all of this history behind this region, and cognac tasting sounds like a great option to add to the tour of the region too!

  12. I don’t think I’ve ever tried cognac! It might be one of the few alcohols I’ve yet to taste. I find the process of aging it and how the evaporation turns the walls and ceilings black so fascinating!

    • We did learn a lot on our tour. It seemed to take forever until we got to taste test the cognac. But the tasting was improved by knowing a little more about the process.

  13. I know nothing about cognac, the drink or the place, so this was really interesting. I’ve done beer tasting, wine tasting and even whisky tasting but never cognac. The chateau looks beautiful, and the perfect location for this experience. Saintes also looks like an interesting place. I’m always fascinated by anywhere with some good Roman history

  14. This seems like a lovely experience when visiting France. Would love to explore the world of Cognac. The white barrels look beautiful.Thank you for sharing.

  15. What an incredible experience. I would love to do this. I feel like this would give you such an appreciation for the region and for cognac!

  16. What an awesome experience to do a cognac tasting in Cognac, France! And love all the background and historical tours you took. Great photos!

  17. Cognac is too strong for me, so I don’t drink it often. But during my holidays in France, I also tried it. I love the smell of cognac. For sure is worth try Cognac tasting in Cognac France. I hope to visit Otard Chateau de Cognac next time.

  18. The wait prior to the actual tasting must have brought a great sense of satisfaction to you. This whole write-up gave me beautiful insights about the craft of making it which I’ll definitely remember when I chance upon my next sip of cognac. Thanks for introducing us to this wonderful trip of history, architecture, and heritage!

  19. La Rochelle is so charming, and a great place for cognac tasting. The chateau is wonderful, I could imagine myself there as I read this! It’s a part of France I’ve not yet visited but would love to see for myself one day soon.

  20. I love that the chateau was used as a fortress. What an interesting history! Also, how fabulous to be able to have cognac in its namesake. Such a fabulous choice of what to do! I don’t even know if I’ve ever had cognac – this makes me want to try it.

  21. That’s so cool, Cognac Tasting in Cognac! I have never tasted Cognac till now and I would love to try it. I didn’t know that it was made of white grapes. I would definitely try Cognac tasting someday. And also those old churches are so beautiful. I have added Cognac to my wish list.

  22. France is so seductive and my goodness, Cognac…intoxicating! That’s crazy to learn 23 million bottles evaporate each year. Can they wring the walls or get in touch with those angels?! geez, lol! I also loved your stop to Saintes…never heard of this historic town before!

  23. Learning and sipping: two of my favourite activities. Your post takes me back to a time when my partner enjoyed cognac so I’d always try to bring him home a bottle of Remy Martin when duty-free made it a little more affordable. I could never understand the appeal but I think the memories of this type of tour would help make it a little more palatable.

  24. I am not a cognac drinker but I am signing up for this – purely for the interesting scenes. The heritage sites for one – quite a lovely story. I loved reading about the facts around Cognac. Did not know so much about the drink

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