Armagnac is a brandy made in the Gascony region of far southwestern France, with production centring about the town of Armagnac.
It is useful to compare Armagnac to Cognac, if only to highlight the differences. Some feel that Armagnac is gutsier and more robust than Cognac. Cognac is distilled from brandy, which has already been distilled, meaning that Cognac has been distilled twice, which makes it a purer, more refined essence. Armagnac, on the other hand, is distilled only once, and at lower temperatures, so that more of the original flavours of the white grapes come through, giving it a complexity of taste on the tongue. Cognac is aged in white oak, while Armagnac is aged in black oak. Monlezun oak considered the best, but Limousin and Troncais oak are now also being used. It’s aged first in new casks for 6 months to 1 year, then transferred to old ones.
The historical area of Armagnac is in Gascony, with the Adour River to the south, and the Garonne River to the north. In 1909, a government decree formalized the permitted production area as being three areas in Gascony: Bas Armagnac, Haut Armagnac, and Tenareze. About 55% of Armagnac produced is made in Bas Armagnac, 45% in Tenareze, and 5% in Haut Armagnac.
The authorized production methods were established in a decree on 6 August 1936. The grapes used can be Ugni Blanc, Colombard or Folle Blanche. Wine is made from them in October, then distilled in November in alambic stills. Alambic still owners will go to from farm to farm, renting out their alambic. Larger producers will have their own still.
The wine starts out at 10 to 12 % alcohol; the distilled liquid ends up anywhere from 52 to 72 %. But as the Armagnac matures, the alcohol content decreases. Armagnac sold will have a minimum alcohol content of 40% .
Armagnac can be a blend (most are), but it can also be single vintage. Unlike Cognac, more expensive versions of Armagnac are dated to show the vintage. But like Cognac and brandy, VSOP’s are younger and less expensive than XO versions.
A new category of Armagnac has been introduced, which is unaged Armagnac. It’s called “la blanche d’Armagnac.”
Some recipes call for Armagnac to enhance desserts or sauces for dishes that have fruit in them.
Connoisseurs of Armagnac say that rather than drinking it in a brandy snifter, you should drink it in a glass with straight sides.
Armagnac was being produced as early as 1442. In fact, Armagnac was being made at least 200 years before Cognac was, even though Cognac now outsells Armagnac by a ratio of 100 to 6. (F. Paul Pacult, Kindred Spirits, Hyperion, 1997.)
Literature & Lore
D’Artagnan, one of the Three Musketeers, was from Armagnac.