All Armagnac is brandy, but not all brandy is Armagnac. Armagnac is the oldest wine
spirit produced in the south west region of France in Gascogny. Distilled from grape
brandy in a unique continuous single distillation process in traditional copper stills
known as "Alembic Armagnacias."
The major difference between Armagnac and Cognac is the distillation process. Armagnac
is distilled once in a continuous copper still. Cognac is distilled twice. Armagnac
is often aged over 10 years, usually longer than Cognac. Preferred Armagnac is between
teenage years to mid-20s.
Armagnac must be made from grapes and wines produced solely in the Armagnac region
of three districts: Bas-armagnac, Tenareze and Haut-Armagnac. Most Armagnac is produced
by small estates, most are run by families who pass along the artisinal secrets of
distillation from generation to generation. The first production of Armagnac goes
back to the 14th century according to the Armagnac National Association Bureau.
Distillation process takes place during the winter season, often at the estate. It
usually begins in November and ends in February. Armagnac is aged in oak barrels
stored in wineries. Under the supervision of cellar master, Armagnac gains its amber
golden colour and flavour from inside the barrel.
When the cellar master determines the spirit is ready to be taken out of the casks,
he begins blending various spirits of different origins and ages. Vintage Armagnacs
are sold at their natural degree of ageing, which is generally between 40% to 48%
READING A LABEL:
With the exception of vintages, the age statement refers to the youngest blend contained.
This is the same for blended Scotch whiskies. If the bottle indicates 10 years, it
means the youngest component of the blend has been aged in wood for 10 years. You
can also find young Armagnacs such as "Three Stars" (over 2 years old), VSOP (over
5 years old) and XO (over 6 years old).
Aged minimum of 10 years, vintage Armagnacs correspond exclusively to the year of
the crop indicated on the label such as 1940, 1960, and 1975 etc.
Three Starts or V.S (Very Superior) - Aged a minimum of 2 years
VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) - Aged 5 years minimum
XO (Extra Old, including Napoleon and Vielle Reserve) - Aged 6 years minimum
Hor d'age - Aged 10 years or more
1) In a ball shaped glass or a tulip-shaped glass, pour 1 ounce of Armagnac.
2) See the colour, golden, amber or mahogany. Colour of the spirit develops during
the aging process.
3) Nosing: Smell the spirit gently. The first impression may be forceful as the alcohol
rises out of the glass. Swirl around the spirit inside your glass. The aromas can
be categorized as following:
- Fruity aromas: grape, plum, prune, orange or apricot
- Floral aromas: vine blossom, honey or lime...
- Woody aromas: vanilla, spicy, grilled...
- Others: walnuts, hazelnut
3) Take a sip: Take about a half tablespoonful amount of spirit. Roll around your
tongue. First impression would be very subtle, then warm development.
Traditionally Armagnac is served in a brandy glass as a digestive at the end of a
meal. It's often paired with chocolate, fruit desserts, coffee and cigars. The spirit
is also served in other ways:
"Floc De Gascogne" - Grape juice and Armagnac. Served as an aperitif with melon,
foie gras or cheese, or as a dessert.
"Trou Gascon" - served ice cold as a palate cleanser between courses or with smoked
salmon, foie gras or charcuteries.