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Armagnac – The True Spirit of Gascony

Watch out Cognac – your sexier cousin is in town on a mission to take the spotlight from you.

From the land of musketeers and foie gras, the brandy known as Armagnac is experiencing a new renaissance in both the cocktail scene as well as neatly in our glasses.

From its Blanche all the way to XO and beyond, Armagnac and its sublime brilliance is ready to win you over; all for one and one for all.

On record as France’s oldest eau-de-vie, and possibly Europe’s oldest distilled spirit, Armagnac dates back to the 14th century and its production was commercialized by the 15th century. Its origins resulted from a trifecta of historical inhabitants in the region: the Romans who brought the vine, the Arabs who brought the Alambic, and the Celts who brought the barrel. Needless to say, each one was equally key to the creation of this magnificent spirit.


Although there are ten permitted grape varieties, the majority of production rests in the hands of four noble varietals: Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Colombard, and Armagnac’s secret weapon, Baco. Created as a hybrid of Folle Blanche and Noah, Baco is exclusive to Armagnac and offers rich and earthy undertones to the spirits. Ugni Blanc makes up the majority of plantings in the region while Folle Blanche adds a floral elegance to Armagnac. Although the least popular of the noble four, Colombard attributes a spicy peppery aspect that can add character to the blends. While most Armagnac is bottled as blends of these grapes, some



producers like Baron de Lustrac and Maison Gélas specialize in single-varietal bottlings.


Armagnac production is divided into three sub-regions. The majority of plantings come from the western section called BasArmagnac. With its rolling countryside landscapes of clay, loam, and tawny sand soils, it is the perfect home for Baco to thrive. Its proximity to marine influences results in a lighter and more delicate style of Armagnac. In the central area is Ténarèze where Ugni Blanc is king of the limestone-clay soils and offers a full-bodied age-ability to the spirits. To the southeast is the chalky soils of Haut Armagnac where only a handful of vineyards are planted.


As if more reasons were necessary, another unique aspect to Armagnac is its distillation process. Unlike Cognac’s double pot distillation, Armagnac undergoes one single distillation in a continuous column still that is patented to the region as the..

‘Alambic Armagnaçais’, or Armagnac still. This process allows a higher proportion of flavors to remain in the finished spirit. While many have their own particular shapes and sizes of stills, those who do not have their own utilize a ‘roving distiller’ who brings a still to their property. Only a few houses, such as Delord, also include double pot distillation into their blends.

One of the most highly influential factors of production is the aging process, which alone can define the overall style of the spirit. The length of time spent in the barrel determines what category the spirit falls into.

Blanche is an unaged style that retains its fresh fruit essences. The rest are categorized by aging minimums that are based on the youngest spirit in the blend. VS, or ‘Very Special’, will have at least one year of aging; VSOP, or ‘Very Superior Old Pale’, has at least four years of aging; Napoleon has at least six years of aging; and XO, or ‘Extra Old’, and Hors d’Age have at least ten years of aging.   Age-indicated styles will state the youngest in the blend on the bottle label.

Vintage Armagnac is also a very important category. This requires the spirit to be 100% from that vintage and have aged in a barrel for at least ten years.

Size Matters

Now technicalities aside, what is it that truly makes Armagnac a different breed from Cognac? Part of the answer is simple: size matters. While Cognac’s industry is dominated by colossal houses like Hennessey and Remy Martin, Armagnac is a community of smaller boutique producers. Smaller Armagnac houses means more opportunity for meticulous attention towards grape sourcing, production, aging, and blending. Overall, the result is more individuality between the distillers and their finished spirits.

So with all of this awesomeness, how has Cognac and its flashy fame held the throne for so long? We recently met with the folks at Maison Janneau, one of the region’s oldest houses, and asked them this very question. Their answer?

“The difference between Armagnac and Cognac is 150 years of marketing.” And from the sound of it, the people of Armagnac are prepared to take on the challenge.

For more information on Armagnac visit http://www.armagnac.fr/en.



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About The Author
Julie Albin
Julie Albin is a wine and spirits writer based in San Francisco and is currently the Editor-in-Chief for Drink Me Magazine. Her work has also been published in Whisky Advocate, Grape Collective, SOMA Magazine, Wine Geographic, Connoisseur Magazine, 2Paragraphs, etc. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine and has also completed her WSET Diploma. To further her expertise in the industry, Julie has spent much time in Europe meeting with winemakers and distillers to learn about their stories.

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