This is a type of French brandy made from distilled wine, it is known for its distinct flavor of combined notes of chocolate, dried fruit, caramel and a rich mouthfeel. It is a type of brandy that originates from the Gascony region of France. A white-wine-based liquor traditionally column distilled once and then aged in oak barrels. Armagnac is mostly produced by small scale family own distilleries where the knowledge of Armagnac production has been passed down through generations so they take great pride in their craft.
Origin & History
Armagnac gets its name from the Royal Armagnac family that ruled the Armagnac region for 5 centuries, they were well known during the reign of King Charles VII of France.
Armagnac is the oldest liquor recorded to be distilled in the world and it used to be taken for medicinal benefits. It is the oldest wine-based eau-de-vie produced in France having been produced for over 700 years. Roving distillers used to make the brandy used to make Armagnac, they carried their stills from farm to farm allowing farmers to make brandy from their wine without having to buy equipment of their own.
Armagnac was originally produced in the Gascony region of southwest France, and it is now produced in only four certified Armagnac regions, including Bas-Armagnac, Armagnac-Ténarèze, and Haut-Armagnac.
Grapes Used for the production of Armagnac
The four specific French grape varieties originally used to produce Armagnac are Baco, Folle Blanche, Colombard, and Ugni Blanc. Although now there are up to ten grape varieties authorised for the production of Armagnac but the four main ones give their personality to the eau-de-vie are:
The best grape used for wine distillation, it produces acidic and low alcohol wines that give eaux-de-vie of high quality after distillation. It grows in all Armagnac territories.
A popular grape variety that used to dominate vineyards now very rare after its destruction by phylloxera in 1878. It produces fine and floral eaux-de-vie with great elegance that is particularly valued in young Armagnacs.
A hybrid grape variety, from the Folle Blanche and Noah grape varieties. It was created by French school teacher, Monsieur Baco after phylloxera. Mainly grown in the Bas-Armagnac region, it gives eau-de-vie roundness, smoothness and aromas of ripe fruits, especially after long ageing.
This variety is more rarer and is the most rarely distilled among the four, it gives eau-de-vie fruity and spicy aromas that are appreciated in blends.
The first step in producing Armagnac is the harvesting of grapes, after harvesting, the juice is pressed to extract the juice, this is then allowed to ferment for about three weeks into low alcohol and high acidity white wine.
After this, the next process is the distillation process, the wine is distilled through a column distillation process. The wine is heated in one still and then siphoned into another still, where it boils and creates vapor that enriches the wine’s taste. The process yields eau-de-vie that will age to become Armagnac.
The distillation process of Armagnac must begin in winter, so that it is completed by the final day of March.
Like other brandys, the eau-de-vie used to make Armagnac is aged in Oak barrels after distillation. It is first stored in new oak barrels then transferred to previously used ones to avoid an overly oaky taste. It is aged for at least a year depending on its classification before Blending.
Difference between Armagnac & Cognac
Although Armagnac are Cognac are both brandies, the major difference between them is the distillation process – cognac is distilled twice in a pot still while Armagnac is distilled once using column distillation.
The different distillation processes gives them different textures and mouthfeels, according to Charles Neal of Charles Neal Selections “Cognac is almost like the vodka that you store on the kitchen counter. Whereas Armagnac, texturally, is more like the vodka in the freezer, thicker and richer on the palate.”
This difference in mouthfeel is also influenced by the alcohol concentration, Armagnac usually has a higher concentration of alcohol than cognac after distillation.
Another difference is that while Cognac named after a town, Armagnac is named after a royal family that ruled the region of the same name.