Armagnac is a brandy created in Gascony, about 100 miles (160km) south of Cognac. There are three areas in Armagnac: Bas-Armagnac (the best), Tenareze, and Haut-Armagnac. Although there are 10 grapes legally permitted to use in the making of Armagnac, most Armagnac is created using just four grape varieties: Folle Blanche, Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Baco.
Armagnac, traditionally, is only distilled once, which results initially in a less refined spirit than Cognac, which is usually double distilled. However, long aging in French oak barrels, primarily from the Monlezun forest in Bas Armagnac, softens the taste and promotes the development of more complex flavours and a rich brown colour. Aging in the barrel removes a part of the water and alcohol by evaporation allowing more complex aromatic compounds to appear by oxidation, which helps to further improves the flavour. When the alcohol reaches 40%, the Armagnac is transferred to large glass bottles (called “Dame Jeanne”) for storage. Once transferred to the “Dame Jeanne” the Armagnac does not age or develop further and can be bottled for sale from the next year on.
Armagnac, to this day, is still mainly produced by small scale rural growers with many producers sharing mobile stills that are driven around the countryside at production time.
Armagnac, historically is the oldest brandy in France, being first mentioned back as far as 1411 when it was used mainly for therapeutic reasons. This was some 200 years before the first mention of Cognac. Isolated from efficient transport links, until the middle of the 18th century it remained very much a locally consumed product.
Situated betweeen the Pyrénées and the Atlantic Armagnac enjoys a warm summer, generous amount of sunshine through the winter, rainfall in the spring which helps nourishes the vineyards and sublime weather stretching through the vendange well into November. It is a compact area that is roughly 80 kms long by 80 kms wide and comprising of 15,000 hectares with numerous scattered villages.
When first smelt or sipped Armagnac tends to have an overpowering alcohol flavor. Once the nose and tastebuds become accustomed to this the true flavors, and complexity, of Armagnac are able to be fully appreciated. With subtle flavors and fragrances including vanilla, roasted nuts, wood and just a hint of dried fruit.