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Cognac and Other Brandy

Armagnac

  • Armagnac is the other well known Appellation Controllée French grape brandy, and actually pre-dates Cognac by at least a century. It is produced in the region southwest of Bordeaux west of the river Gers. This region is divided into three sub-regions; Bas Armagnac, with sandy clay soil known as boulbene; Ténarèze, with a mixture of boulbene and chalk; and Haut-Armagnac, with chalky soils. Oddly, the best regions here are those with the least chalk; the opposite of Cognac. There is a total of 15,000 ha of vines over these three districts.

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  • The base wines here are made from Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, known as Picpoule, Colombard, Blanquette and the hybrid Baco Blanc 22A. These wines are distilled in a special Armagnac still and are only distilled once. This operates as a type of continuous still, which is operated to give a weaker spirit that must come off the still between 72-52% ABV, and in practice averages about 60% ABV. The resulting spirit is one with more pronounced aroma and flavor and less elegance and finesse.

    In this type of still, the wine is heated by the condenser itself, and there are relatively few plates in the column. This is because the stills were dragged from vineyard to vineyard for distillation. The short column gave heavier spirits and a lower level of alcohol. Even today, only four houses distill their own wines, and everything else is done by six roving distillers. Distillation must be done from November to December.

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  • Like Cognac, Armagnac is matured in oak casks, but the type of oak is the local Monlezun oak instead of the Limousin or Tronçais barrels that are used for Cognac. Aging takes place for a minimum of two years in 400–420 liter casks, and Nevers stave wood is also used.

    Designations for Armagnac include V.S., aged 2 years; V.S.O.P., aged 5 years; X.O., aged 6 years; and Hors d'age, aged 10 years. Vintage expressions are much more common here than they are in Cognac.

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