Armagnac is a distinctive kind of brandy or
eau de vie produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, southwest France.
It is distilled from wine usually made from a blend of grapes, using
column stills rather than the pot stills used in the production of
Cognac. The resulting spirit is then aged in oak barrels before release.
Left: 1956 Armagnac.
Armagnac was one of the first areas in France to begin distilling spirits, but
the brandies produced have a lower profile than those from Cognac and the
overall volume of production is far smaller. In addition they are for the most
part made and sold by small producers, whereas in Cognac production is dominated
by big-name brands.
Armagnac is the oldest brandy distilled in France, and in the
past was consumed for its therapeutic benefits. Moderate consumption can help
protect against heart disease and obesity.
Armagnac is traditionally distilled once, which results
initially in a less polished spirit than Cognac, where double distillation
usually takes place. However, long aging in oak barrels softens the taste and
causes the development of more complex flavours and a brown colour. Aging in the
barrel removes a part of the alcohol and water by evaporation and allows more complex aromatic
compounds to appear by oxidation, which further improves the flavour. When the
alcohol reaches 40%, the Armagnac can be transferred to large glass bottles
(called "Dame Jeanne") for storage. From then on, the Armagnac does not age or
develop further and can be bottled for sale from the next year on.
Armagnac is sold under several different classifications, mostly referring to
the age of the constituent brandies. When brandies of different ages have been
blended, the age on the bottle refers to the youngest component. A three star,
or "VS," Armagnac is a mix of several Armagnacs that have seen at least two
years of aging in wood. For the VSOP, the aging is at least five years; and for
XO, at least six. Hors d'âge means the youngest component in the blend is at
least ten years old. Older and better Armagnacs are often sold as vintages, with
the bottles containing Armagnac from a single year, the year being noted on the
As with any "eau de vie," Armagnac should be stored vertically to avoid damaging
the stopper with alcohol. Once opened, a bottle should stay drinkable for years.