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Armagnac

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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 bottle.

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.

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