Armagnac brandy has been distilled since at least the 14th century, making it the oldest wine distillate of France. In 1313, a church cardinal proclaimed the drink had 40 virtues, including curing hepatitis and gout. While its therapeutic qualities may be debatable, this delectable spirit delivers a unique taste experience.
Armagnac differs from cognac, its close cousin, in that it is distilled only once while cognac is always distilled twice. Since it only has one distillation, Armagnac spends more time aging in black oak casks, giving it a more robust, assertive flavor.
Distillation softens a spirit, but it also removes flavor and aroma. Through only one distillation, Armagnac retains a more fruity character with a lower percentage of alcohol than cognac.
Armagnac is made chiefly from the Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Colombard grape varieties. Its name comes from the region where these grapes are grown. This region lies between the Adour and Garonne rivers near the Pyrenees foothills. In all, the region boasts roughly 40,000 acres of vineyards.
History of Armagnac
More than 600 years of tradition influence Armagnac brandy production and consumption. While its production can be traced back as far as the 14th century, Armagnac”s roots go back even further: The Romans brought the vine culture to the Armagnac region, the Arabs brought the still and the Celts introduced the barrels.
The Dutch had perhaps the greatest influence on the production of Armagnac. The Dutch distilled wines of this region into spirits to avoid a wine embargo and to reduce export freight. This distillation led to the brandy making process. As production increased and markets fluctuated, the spirits were stored in oak barrels, leading to the Armagnac drinks of today.
Types of Armagnac
Like cognac, Armagnac is blended from different vintages. Armagnac labels are determined by the age of the youngest blend:
- VS : Also known as Very Special or XXX, VS are newer, with the youngest blend being at least two years old.
- VSOP : Also known as Very Superior Old Pale or Rserve, VSOP must be at least five years old.
- XO : Also known as Napolon, Extra or Vieille Rserve, XO varieties of Armagnac must be at least six years old.
- Hors d”ge: As the finest type of Armagnac, Hors d”ge must be at least 10 years old.
Tasting and Drinking Armagnac
Tulip-shaped glasses — not traditional brandy snifters — are best for serving Armagnac brandy. A glass with a rounded belly and a chimney that tapers carries the flavors and aromas even better.
The first step to enjoying Armagnac is taking in its bouquet. Let the fragrance waft upward as you hold the glass at chest level. Keep in mind that sticking your nose directly in the glass and sniffing deeply will not result in a pleasant experience: powerful alcohol esters can sting your nasal passages.
However, properly inhaling Armagnac will bring about a wonderful array of aromas — vanilla, toffee nougat, pepper and even rose. Bringing the glass slightly closer will bring these scents into full bloom.
The Scent of Armagnac
What you smell will depend on the age and quality of the Armagnac. But, aromas can be classified three ways:
- Fruity: Detect nuances of quince, grape and plum. With older vintages you can smell prune, orange or apricot.
- Floral: Enjoy the smell vine blossom, honey or lime.
- Woody: Aromas might be tinted with vanilla and spices or reminiscent of walnuts and hazelnuts.
After taking in the bouquet, the next step is to sip about half a teaspoonful. The Armagnac should wash over your tongue and then your cheeks and gums. The taste should develop warmly. As you sip, pay attention to the volume and richness of Armagnac.
Armagnac benefits from breathing, so open the bottle and pour the glasses about 15 minutes prior to drinking. Armagnac brandy goes well with dark chocolate, roasted nuts, marzipan and toffee.
Armagnac serves as an excellent base for mixed drinks. While you can add a little ice and some tonic water for a refreshing Armagnac drink, for a more unique experience, try one of the following Armagnac recipes.
- ? oz. Armagnac
- 1 oz. spiced rum
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 bottle of cola.
Pour all ingredients (in the order listed above) over ice in a rocks glass.
- 1 ? oz. Armagnac
- ? oz. pear liqueur
Pour both ingredients in a snifter with no ice. Sip this nightcap for maximum enjoyment!
- ? oz. Armagnac
- 1 ? oz. Canadian whiskey
- ? oz. blueberry syrup
- lemon or cherry for garnish.
In a shaker with ice, combine all ingredients and shake. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with a lemon or cherry.