Armagnac is a distinctive kind of brandy produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, southwest France. It is distilled from wine usually made from a blend of grapes including Baco 22A, Colombard, Folle blanche and Ugni blanc, 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.
Armagnac was one of the first areas in France to begin distilling spirits, but the overall volume of production is far smaller than Cognac production and therefore is less known outside Europe. 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. In the 14th century, Prior Vital Du Four, a Cardinal, claimed it had 40 virtues.
Armagnac is traditionally distilled once at 52% of alcohol, which results initially in a more fragrant and tasty spirit than Cognac, where double distillation takes place. However, long aging in oak barrels softens the taste and causes the development of more complex flavours and a brown colour.
Ageing in the barrel removes a part of the alcohol and water by evaporation (known as part des anges—ʺangels’ tributeʺorʺangels’ shareʺ) and allows more complex aromatic compounds to appear by oxidation, which further modifies the flavour. Alcohol is naturally reducing by an average of 0,4% per year depending on the characteristics of the cellars. When the Armagnac is considered as matured, it is transferred to large glass bottles (calledʺDame Jeanneʺ) for storage. The main difference between Armagnac and other spirits is that, due to its relatively low % of alcohol, it is generally not diluted with water and therefore is not added with flavour or colour enhancers as are the major other brandies.