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Sommelier's tip

Armagnac is best enjoyed at the end of a meal, to bring its distinct qualities and aromas to the fore. It is used to produce Floc de Gascogne, a popular local aperitif in Gascony, and is frequently used in cocktails or with fruit, such as prunes or cherries. Armagnac is also an ingredient of choice in pastries and cooking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Armagnac, the oldest brandy in France

Grape varieties

Armagnac is made by distilling white wine, produced mainly from Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Folle Blanche and white Baco, and less frequently from old traditional varieties such as Blanc Dame (Clairette de Gascogne), Graisse, white Jurançon, white and rosé Mauzac and Meslier Saint-François.

Wine-making

The white wines distilled into armagnac are produced from grapes grown in the Armagnac AOC region and harvested in October. Vinified using traditional methods, without any oenological additives, these wines have a typically distinct flavour, a relatively low alcohol content (8 to 10% ABV) and high total acidity levels.

Distillation

Wines must be distilled before the end of March following the harvest. Traditional distillation uses the armagnac alembic, a continuous still, which was granted a royal patent by King Louis XVIII in 1818. Only a very small proportion of producers use the double distillation method known as 'double-chauffe'. Once distilled, the eau-de-vie is colourless and has an alcohol content of 52 to 72% ABV.

Ageing

Following distillation, the armagnac is matured in 400 to 420-litre casks made of oak from the forests of Gascony or Limousin. Ageing in oak refines and improves the armagnac, as tannins and aromas in the wood react with the eau-de-vie and are absorbed by the alcohol. Young brandies are left in new casks until the absorption rate has reached its optimum level. They are then transferred to older barrels, to complete the ageing process.

As the brandy matures, some of the alcohol evaporates, gradually reducing the alcohol content by what the French call 'la part des Anges' (the angels' share). When the cellar master feels the time is right, he will start what is known as the 'coupes', blending brandies of various ages and origin to create an elegant armagnac.

Armagnacs are sold with at least 40% ABV, the alcohol content having been gradually reduced by the expert addition of small quantities of 'petites eaux' (younger brandies or distilled water). Some old armagnacs, usually vintages, are available with an alcohol content that is the natural result of ageing.

Learn more about armagnac

For further information, visit the French armagnac trade association's website, Bureau national interprofessionnel de l’armagnac.

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