Armagnac is a brandy that hails from the Armagnac region of Gascony France.
Armagnac, like all other types of brandy, is distilled wine. The potent beverage is predominately made from the following grapes:
- Folle Blanche - These grapes are fickle and difficult to grow. Those that do successfully grow this grape that is also highly susceptible to rot and mildew find the vines offer a very low yield. Because of the grape's difficult nature, only around 3% of vines in the Gascony region are Folle Blanche.
- Ugni Blanc - These vines tend to be the easiest to grow and are therefore, the most widely planted grapes in the region.
- Colombard - This widely used grape provides fresh, young aromas to Armagnac.
- Bacco - This grape is a hybrid of the Folle Blanche and Noah grapes. The AOC has determined that hybrid grapes cannot be used in the production of Armagnac within the AOC regions after the year 2010.
The Gascony region in France is further divided into three main Armagnac producing regions:
- Bas-Armagnac - Armagnac produced in this region is made predominately of Ugni Blanc and Bacco grapes. This region is said to have the best soil, so it therefore produces the best Armagnac of the three regions.
- Tenareze - This region is centrally located and the predominate grapes used for Armagnac produced in Tenareze are Ugni Blanc and Colombard.
- Haut-Armagnac - This region produces the lower quality Armagnac as compared to the other two regions.
Just like Cognac, Armagnac has a similar classification system:
- Trois Etoiles - Armagnac bearing this label must be aged in wood for a minimum of one year in France and a minimum of three years in the United States and Great Britain.
- Very Special - Abbreviated simply as V.S. on the bottle, this Armagnac must be aged in wood for a minimum of two years.
- Very Superior Old Pale - This is also abbreviated to read V.S.O.P. on the bottle and must be aged for a minimum of five years in wood.
- X.O. - Meaning extra old, this Armagnac has to stay in wood for at least six years before bottling.
- Hors d' Age - Armagnac with this label must be aged in wood for at least 10 years before bottling.
Armagnac is to be slowly sipped and enjoyed and it is properly tasted much like wine. Here are the things to look for when tasting Armagnac:
- Color - The color of an Armagnac is heavily dependant upon how long it was aged. The longer the spirit has spent in wood barrels, the richer the color. Younger Armagnac that hasn't spent much time in wood barrels is golden and honey colored while older Armagnacs are deep brown and mahogany in color.
- Aroma - When a glass of Armagnac is first put to the nose, the alcohol is the first thing you'll smell. After the first initial scent, wait a few minutes and bring it to the nose again. Now that your nose is used to the alcohol scent, you will be able to detect the gentler aromas of the Armagnac - like vanilla, wood, roasted nuts and a hint of dried dark fruit.
- Taste - Taking just a small sip, let the Armagnac rest on your tongue and then swirl it gently around your mouth to get past the alcohol burn and enjoy all the subtle flavor of the spirit.
To Swirl or not to Swirl
Whether to swirl Armagnac before smelling or tasting is debatable.
- The pro-swirlers - This side believes that Armagnac should be gently swirled before smelling and tasting in order to allow it to mix with the oxygen in the air which gently brings out some of the more delicate aroma and flavor characteristics.
- The anti-swirlers - This side believes that Armagnac should never be swirled before smelling or tasting because the act of swirling brings all the alcohol to the top. When this happens, the only thing you will smell and taste is the sharp nose and warm burn of the alcohol, not the flavors of the Armagnac.
Next time you are reaching for that same old Single Malt Scotch or liqueur after dinner, consider a warm and inviting glass of Armagnac. You won't be sorry you did.