While cognac is recognized as a famous brandy from France all around the world, it’s sibling armagnac is far less
known. Armagnac is a brandy made from grapes from the Gascogne region in the South of France. It’s actually
the oldest wine brandy that was ever described; in 1310 tthe cardinal Vital du Four wrote about the 40 benefits of
drinking armagnac. In those days the spirit was probably closer to an eau-de-vie or fruit brandy than to the
armagnac we know today.
Armagnac trade really took off during the 16th and 17th century. It was introduced at the courts of King Louis XV
and Dutch traders invested heavily in stills in the Armagnac region. The Dutch were the biggest exporters of
brandy (both cognac and armagnac) to England and avoided trading blocks for French wines by distilling the wine
first. The word “brandy” comes from the Dutch word “brandewijn”, meaning “burnt (distilled) wine”.
The unique thing about armagnac is that it’s once distilled in a so-called continuous Armagnac alambic. Here
fresh wine is used not only at the base of the spirit but also as a cooling agent. The wine is continuously flowing
from the bottom of the cooler and cools the serpetine that turns the vapors back into a liquid. Then it’s forced to
the top and enters the distillation column, which contains plates with bubble caps. The now warm wine flows over
the plate to the boiler, while the vapors from the boiler rise up and mix with the esters from the wine. There is a
continuous exchange of esters between the wine and the vapors. This unique way of distilling gives armagnac
it’s special flavors, which are more like wine than cognac.
A variety of grapes can be used, but basically all armagnac is made from uni-blanc, folle blanche, baco and
colombard. New oak is used for the first months to years of maturation and the new make spirit is then transferred
into used barrels. Here the aging can take up to 50 years, although most armagnacs are between 2 to 8 years