Armagnac – perhaps France’s most underappreciated brandy region. Where else can one buy a spirit aged in barrel for 30 years for just over a hundred bucks? When we look at what Bourbon of a similar age costs these days, it’s as if the Gasconians haven’t heard of Van Winkle or Macallan and the prices that they sell for! We think that issue is the fact that most Americans aren’t at all familiar with Armagnac, and it often gets obscured by Cognac – it’s more famous and more industrial neighbor. In super-star spirits importer Charles Neal’s definitive guide to Armagnac, he points out nine major differences of which we think that these five key points are telling:
1. In Armagnac there are multiple grape varieties grown including: Bacco, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, and Colombard, whereas in Cognac 98% of the vineyards are planted to Ugni Blanc. Armagnac’s soils are composed of sandy soils, where Cognac’s are chalky.
2. In Armagnac spirits are only distilled once to 50 odd degrees, where in Cognac spirits are double-distilled all the way up to 78 degrees.
3. In the bottle traditional Armagnac is left at cask strength which is usually around 48 percent alcohol, while in Cognac bottles are almost always reduced with water to 40 percent. Since they started at 78 degrees, there has to be a great deal of water added to reach 40.
4. Traditional Armagnac is vintage dated, while in Cognac the brandies are almost always a blend of several years.
5. In Armagnac a large producer bottles 25,000 cases a year, but in Cognac just Hennessey can release 2.5 million cases. Many of the small Armagnac houses that we sell may not even produce 200 cases!
Of course because of these differences and others, the spirits don’t taste the same. Armagnac shows more powerful, rich flavors of plum, apricot, and orange. The single distillation creates a fatter spirit with more weight, and the long interaction with barrels produces deep aromas of spice and smoke. If you can’t already tell, we are adamant fans of Armagnac, and we’re especially excited today because we are offering two fantastic vintages from Pellehaut at very fair prices. For some mysterious reason these haven’t been available on our coast, and we’re not sure when they will be again. JRTweet