Armagnac (French pronunciation: [armaˈɲak]) is a distinctive kind of brandy or eau de vie produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, southwest France. It is distilled from wine usually made from a blend of grapes including Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Baco 22A, 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. Production is overseen by INAO and the Bureau National Interprofessionel de l'Armagnac - (BNIA).
Armagnac was one of the first areas in France to begin distilling spirits, but the brandies produced have a lower profile than those from Cognac and the overall volume of production is far smaller. In addition they are for the most part made and sold by small producers, whereas in Cognac production is dominated by big-name brands.
Although it is harder to come by then Cognac and certainly less known, some people consider Armagnac a superior brandy. Unlike Cognac, Armagnac is distilled only once and retains more of a fruity flavor, often likened to the taste of prunes.
There are three geographical appellations that make up the Armagnac region that you will see mentioned in reference to these brandies:
- Bas Armagnac, in the west, produces fruity, complex types of brandy. Grand Bas Armagnac, which produces the most prized Armagnac, is part of this area.
- La Tenareze, in the center around the town of Condom, produces a coarser brandy that ages well.
- Haut Armagnac, in the east, produces only a small amount of brandy and mostly for private use only.
You will find Armagnac labeled similarly to Cognac, with the designations of three stars, VSOP and hors d'age (outside of age, meaning old). Once again it is the youngest brandy included in the blend that designates the age marked on the bottle.
Also bear in mind that your brandy has stopped aging once it is put in a bottle and will not gain in quality sitting around.