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armagnac-an unheralded gem

Mon, 03/14/2022

What’s in a name? Shakespeare famously asked.  Well, when it comes to the names Brandy, Cognac, and Armagnac there’s both more and less than meets the eye.

Because of the way they are marketed, many people, including even some consumers of luxury brand wine and spirits, are unaware of the fact that Cognac and Armagnac, while decidedly distinct from each other, are both brandies, cousins of a sort, although one is far better known than the other

Brandy, of whatever sort, is a liquor produced by distilling wine.

Cognac is a variety of brandy, named after the commune of Cognac, France, and is the dominant variety in the global market.

For its part, Armagnac is a distinctive kind of brandy produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, France and was, in fact, the first brandy ever produced.

As far as similarities, as noted, being brandies, both are made by distilling wine.  But that is where the similarities end, for while they do share three source grapes, -Colombard, Folle blanche and Ugni blanc- cognacs can have quite a number of other grapes in their source liquid, while Armagnac must have only one other and it is a type that Cognac never sees.  Another important distinction is that they are distilled using significantly different methods, Cognac produced through a two-distillation process in pot stills, while Armagnac is made with a single distillation process in column stills.  Finally, many brandies and even some cognacs are diluted with water before bottling, whereas Armagnac is rarely ever diluted.

Still, the fact remains that far more consumers are familiar with Cognac than are with Armagnac, even though Armagnac is the superior world-class Brandy.

Why is this so?

Three factors can be pointed to as probably the most influential. The first is the massive marketing on behalf of Cognac undertaken by the giants of the industry: it has been estimated that more than ninety percent of the cognac destined for the US market comes from only four producers. That’s impressive clout in any market.

Another important element in the equation is the fact that Armagnac’s more traditional method of production generally yields far fewer bottles for market compared to cognac.

Finally, approximately ninety percent of the Armagnac produced in France is consumed in-country and not exported. Conversely, ninety-five percent of the Cognac produced is exported to the world market.  The results explain themselves.

The important point, however, is that the very production process that might be said to hamper the global awareness and sales of Armagnac is a major factor in producing its distinctive profile, expressive with deep layers of flavors, rich textures, and great mouthfeel.

Needless to say, I suggest you conduct your own search for additional information to fully understand this unique Brandy.  Among the labels available in the US market are Chateau de Lacquy, Casterede, Larresingle, and Derroze. Any one would be a worthy introduction to the world of Armagnac.

I am confident you will be happy to have established the acquaintance and a long-term relationship with this wonderful distilled spirit.     

I wish to thank Scott Tallon for providing much useful information for this article.  It was a great help.