For over 500 years, the gold-yellow Armagnac has been distilled in the Gascogne region in the northern foothills of the Pyrennes mountain range. It can only be produced from wine made from grapes planted in a specific area and harvested between October and April.
The name dates back to the gallo-roman times of Arminius. The first known distillation was in 1411 and first commercial activity involving Armagnac was registered in 1414 in Saint-Sever in Landes.
Today, Armagnac is produced in three areas of Gers and Landes departments:
Bas Armagnac; lies in the west of the region. Bas Armagnacs are delicate and fruity reflecting sandy soil of this area. It is known as Black Armagnac for its dense pine and black oak forests.
La Ténarèze; in the center of the region is an area where soil is predominantly clay and chalky. Ténarèze Armagnacs are more lively and vigorous. Their richness is best expressed through long ageing process.
Haut Armagnac; to the east where the soil has limestone characteristics is the area which was primarily developed in the nineteenth century. It is called White Armagnac for its chalky soil. Today, Haut Armagnac production is very small but of high quality.
Its closest relative is cognac, another grape brandy from an appellation located about 100 miles north of Armagnac. Even though it is related to and often confused with cognac, armagnac is very different with regards to its grapes, terroir, distillation, élevage, blending, aromas, tastes and textures. In truth, France’s two finest brandies made from wine are not very much alike at all.
Although it undergoes the same long ageing in oak barrels, Armagnac is mainly distilled once and at a lower % of alcohol than Cognac, which results in more intense fruit character and rustic flavours. Armagnac is mainly aged in local oak casks which impart subtle colour and complex flavour which is distinctively different from the more pronounced sweet vanillin character of the cognac caks
Armagnac pre-dates cognac by about 150 years but never achieved the widespread sales figures that its relatives in the Charente obtained. In contrast to commercial sales, however, the independent producer of armagnac has always commanded a more important restaurant presence and level of connoisseur appreciation.
Armagnac is made from distilled wine, and grapes are the first factor that gives it an original personality. Even though there are nine permitted varietals in armagnac, four grapes are commonly used: Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Bacco. While these grapes ultimately give different aromas and flavors, they more importantly offer different weights and textures on the palate.
There remains a mood of experimentation in Armagnac: they freely use more fragrant grape varieties, along with a variety of distillation methods. It is slightly more rustic in style than Cognac, softer and rounder, with a fuller flavour on both nose and palate.