Armagnac is a very old brandy from the Southwest of France. During the Middle Ages it was used for its therapeutic properties; at this time the Armagnac was called “the ardent water” and was sold at local markets but also in the Vatican. The brandy began its commercial development during the sixteenth century and, in 1909, the Armagnac area of production was restricted by law to three regions: the Haut Armagnac, the Ténarèze and the Bas Armagnac. The Armagnac obtained its status as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in 1936.
10 grape varieties are accepted for Armagnac production, three of which are most commonly used: the Ugni Blanc, the Baco 22A and the Folle Blanche. It is forbidden to add sugar or sulfurous chemicals during the process. The wine produced is low in alcohol content (between 7.5 and 12%) but high in acidity, which are the two requirements for its distillation.
The wine begins the distillation process in a traditional still, at which point the alcohol content varies from 52% to 70%. The next step for the production is the ageing in an oak barrel. The oak wood changes the translucent color of the spirit to a red golden color and gives it aromas varying from vanilla, prune, candied fruits, stewed apples and others. This step reduces the percentage of alcohol by evaporation, and this loss is called “the angel’s part”. When the level of alcohol drops between 40% and 48%, the brandy is transferred to a metallic barrel or a very old oak barrel for optimal conservation. Armagnac is mostly a blend of grape varieties from different years of production, and perfecting this blend is the art of the oenologist. Old Armagnacs are drunk pure, as an after-dinner liqueur out of specific little glasses.
Three “terroirs” produce distinct types of Armagnac:
– In the Bas Armagnac the brandy has a fruity flavor (prune)
– In the Ténarèzes the brandy is more full-bodied (spices and a bit of violet)
– In the Haut Armagnac the brandy is known for its rustic taste
“White” Armagnacs, referring to the younger brandy, can be drunk pure or in cocktails. We have borrowed some ideas from well-known restaurants to make your own Armagnac cocktails at home:
Armagnac Supreme – from the Crillon Hotel in Paris, Concorde Place
– 4 cL of Armagnac
– 3 cL of natural grapefruit juice
– 1 cL of orange water
Shake with ice and serve in a cocktail glass
Sensharmagnac – from the Four Season Hotel Georges V in Paris, Champs-Elysées
– 4 cL of Armagnac
– 5 cL of frozen Sensha Japanese green tea
– 1 cL of honey
– A drop of Angostura Bitters
Shake with ice and serve in a cocktail glass with a slice of orange or a leaf of mint.