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Introduction to Armagnac

Map of Armagnac Appellations

Location:

Armagnac is made in the Southwest of France, in an inland area east of Bordeaux. 

 

Appellation and soil:

There are three official areas of appellation:  Bas Armagnac, also known as the 1st Cru, Tenareze, and Haut Armagnac. The soil in the Bas Armagnac region is mostly sandy, while it is more chalky and clayish in the Tenareze.

 

Grapes:

Armagnac is produced from ten authorized types of grapes, the principal four of which are: Ugni Blanc which makes up the majority of the distillate, followed by Baco, and Colombard and Folle Blanche which are used in much smaller quantities. 

Traditional Armagnac continuous still distillation process

Brief Process:

The harvested grapes are pressed and the juice is left to ferment, giving the wine that is low in alcohol, but high in acidity. The wine is then distilled once in a column still, giving a spirit that is between 52% and 60% alcohol. It is then put in wood for ageing and later on will be blended and reduced with distilled water to about 40% alcohol. 

 

Distillation:

Traditional Armagnacs are distilled once in a continuous still. Since 1972 however, a successful petition by the bigger producers allows all Armagnac producers to also use a double distillation in a Charentais still. Single distillation helps preserve all the character, the fruit, and the flavor of the Armagnac and is more appropriate to the traditional character of the spirit, but the brandies then need to age longer. Double distilling a wine makes the spirit lighter and therefore ready for consumption sooner. 

 

Ageing:

There is no imposed regulation on the ageing of Armagnac, but generally 85% Limousin oak is used (for its tannins and vanilla) and 10% Monzelum black oak is used (for tannin, spice, and color). 

Armagnac region, France

The legal ageing times in wood are characterized by the following designations:

  • a VS must be aged for a minimum of 2 years
  • a VSOP/Reserve must be aged for a minimum of 5 years
  • a Napoleon/Extra/XO must be aged for a minimum of 6 years
  • an Hors d'Age must be aged for a minimum of 10 years
  • Vintages must have a mimimum ageing of 10 years. The regulations on vintages are not overly strict, which is why we see a lot of vintage Armagnacs

Armagnac Aroma Wheel

Armagnac Aroma Wheel from the BNIA

Links

Official Armagnac Website
700 Years of Armagnac