Connoisseurs of elite alcohol are well aware of a noble grape drink, but most of the average Russians are unlikely to know this strong French alcohol. Based on the consonance of the names, one might think that Armagnac is a kind of cognac, but this is not so. There are some similarities between the two spirits from France, but they have more differences. Firstly, their taste varies significantly, the history of each has its own characteristics, but the main difference between cognac and Armagnac is the original production technology.
The strong French liquor Armagnac (in the original Armagnac) is a subspecies of brandy, which is obtained by distillation or rectification of white grape wine. For the first time this noble alcohol was obtained by winemakers in the province of Gascony, located in the south-west of France, so this area is considered the historical homeland of Armagnac. This strong drink has a large blend and has a whole palette of flavors that can appear with aromatic notes of prunes, vanilla, peach, hazelnut, linden and even violet.
If you delve into the question of how cognac differs from Armagnac, we can distinguish the following differences:
- Historical features: Armagnac is much “older” than cognac, because the first one began to be produced 150 years earlier than the second.
- Place of manufacture: cognac is made in the west of France, Armagnac - in its southern and southwestern parts.
- Grape varieties: different types of berries are used for the production of these two varieties of grape brandy, and only three grapes are used to produce cognac, and up to a dozen varieties can be used to make Armagnac spirits, making it possible to make the latter more saturated in taste and aroma.
- Production technology: brandy is distilled twice and aged in one barrel, and wine for Armagnac spirits is distilled only once, but barrels are changed several times during aging, which allows to obtain a wide range of taste shades.
- Strength: before bottling, cognac is diluted with purified water, bringing its strength to 40% alcohol, but Armagnac is poured undiluted, leaving the original strength in it up to 50%, obtained during the natural ripening process.
- Cost: due to the peculiarities of the production technology, Armagnac is more expensive than even elite types of cognac.
- Popularity: cognac is exported by the French to many countries, therefore it is known around the world. Armagnac is popular mainly in France, so in other countries it is very difficult to buy it.
If you believe the literary memorials of ancient times, the name of this drink comes from the name of the knight Herreman, who in the X century owned one of the estates in Gascony. In Latin, his name sounded like "Arminius", while the locals called the knight "Armagnac". But the manufacture and consumption of alcohol under the same name began only in the XIV century, so the historians have doubts about the connection with the knight.
The first reliable references to Armagnac as a liquor date back to 1348. Then it was simply called alcohol obtained from grapes harvested in the Gascony vineyards. In the middle of the XV century, this alcohol was freely sold within France, and by the middle of the XVI century it was exported to Holland and Germany. Armagnac from grape alcohol began to smoothly turn into a separate alcoholic drink only at the beginning of the XVIII century, when this product was already widely sold in other countries.
The impetus for the birth of this variety of grape brandy was adverse weather conditions in different years, greatly affecting the grape harvest and, as a consequence, the stockpiles of alcohols obtained from it. In order to preserve alcohol supplies during bad weather, winemakers tried to store them in oak barrels. After a long exposure of grape alcohols in such containers, the French discovered a new noble drink that successfully combined a rich strong taste with a whole palette of shades, beautiful mahogany color and excellent aroma.
The technology for the production of the drink continued to improve, but at the end of the 19th century, when most of the vineyards were destroyed by the phylloxera epidemic, the production of the drink abruptly stopped. Only at the beginning of the 20th century, the production of Armagnac spirits began to slowly revive and was taken over by the state. The government limited the territory of manufacture of this drink and secured the right to its industrial production for the Armagnac region, and allocated three main zones in it: Lower Armagnac, Tenarez and Upper Armagnac.
Currently, following the Armagnac production law of 1909, this alcohol is produced in three zones of the region of the same name:
- Ba-Armagnac (Bas-Armagnac);
- O-Armagnac (Haut-Armagnac).
For the manufacture of this strong alcoholic drink, up to a dozen different grape varieties can be used, but four remain the main ones:
- Uni Blanc (Ugni Blanc) or Trebiano - a variety of grape berries native to Italian Tuscany, from the beginning of the XIV century is widely cultivated in the vastness of France. In addition to Armagnac production, it is used for the manufacture of table wines, cognacs, brandy, balsamic vinegar.
- Folle Blanche or Pickpool - used to be the main variety for the production of Armagnac spirits, but after the epidemic, phylloxera was replaced by more hardy varieties. Currently partially used for the manufacture of Armagnac and cognac.
- Colombard is a grape variety with white berries, bred and cultivated in France. Ripens late, resistant to disease, therefore, is very popular among winemakers.
- Bako Blanc (Baco blanc) or 22A-Bako is a high-yielding mid-ripe grape variety with white berries, which after full ripening acquire an amber hue. Bred by the French breeder Maurice Bako on the basis of crosses between the European Vault Blanche and the American hybrid Noah.
The apparatus for distillation of grape alcohols is called alambic; in the Armagnac production 2 types of apparatus can be used:
- Sharantsky alambik - heating takes place using a gas burner, it is used mainly for the manufacture of cognacs;
- Armagnac alambic - the apparatus is heated by the combustion of oak wood, specially created for the distillation of Armagnac spirits.
The entire production technology of this elite alcohol involves passing through several stages from picking berries to bottling the finished drink:
- The grapes are picked, cut off with bunches, moved, and then sent under the press.
- The resulting juice is placed in special vats, where in the fermentation process (about 3 weeks) it turns into a young wine.
- Then the wine is distilled once through the alambic - this process occurs very slowly and is called continuous distillation, as a result of which the finished product, as a rule, has a strength of 52 to 72%.
- After the distillation is completed, Armagnac spirits are bottled in new 400-liter oak barrels and aged in them for 6 to 12 months.
- Then the alcohol is poured into old (with a shelf life of 10 years) barrels, where it can be aged for a long time. In the process of long-term exposure Armagnac alcohols partially evaporate, lose strength and volume, but acquire a rich mahogany color and a delicate, velvety, roundish taste.
- When the alcohols have ripened, the blending stage takes place - mixing distillates of different ages obtained from different grape varieties.
- The last stage of production is bottling the finished product and corking.
There are two main factors by which a drink is classified - it is appellation, or geographic area of production, and the aging time. Appellations are designated as follows:
- Le Bas-Armagnac - drinks with this marking are distinguished by light fruity notes in the aroma;
- L'Armagnac-Tenareze - the taste of grape brandy with such an inscription on the label is saturated, and the aroma is rich, they are usually aged for a long time;
- Le Haute-Armagnac - drinks with such an inscription do not stand up for a long time, but their distinctive feature is a bright lively aroma.
If the inscription “Armagnac” is present on the bottle with alcohol, this means that spirits from different appellations were used for its manufacture. Until 1999, Armagnac's classification by age coincided with the conventions adopted for all grape brandies. On the label, the exposure time was indicated as:
- Three stars - to obtain high-grade alcohol, grape spirits (or, as French winemakers call them, "eau-de-vie"), aged for at least 2 years, were used.
- V.S.O.P. - the age of the youngest alcohol in blending is at least 5 years.
- Napoleon or XO - 6 years old spirits are used to produce grape brandy.
- Hors d'Age - in the blend of the drink there are "eau-de-vie" with an age of only 10 years old.
Since 1999, to indicate the exposure of Armagnacs are used notation:
- Blanche d'armagnac - pure grape spirit that did not give in to aging at all. Another name is "White Armagnac".
- Armagnac - a drink aged from 2 to 5 years.
- Vieil Armagnac - "old" alcohol, the spirits to create which before blending matured for 6 years or more.
- Vintage - this is the name for drinks that did not lend themselves to blending; only one type of Armagnac alcohol was used to create them.
Not one winery in the south-west of France is engaged in the production of this noble alcohol, but the most famous among the producers:
- Domain d'Espérance (Domaine d'Espérance) - currently the distillery owns Count de Montesquieu, a descendant of the famous Duke of d'Artagnan. The estate has been owned by this noble family since the 10th century, as there is written confirmation in literary sources. The drink produced by the Esperance Estate is considered the most noble and refined, highly regarded by true connoisseurs of elite alcohol.
- Laberdolive (Laberdolive) - the winery belongs to the Laberdolive family, which produces grape brandy since 1866. They own two distillation apparatuses, with the help of which distillation of all stocks of grape spirits of the estate is carried out. The alcohol of this distillery is called one of the most refined and seasoned. The family collection includes copies of Armagnac drinks from 1900 to 1989 of the spill.
- Chateau Ravignan (Chateau Ravignan) - a distinctive feature of the Armagnac drink produced by this wine yard is that it is sold only after ten years of aging. This elite alcohol has received many awards at competitions, so it is reputed to be one of the best in France.
How to drink Armagnac
To feel the subtlety and nobleness of the taste and aroma of a strong French drink, you should know how to use it correctly. Remember the important rules for tasting and serving this elite alcohol:
- To fully reveal the taste composition of a mature drink, tulip-shaped glasses are used, and for young Armagnac alcohols - spherical.
- It is worth tasting the product 15-30 minutes after pouring into glasses - during this time couples are formed that convey the entire gamut of the drink.
- Before you try the taste of alcohol, you need to warm the glass in your hands, and then breathe in the noble aroma to distinguish shading notes.
- In order to fully feel the luxurious taste of this grape brandy, they drink it in small sips, holding it in the mouth for a while.
- A mature drink is an excellent alcohol option for a digestif. As a rule, it is served with desserts (coffee, chocolate, fruit).
- A young white Armagnac drink is often served on an aperitif with ice or between dishes.
- This variety of grape brandy goes well with cigars, so it can be served without a snack, but only with tobacco products.
- Connoisseurs of Armagnac distinguish a number of traditionally Gasconian dishes that are served under this strong, but at the same time refined alcohol - foie gras, flambe, Gasconian meat, sauces and traditional Gascon Armagnac desserts.