Armagnac 

France's first brandy. As the region is located further inland it wasnt able to compete with Cognac's trade routes. Today the production is only 18,000HL fraction of Cognac's. No producers dominate here, instead a wide range of small merchant houses. The house will purchase grapes and rely on travelling distillers. The focus is on more premium products, VSOP, XO and Vintage make up 40% of sales with Vintage accounting for almost half of that 40%.

Location

Armagnac is located below the Bordeaux region in France.

3 growing areas "crus" Across the regions and crus the landscape is very varied. Common for producers to purchase grapes from certain sources suited to their house style.

Bas Armagnac

  • closest to the coast 

  • majority of plantings 

Tenereze 

  • right of Bas, left of Haut

  • second largest in terms of plantings 

Haut Armagnac 

  • growers prefer to produce wine, economical reasons 

Raw Materials 

  • 10 permitted grapes 

  • Baco (folle blanche + noah) - American hybrid, the only hybrid allowed under French wine laws.

  • Colombard

  • Folle Blanche > elegant fine floral aromas. Does not graft well

  • Ugni Blanc > acidic, low alcohol wine.

Processing the raw materials 

  • mechanically harvested 

  • speed and care to reduce contact with air

  • no so2 allowed

  • processed ASAP

  • grapes are crushed then pressed gently, forceful screw presses have been banned

Fermentation 

  • starts ASAP using cultured yeast

  • natural acid in the wines helps protect the grapes

  • MLF to improve stability

  • stored in full, airtight steel containers awaiting distillation

Distillation

  • double distilled in pot still (cognac) - only 3 producers do this

  • Continuous single column still

  • max 72.4%abv - collect well below around 60%abv

Alambic Armganacais 

  • unique single column still 

  • max 17 plates

  • well suited for making low-strength spirit 

  • run continuously 

  • grape varieties are distilled separately

Parts of the still

  • burner (wood or gas)

  • column

  • wine heater

  • condenser

Operation

  • filling with water 

  • water is distilled to bring the still up in temperature

  • wine is introduced

  • wines moves through the still

  • slowly the alcohol level in the liquid coming off the still rises

  • when the distiller is happy with the flavour/alcohol level the continuous collection of spirit beings

  • no cut for heads/tails/hearts

  • the still must maintain a constant temperature at the top plate in order to ensure the character of the spirit leaving the still remains constant, can be done by adjusting the heat. Easier to control the temperature by adjusting the flow of wine into the still. It will always enter the top of the still.

  • liquid residue is drained periodically 

  • stills are small and mobile

Post Distillation

Maturation 

  • min 1 year (except Blanche)

  • blanche - 3m rested in inert vessels 

  • new oak for 6-12m to pick up oak flavours 

  • placed into old oak, less flavour active 

  • euro oak is preferred

  • local oak - Monlezun forest "black oak" aromatic qualities

  • large commercial french forests Troncais and Limousin 

  • oak chips are allowed

  • when blends are made up they will rest in large oak vats before bottling

 

Finishing

  • slow dilution with a mix of water and eau-de-vie - Petites Eaux

  • sweeteners - limited quantities 

 

Styles 

  • Blanche > rested for 3m in invert vessels 

  • 3 Star or VS > 1yo

  • VSOP > 4yo

  • Napoleon > 6yo

  • Hors d'Age or XO > 10yo

  • Age indicated > youngest spirit in the blend 

  • Vintage > 100% from the same year 

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