Armagnac Anyone?

Armagnac is the traditional eau-de-vie of Gascony – the old province of France located (mostly!) between the Garonne river and the Atlantic Ocean in the South West of France (the name Armagnac comes from the old name of the geographical region situated near to the borders of Gers, Landes and Lot-et-Garonne departments).
The tradition makes this brandy the union of three civilizations: Roman that introduced the vine in the region, Celtic that introduced the barrel and the Moorish civilization that introduced the alembic.

As early as the 1310 Vital Dufort, a monk from Eauze who studied medicine at Montpellier (in 1313 he also becomes Cardinal) wrote a medical treatise – that is now in the Vatican library – in which he lists 40 healing virtues of Armagnac among them:
“It soothes toothache; it removes the bad smell from the nose, gums, and underarms.
It eliminates the redness of the throat if you gargle frequently.
It is very useful for melancholy, the gout, dropsy …
It eliminates the pain of the ears and deafness…
It removes the bladder stones or kidney provided we take in with sobriety from time to time. Similarly if the leper drinks it sometimes moderately, his leprosy will not go away…” (nowadays the researchers of the University of Bordeaux have discovered that people living in the Armagnac region suffer less from diabetes and high cholesterol)

The Armagnac is obtained by the distillation of white wines made mainly from 4 grape varieties: Ugni-Blanc, Folle Blanche, Baco 22A and Colombard but other varieties like: Clairette de Gascogne, Jurançon Blandand Meslier Saint-Francois are also authorized.
Being a liquor of an “Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée” only the grapes grown in three regions: Bas-Armagnac, Haut Armagnac and Tenarèze in the Gers and Landes departments can produce Armagnac.
The production of Armagnac starts with the vinification of the white grapes pressed into a juice that is left to ferment naturally.
The distillation, that starts when the fermentation is over, takes place in a traditional alembic that was standardized by a law in 1818.The distiller can fine tune the distillation process as to obtain different alcoholic content (between 52% and 72.4%) and prepare the drink for different ageing periods.
Once distilled in the alembic, the Armagnac is put in new oak wood barrels for ageing. The aroma of wood – coming from the oak trees of the Gascony’s forests – enriches and refines the liquor’s taste.
The ageing process is continued after the eau-de-vie is moved later into old barrels to finish its transformation.
Once this process is decidedly terminated the next step is the blending which consists of different ages and origins liquors being blended together. To bring down their alcohol content – 40% being the usual content – some blends are mixed with little quantities of water “aged” in Armagnac barrels.

In 2010 the Armagnac producers have simplified the indication of age on their labels creating 5 categories:
VS – 1 to 3 years
VSOP – 4 to 9 years
Napoléon – 6 to 9 years
XO – 10 to 19 years
XO Premium for more then 20 years
Starting from 2013 the age indicated on a bottle of Armagnac is the minimum ageing time in oak barrel of the youngest brandy in the blend that produced the bottle.

We have to mention here the existence of Blanche Armagnac – the eau-de-vie obtained from the most aromatic grape varieties and years that is not aged in the barrel but undergoes a minimum 3 months maturation process in the contact with the air during which time its alcohol content decreases to 44%.
It is a highly aromatic drink that can be used as a base for cocktails or can be simply drunk chilled.

To learn more about Armagnac one can take a free visit of the RYST-DUPEYRON distillery in Condom, Gers department – the “the capital” of Armagnac (the visit ends with …Armagnac tasting!).

Armagnac Alembic
Armagnac Alembic (the armagnac vapors are cooled with wine not with water as usual)
Ryst-Dupeyron Armagnac Museum
Ryst-Dupeyron Armagnac Museum

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