What is Armagnac? It is a result of a traditional distillation of white wine made of grapes from Gers and a few cantons (parishes) in Lot-et- Garonne and Landes departments of South West France. The name dates back to the gallo-roman times of Arminius. The first known distillation was in 1411 and first commercial activity involving Armagnac was registered in 1414 in Saint-Sever in Landes. In addition this area produces Floc de Gascogne; a fortified sweet wine. Partially overlapping the same area is an area producing St.Mont and Madiran wines. Today, Armagnac is produced in three areas of Gers and Landes departments:
Bas Armagnac; lies in the west of the region. Bas Armagnacs are delicate and fruity reflecting sandy soil of this area. It is known as Black Armagnac for its dense pine and black oak forests. Main town is Eauze
La Ténarèze; in the center of the region is an area where soil is predominantly clay and chalky. Ténarèze Armagnacs are more lively and vigorous. Their richness is best expressed through long ageing process. Main town is Condom
Haut Armagnac; to the east where the soil has limestone characteristics is the area which was primarily developed in the nineteenth century. It is called White Armagnac for its chalky soil. Today, Haut Armagnac production is very small but of high quality. Main town is Auch
Once the wine distillation is completed by 31 March* following the October harvest it is placed in the oak casks (pièces). All Armagnac ages in oak casks made of Limousin or Monlezun black oak woods. The ageing process allows reaction between tannic and aromatic substances in the oak to dissolve in the alcohol. The alcohol content decreases and the color changes during ageing process.
Maître de Chais (Cellar Master) blends brandies of different ages and origins to produce commercially available Armagnac. The minimum alcohol content is 40%. There are small quantities of vintage Armagnac which are available at their natural ageing proof. Once Armagnac is transferred to the bottle it stops ageing. It must be stored vertically to prevent Armagnac interacting with the cork.
Age of the sold Armagnac is indicated by the following designations reflecting the age of the youngest blend used:
*** or V.S. at least two years old
V.O., V.S.O.P or Réserve at least five years old
X.O., Extra, Napoléon and Vieille Réserve at least six years old
Hors d'Age at least ten years old.
In general, when tasting Armagnac you will recognize rich taste with hints of rose and plum of Armagnac from Ténarèze area. While Bas Armagnac will be finer, drier with more spicy taste of cinnamon, violet and wood.