Armagnac, a primer (for #Winophiles)

This is a guest post written by Neil Phillips and participates in today’s Winophiles Twitter chat which is all about Southwest France and the wines from this region! See below for more details!

Armagnac, Cognac, Brandy – what’s in a name?

Southwest France produces two well-known brandies.  While Cognac is certainly the more famous, it is Armagnac that speaks to the soul of the Southwest.  All Cognac is brandy…but not all French brandy is Cognac! Both Cognac and Armagnac are designated AOP regions, and as such have regulations controlling the permitted grapes, production methods and age designations.

Vineyards of Southwest France on eatlivetravelwrite.comImage: Wikimedia Commons

The Cognac region

The Cognac region is just north of Bordeaux, so as such is not strictly “South West”.  It contains six sub-appellations.  By regulation the three primary grapes comprise a minimum of 90% of the blend.  The wine is double-distilled to approximately 70% ABV, to which water is added to reduce to the usual 40% ABV.  Known for being smooth, Cognacs are (generalising!) overall lighter in aroma and texture, with floral aromas and cereal notes on the palate.

The Armagnac region

The Armagnac region is truly South West geographically, in the heart of the Gers in Gascony, and contains three sub-appellations.  Apart from geography, there’s a distinctive difference on many levels from Cognac.  First – and notably – there are ten permitted grape varieties.  While four are the most common, there are producers reviving many of the lesser-known varieties, and producing single-varietal brandies.  I’ve walked through a (slightly dizzying) tasting over six single-varietal Armagnacs, as well as various blends:  let me tell you, the taste profiles are as distinctive as with wine.  The wines traditionally undergo a single distillation in a column still, producing a spirit between 54%-58% ABV; which is generally not reduced with water.  (Though in export markets, this is often the case so you will see Armagnac at the common 40% ABV – suitable for local laws and palates.)  Considered France’s oldest spirit, you’re sipping a bit of history here.  Overall, Armagnacs will be richer in aroma with a fatter texture than Cognac, spicier and earthier on the palate.  Being more grape-varietal specific, there’s a wider breadth of tasting notes as well – perfect for constant discovery.

Ladeveze in Fources on eatlivetravelwrite.com(Ladevèze in tiny Fourcès. Worth a visit!)

Much smaller in production scale, it’s not uncommon to see small wineries producing their own distinctive Armagnac – which you can pick up at any of the weekly markets in the region.

At Ladeveze on eatlivetravelwrite.comWhile I do enjoy a nice snifter of Cognac, it is the bolder Armagnac of the Southwest that truly gets me excited.  So much so, we bought a historic home right in the midst of the region – which we now operate as a holiday rental property (details here).

So come and discover the gastronomic and oenophilic joys of the region! For more of our favourite picks in the “other” South of France, check out this post!

Read more about Nérac and the surrounding area:

Saturday morning market in Nérac
Scenes from a long weekend in Gascony
My favourite restaurants around Nérac
A stroll around Nérac
Nérac night market (video)
Saturday morning market in Nérac (video)

French Winophiles Explore Southwest France

Take a look at all the discoveries made by our Winophiles group!

Join our chat on Saturday July 15th 2017 at 10-11am CDT (11am EDT, 8am PDT, and 1700 hours in France)! See what we think of Southwest France, and tell us about your experiences with the wine, food, or travel in the region! Simply log into Twitter and search for the #winophiles tag, and you’re in!

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16 Responses to Armagnac, a primer (for #Winophiles)

  1. Odd Bacchus July 15, 2017 at 10:43 #

    That’s so cool you bought a holiday home in Armagnac — I like that the region is a little off the beaten track, but beautiful. Sounds like an ideal summer getaway!

    • Mardi Michels July 17, 2017 at 01:56 #

      Yes and the best part about the house is that there is a studio for us and a whole house for people to rent and enjoy the region for themselves! It’s a wonderful part of the world!

  2. Geoff July 15, 2017 at 23:40 #

    Nice post – interesting and informative. Thanks Neil.

  3. Martin Redmond July 18, 2017 at 00:10 #

    Thanks for the Armagnac 101 (especially since I knew next to nothing about it)! Since I’m all about food and wine together, I’m curious about what food(s) pair with Armagnac? What are some of your faves, or do you tend to enjoy on its own?

    • Mardi Michels July 18, 2017 at 02:38 #

      Oooh that might be a separate post but I’ll let Neil chime in with that 🙂

    • Mr. Neil July 18, 2017 at 05:49 #

      Martin, I think with Armagnac, food pairings are easier than with some “lighter” spirits. Granted you’re not going to have full glasses through a main as with wine, but…

      With charcuterie boards, I find Armagnac ideal. They also play well with the fruits (dates, figs) often accompanying. Cheeses can be a little more challenging: the high alcohol and lack of sweet makes it a touch more problematic with blues and the like; a robust older Armagnac might have too much power for a lighter Brie.

      While a sweet wine is ideal with dessert, I will often find myself opting for a brandy instead, and here Armagnac pairs perfectly – as in with Mardi’s clafoutis.

      Hope that helps!

  4. Nicole Ruiz-Hudson July 19, 2017 at 12:38 #

    Great overview — and I too feel the same way about Armagnac vs Cognac. Cheers!

  5. jeff July 19, 2017 at 13:53 #

    Thanks, Neil. I went out and purchased my first Armagnac this weekend. Delicious, although I need to get used to the heady alcohol aroma! We enjoyed having you and Mardi join our winophiles this month, please know you’re welcome to join us regularly if you’d like!

    • Mardi Michels July 19, 2017 at 15:20 #

      Hooray! And yes, I hear you about the aroma :0 Thanks so much for having us and yes, we’d love to pop back another time 🙂

  6. Lauren Walsh July 19, 2017 at 14:43 #

    Thanks for the lesson on Cognac vs Armagnac and for the tips on the different styles made. Welcome to the #winophiles; hope you come back next month!

    • Mardi Michels July 19, 2017 at 15:19 #

      Thanks so much 🙂 We’d love to pop back in another time!

  7. Lynn July 19, 2017 at 17:26 #

    I’m admitting I tended to shy away from Armagnac until recently, the heady aromas were a bit much. But similar to Cognac, those aromas have slowly drawn me in. Mark and I recently acknowledged it’s time to dig in. And we are so close to you a trip to explore Nérac is inevitable. Thanks for an informative and fun article Niel!

    • Mardi Michels July 20, 2017 at 15:22 #

      Oh it’s definitely time to dig in – you’re in the right part of the world! Yes, you also need to come and check out Nérac sometime!

  8. emma December 25, 2019 at 02:51 #

    my first Armagnac this weekend. Delicious, although I need to get used to the heady alcohol aroma! We enjoyed having you and Mardi join our winophiles this month, please know you’re welcome to join us regularly if you’d like!

    • Mardi Michels December 25, 2019 at 03:43 #

      Thanks! We do keep an eye on things and try to participate when we can. It’s been a busy year for both of us tho…. We love following along everyone else!

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