Armagnac is a brandy distilled in the Armagnac region of France. The area was the first region of France to begin distilling liquor and this may be the reason it tastes so good. Armagnac is made from grapes you have likely never heard of - Baco 22A, Colombard, Folle blanche and Ugni blanc.
The Armagnac region is in Gascony, about two hours drive south of Bordeaux. The more famous region of Cognac is 90 minutes north of Bordeaux. Production of Cognac dwarfs that of Armagnac and therefore Cognac is more well known outside of Europe. Cognac is made from a similar line of grapes but tastes distinctly different from Armagnac.
The photo above shows an aged Armagnac we spotted on the shelf at the marvelous Relais and Chateaux Hostellerie de Plaisance in St. Emilion late one afternoon. We were weary from a day of sightseeing and a tasting was in order.
The date on the bottles of Armagnac show the year the liquor was put into oak barrels after distillation and the year the Armagnac was pulled from the barrel and put into the bottle. Armagnac matures and becomes darker and smoother the longer it stays in the barrel. The older the first date on the bottle the more expensive your drink will be. If the difference between the two dates is very great, you might be looking at a car payment to sample it.
Before you sip a glass of Armagnac, it should be caressed and warmed in the hand to release the subtle aromas and flavors that are hidden inside. The shape of a brandy glass is designed to capture and concentrate the aromas, so be sure to take your time and breathe deep. If you have tasted any kind of brandy and found it to be harsh, the quality is either poor or the product hasn’t aged for long enough. The glass being drunk above is from 1974 and it was very very smooth. I can’t imagine how the 1951, also on the shelf, tasted. I also couldn’t afford to find out.
You will often see Armagnac on menus in France particularly with deserts. The photo below shows Armagnac being drizzled over a pastry while we were having lunch at the Jules Verne Restauant at the Eiffel Tower.
If you have the chance to try Armagnac make sure you check the age of the contents. A few dollars more for an older vintage will reward you with a warm glow and a lasting smile. If you are in Paris some time and want to bring a bottle of Armagnac home with you, the food hall at Galleries Lafayette has an Armagnac Cave just for you.