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Armagnac

Armagnac is a place in the south west of France, to the west of Toulouse, in the historic Duchy of Gascony. There are sources reporting distillation in the region as early as 1411, but how close this would be to the modern brandy is hard to say. Certainly the Gascons have been distilling grapes here a long time.

As with Cognac, Armagnac began to assume something like its present form in the 17th and 18th century when merchants discovered the effects of ageing in oak on the local spirit. Cognac on the coast near Bordeaux looked to Britain, Holland and the wider world, and became a global industry, whereas inland Armagnac would have been relatively inaccessible until the coming of the railways in the 19th century. This explains the very different character of the two industries. Cognac is vast and global, it exports around 98% of its 180 million bottle production whereas Armagnac produces just 6 million about half of which is consumed in France.

It’s one of the most beautiful parts of France with its castles and little towns nestled in rolling countryside. Much Armagnac is still made by farmers who also make wine, keep livestock and grow maize and tobacco though there are bigger companies like Delord and Janneau which operate as negociants buying in eaux-de-vie and aged spirits.

The region covers around 2,420 hectares (compared with over 75,000 hectares in Cognac) and is divided into three parts: Bas-Armagnac, Haut-Armagnac, and Armagnac-Ténarèze. Bas-Armagnac means ‘low’ because it is less than 120 metres above sea level. Around 50-60% of production is from this sub-region and the sandy, iron-rich soils are said to produce some of the finest grapes in Armagnac. Then there is the tiny Haut-Armagnac, the high ground, up to about 200 metres above sea level, with mainly chalky soils which produce a rare delicate and fruity spirit. It makes up less than 2% of production. Finally, there's Armagnac Ténarèze making up the rest of production, around 40%, with its rich clay and chalk soils leading to a more robust spirit. A lot of Armagnac will be blends of the three regions.

The most popular grape varieties are ugni blanc, baco, folle blanche, and colombard though there are other ones allowed in production. Armagnacs are usually blends but you do see varietal expressions. Once harvested, the grapes are fermented either with wild or cultured yeast to produce a light acidic wine of about 8% ABV. This must be distilled within a few months as it cannot be preserved with sulphur which would be concentrated during distillation.

The distillation process is unusual and worth looking at in some detail. In the 18th century, Armagnac would have been made with pot stills but in the early 19th century a unique style of column still was introduced. This is now the standard for the region though one of the biggest producers, Janneau, is unusual in using Cognac-style pot stills and double-distillation to make a smoother, more elegant spirit. The column is known as an alambic Armagnacais, with a maximum of 17 plates but often as few as four. Unlike the Coffey and Stein stills that were being developed in Ireland and Scotland a little later, the alambic Armagnacais produces a low strength alcohol of between 50-70% ABV which is packed full of congeners. These distinctive copper stills look like something out of Jules Verne and are often fueled by wood, even those belonging to large producers like Château du Tariquet. Usually once lit, these will work 24 hours a day until the entire vintage has been distilled. The distillation season runs from October to March. Often villagers will hold a party known as La Flamme de l’Armagnac to celebrate this special time of the year. Only 48 houses in Armagnac own their own copper still, so to support the rest of the houses, there are five travelling distillers who pull their alambic by tractor around the villages.

These unique stills produce a spirit that’s full of character, sometimes a little fiery in youth, but responds well to long-ageing in wood. Traditionally, Armagnac was aged in local oak though nowadays barrels might come from further north in France. Only 400 litre French wood barrels are allowed and a proportion will be kept in new wood to impart spice and tannin. After decades in wood, the best Armagnac develops a character known as ‘rancio’ with notes of dried apricot, pineapple and walnuts. As in Cognac, much Armagnac is sold with statements that designate a minimum age: VS (two years), VSOP (four years) and XO or Hors d’Age (ten years.) You also see age statements like 10 or 20 years old as in whisky and many vintage releases. These last offer astonishing value for money and are often bottled at cask strength. Many producers have demi-johns of vintage Armagnac dating back to the 19th century. In fact this whole region is a mecca for those who love old wood-aged spirits.

Despite its very traditional image, Armagnac producers are innovating with packaging aimed squarely at the whisky consumer, Islay cask finishes (though these are not allowed to be called Armagnac), and an unaged Armagnac Blanche that’s proving very popular with bartenders. Younger fresher Armagnacs are great in simple cocktails like an Old Fashioned or a Sidecar, whereas the older examples are best sipped neat. In Armagnac itself, no meal is complete until you’ve had decent vintage brandy. You can start your meal the Gascony way too, with a glass of chilled Floc de Gascogne, a blend of grape juice and brandy, not dissimilar to Pineau des Charentes.

Marcel Trépout 1979 Armagnac

70cl, 40%
Marcel Trépout

Distilled at Château Notre-Dame in 1979, here we have a marvellously well aged Armagnac from Marcel Trépout, known for its extensive stocks of very old spirit. Top stuff for anyone who enjoys sipping…  More info

Marcel Trépout 1979 Armagnac
£89.95
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Clos Martin VSOP 8 Year Old Bas-Armagnac

70cl, 40%
Clos Martin

An 8 year old VSOP from Clos Martin. This was distilled from the Baco and Ugni Blanc grapes, which lends the spirit a delicate spiciness and elegant flavour profile.  More info

Clos Martin VSOP 8 Year Old Bas-Armagnac
1
£43.94

Darroze Grands Assemblages 20 Year Old Bas-Armagnac

70cl, 43%
Darroze

The 20 year old chapter of the Darroze Grands Assemblages range of Bas-Armagnac. After this moderately long maturation, the spirit still has plenty of youthful vibrancy, though age is starting to…  More info

Darroze Grands Assemblages 20 Year Old Bas-Armagnac
2
£88.94

Darroze Grands Assemblages 40 Year Old Bas-Armagnac

70cl, 43%
Darroze

The 40 year old Bas-Armagnac from the Darroze 'Les Grands Assemblages' range, which spans decades and decades. At 40 years old, the oak ageing has had quite an effect on the eaux-de-vie, with…  More info

Darroze Grands Assemblages 40 Year Old Bas-Armagnac
£155.99

Baron de Sigognac VSOP

70cl, 40%
Baron de Sigognac

This complex, balanced VSOP Armagnac won a Silver Medal at the International Spirit Challenge in London 2004. This was aged for 6 months in new oak before 7 years in old oak. A fine digestif from top…  More info

Baron de Sigognac VSOP
1
£37

Delord 1988 Bas Armagnac

50cl, 40%
Delord

This particular vintage of Bas Armagnac from Delord comes from 1988 - the same year that Die Hard was released in cinemas. Surely that must be a good omen.  More info

Delord 1988 Bas Armagnac
£52.95

L'Encantada Domaine Pouy 1998

50cl, 56%
L'Encantada

L’Encantada is an independent Armagnac bottler set up in 2011 by a group of friends. Their mission: to sniff out the rarest and most interesting casks from this fascinating largely overlooked region…  More info

L'Encantada Domaine Pouy 1998
£88.95

L'Encantada 25 Year Old Bas-Armagnac

50cl, 45.5%
L'Encantada

A 25 year old Bas Armagnac from the L'Encantada range - an excellent post-meal tipple packed with fruit, cacao and rancio notes. Please note: The wax seals on some of these bottles has become…  More info

L'Encantada 25 Year Old Bas-Armagnac
£62.95

Darroze Grands Assemblages 12 Year Old Bas-Armagnac

70cl, 43%
Darroze

The 12 year old member of the Darroze Grand Assemblage series is a vibrant, zesty blended Bas-Armagnac. Still featuring the fruity notes from the 8 year old, it's started to develop lovely little…  More info

Darroze Grands Assemblages 12 Year Old Bas-Armagnac
£68.94

Janneau XO Royal

70cl, 40%
Janneau

12 year old Armagnac from Janneau, this XO is packaged in a handsome Basquaise bottle.  More info

Janneau XO Royal
2
£70.99
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Delord 1998 Bas-Armagnac

50cl, 40%
Delord

The year is 1998. France have won the World Cup. That one Fatboy Slim song has been dominating the radio airwaves. You've seen Blade in cinemas. What happens now? Well, the next logical step is for…  More info

Delord 1998 Bas-Armagnac
£69.97
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Delord 1986 Vieil Armagnac

50cl, 40%
Delord

The ever-wonderful Delord has treated us to another fabulous vintage, and this one was distilled all the way back in 1986. A truly great chance to try some superb well-aged Armagnac.  More info

Delord 1986 Vieil Armagnac
£64.95
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Château de Laubade XO Bas Armagnac

70cl, 40%
Château de Laubade

An XO Armagnac from Chateau de Laubade in the Bas region. The Chateau was built in the region in 1870 and has been run by the Lesgourgues family since 1974. Rich and sweet, with nutty notes, stewed…  More info

Château de Laubade XO Bas Armagnac
1
£59.95

L'Encantada Domaine Larege 1993

50cl, 41.7%
L'Encantada

A 1993 vintage Armagnac from L'Encantada that was made by the Domaine Larege distillery, located in the village of Hontanx in the Landes.  More info

L'Encantada Domaine Larege 1993
£105.95

Sempé 18 Year Old Bas Armagnac

70cl, 40%
Le Club Des Marques

A well-aged Bas Armagnac from Sempé. Matured in oak barrels, the fresh fruit notes have been tempered by the oak, making for a mellow expression, ideal for sipping on a cold winter's evening.  More info

Sempé 18 Year Old Bas Armagnac
1
£54.95

Baron de Sigognac 25 Year Old

70cl, 40%
Baron de Sigognac

An excellent 25-year-old Armagnac from Baron de Sigognac.  More info

Baron de Sigognac 25 Year Old
£145.99
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Laberdolive 1970

70cl, 44%
Laberdolive

Long-matured Bas Armagnac from Laberdolive, made with eaux-de-vie from Domaine du Pillon distilled back in 1970! An excellent gift for Armagnac enthusiasts.  More info

Laberdolive 1970
£454.09

Sempé VS Bas Armagnac

70cl, 40%
Le Club Des Marques

A VS Bas Armagnac from renowned Armagnac Maison, Sempé. Aged in oak barrels, this expression is full of fruit aromas and gentle sweetness. Armagnac & Tonic is quite the trendy drink now, didn't you…  More info

Sempé VS Bas Armagnac
£32.95

Janneau Armagnac 1992

70cl, 43%
Janneau

From the excellent Janneau Armagnac house comes a single vintage expression distilled in 1992, the same year that Wayne's World was released in cinemas. Excellent! We do love checking out single…  More info

Janneau Armagnac 1992
£114.99

Château de Lacquy 7 Year Old VSOP

70cl, 40.5%
Château de Lacquy

From the wonderful Château de Lacquy comes a VSOP Bas Armagnac, which has seen seven years of ageing. The brandy is produced from a blend of 35% Baco, 35% Colombard, 15% Folle Blanche and 15% Ugni…  More info

Château de Lacquy 7 Year Old VSOP
£65.44

Delord 1955 Bas-Armagnac

50cl, 40%
Delord

Bas-Armagnac from Delord, distilled decades ago! This is a 1955 vintage, which was (eventually) bottled in 2005. Sure to pique the interest of many Armagnac connoisseurs.  More info

Delord 1955 Bas-Armagnac
£737.26

L'Encantada Domaine Grand Môle 1992

50cl, 52%
L'Encantada

Independent Armagnac bottler L'Encantada has a knack for sourcing some gems from different producers (Domains) around the region. This one from Grand Môle in the Armagnac-Ténarèze region is made from…  More info

L'Encantada Domaine Grand Môle 1992
£98.95

Delord 1995 Bas-Armagnac

50cl, 40%
Delord

A delicious Delord Bas-Armagnac, produced in the year 1995, the very same year that 12 Monkeys and Die Hard With A Vengeance were released. A big year for Bruce Willis, and a good vintage of Armagnac…  More info

Delord 1995 Bas-Armagnac
£69.97

Laberdolive 1986

70cl, 46%
Laberdolive

Here's yet another smashing bottling of single vintage Bas Armagnac from Laberdolive's extensive range. This one was made exclusively with eaux-de-vie distilled in 1986 using grapes from Domaine de…  More info

Laberdolive 1986
£178

Château de Léberon Solera 2001

70cl, 43.2%
Château de Léberon

Château de Léberon's Solera 2001 is a rather fruity expression, composed of Ugni Blanc and Colombard grapes. As the name suggests, this Armagnac was aged in a solera system, which is particularly…  More info

Château de Léberon Solera 2001
£91.95

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