We recently had the pleasure of sharing lunch at Balise Restaurant in New Orleans with Julien Ducos from Tariquet Armagnac, he spent the entire afternoon educating us on their exquisite range of Bas-Armagnacs and wines. While we knew their wines were great we had to admit that we unfortunately knew very little about their, or any other Armagnac. After speaking with industry friends throughout the next few weeks we learnt that this amazing French Brandy was something most people hadn’t known about and we weren’t the only ones who hadn’t been utilizing it.
When researching further about this “new” spirit we noticed that Armagnac is very frequently compared to Cognac, as these two products from the South-West of France share some similarities but as you learn more about Armagnac you come to realize that there are more differences than there are similarities. Most importantly the first impression I got from the younger Armagnac’s was that the flavor profile is more similar to that of a Scotch Whiskey than a Cognac. Unlike most spirits, Armagnac doesn’t take any cuts throughout the distillation process retaining volatile elements that are usually removed, giving the spirit more character and complexity.
Armagnac begins its distinguished life hanging on a grape vine in a small vineyard waiting to be carefully selected and harvested; once harvested the grapes are then crushed and the “wine” is distilled just once through a specially made continuous still and in most cases this is a traditionally constructed alembic armagnaçaise; a portable wood fired still designed to be transported around a village to many of the small homes who create Armagnac from their personal estate. By only distilling the spirit once before beginning the aging process the eau-de-vie de vin is bolder yet contains a lower alcohol content and develops more floral and fruit notes. Once a year many Armagnac producers will empty their casks into a tank for aeration; it is then typically transferred into an older barrel that will impart less tannin or back into the original one for a further year. Once ready the raw spirit is aged in French Oak barrels for the entire duration of the maturation process until they are selected by the master distiller to be bottled.
The entire range is exceptional when utilized appropriately in different styles of cocktails and depending on how much depth of character you want from the Armagnac. Tariquet Armagnac’s range from their Blanche AOC, an un-aged eau-de-vie to the 30 year matured Cabine with its smooth rich flavors such as orange rich caramel and flambéed banana. Personally I found the Blanche AOC with notes of green plum and ripe fruit to be an exceptional substitution in traditional cocktails that call for white spirits such as rum, gin or vodka and the medium aged VS, VSOP and XO are great substitutions for whiskeys and dark rums as they carry richer notes such as vanilla and toasted oak.
Out of the 10 different grapes allowed in the production of Armagnac there are only 4 that are frequently used and the most common of these is the Ugni Blanc; usually accompanied by Folle Blanche, Baco Blanc and Colombard. Each grape varietal is distilled and aged separately as they impart distinctive qualities into the Amragnac to ensure consistency and to give the master blender more flexibility when creating new products. It is estimated that Armagnac produces approximately 6 million bottles per year in contrast to Cognac which manufactures a substantially larger number of bottles; around 180 million. Experts speculate that Armagnac can be traced back to the early 15th century making it not only the first French brandy but the first spirit to be distilled in Europe.
To create a consistent product distillers usually have to use casks from multiple years of distillation; due to this they are required to state the age of the youngest Armagnac on the label. The age statements for different labeling are below and you will see that Tariquet goes above and some times way beyond
• VS Armagnac must be aged for a minimum of 2 years; Tariquet ages their VS for at least 3 years.
• VSOP Armagnac must be aged for a minimum of 4 years; Tariquet ages their VSOP for at least 7 years.
• XO Armagnac must be aged for a minimum of 6 years; Tariquet ages their XO for at least 15 years.