Grapes at Domaine Leduc-Frouin

ripening grapes in the Loire

ripening grapes in the Loire




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Tasting Armagnac

Armagnac from Domaine de LaurouxArmagnac is a brandy from Gascony with similarities to Cognac which is made 100 miles to the north in the Charentes.

Armagnac pre-dates cognac by about 150 years but never seems to have been as commercially successful or available, tending to be appreciated more by restaurants, connoisseurs and the locals.There are 3 Armagnac producing areas – Bas Armagnac, Tenareze and Haut Armagnac – of which Bas Armagnac produces the best brandies – “Bas” means low, but that refers to the altitude, not the quality.

Armagnac is made from distilled wine, four grapes are commonly used: Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Bacco, not dissimilar to Cognac’s grapes. But the distillation is quite different – the Armagnac “alambic” still is a continuous distillation process, which produces a higher and purer concentration of spirit than Cognac’ double distillation process.

Bottle labelling can be a bit confusing. 3 stars indicates a minimum of 2 years ageing; VSOP or Réserve, a minimum of 5 years; Napoléon, Vieille Réserve or XO, a minimum of 6 years; and Hors d’Age, which must be at least 10 years old.
A viintage Armagnac e.g.1967 must contain Armagnacs made in the named year, but it is actually the year of bottling which is more important, as maturation does not continue after bottling – it only matures in the wooden vat.

Tasting Armagnac (and Cognac) is a little different to the technique for tasting wine, essentially because the alcohol level is so high (40-43%). Small tapered glasses are better than the traditional brandy balloon. Contrary to common practice, warming the glass is not recommended for tasting, as this releases the alcohol rather than the flavour.

Ideally a “good” Armagnac should be wonderfully balanced between the fiery or even fierce impact of the alcohol and the delicacy of the fruit characteristics, overlaid with the oaky, woody tones from the maturation process. Too much tannin from the wooden vats will dry out the spirit, but get it right and you can find wonderfully nutty, woody characteristics.

The best Armagnacs will be smooth, rich and warming, with great persistence in the mouth. There is a world of difference between cheap Armagnac and the best vintage or well-aged versions.

For more on Armagnac see www.armagnac.fr

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