The Virtues of Armagnac
Although our primary devotion on this site is wine, we also love brandy, which is a spirit created by distilling wine. The most famous of these is Cognac, though today we’re exploring its much older cousin, Armagnac. Armagnac is one of the oldest brandies in all of France. Despite its rich history, its production volume has always been smaller than Cognac. If you love wine, however, it’s well worth getting your hands on a bottle of this delicious, complex spirit.
How is Armagnac Different from Cognac?
Both Armagnac and Cognac are French brandies made from white wine grapes, but they differ in many ways:
- Where they’re made. We’re being a little cheeky, because this is an obvious one. Cognac comes from Cognac and Armagnac comes from Armagnac.
- What they’re made of. Both are made from very drinkable wines, but from different grapes. Cognac uses only Ugni Blanc (also known as Trebbiano Toscano), whereas Armagnac also incorporates Baco Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanche.
- How they’re made. The distillation processes of the two are also slightly different. Cognac undergoes two rounds of pot distillation. Armagnac goes through a single column still. Because the latter is less distilled and less “pure,” it retains a lot more flavors. This is why Armagnac tends to be more rich and complex than Cognac.
- Aging standards. All Cognac is aged for at least two years, typically in Limousin/Tronçais oak barrels. Armagnac might be aged in Limousin/Tronçais or Gascon oak barrels, though it may also be sold unaged.
How to Enjoy Armagnac
In its early days of production, Armagnac had many medicinal uses. In the 14th century, French Cardinal and theologian Vital du Four described its “40 virtues,” some of which included:
“…It cures gout, cankers, and fistula by ingestion; restores the paralysed member by massage; and heals wounds of the skin by application. It enlivens the spirit, partaken in moderation, recalls the past to memory, renders men joyous, preserves youth and retards senility. And when retained in the mouth, it loosens the tongue and emboldens the wit, if someone timid from time to time himself permits.”
Although modern views of its medicinal values has certainly changed, most would agree that Armagnac that it does render the drinker joyous! It has endless virtues when it comes to how we enjoy and pair it with meals, as well.
Because it is a wonderfully diverse spirit, ideal serving temperatures may vary from vintage to vintage. Always serve Armagnac in a brandy snifter so that the bowl can accumulate aromas, which will enhance the drinking experience.
Armagnac Flavor Profiles and Pairings
While Cognacs tend to have simpler, leaner flavor profiles, Armagnacs have a glorious depth to them. They may conjure flavors of butterscotch, roasted nuts, cocoa, and stone fruits.
Armagnac is wonderful for sipping at the start of the meal or for enjoying throughout, perhaps as a palate cleanser. It pairs wonderfully with caviar and with blue-veined cheeses, like Roquefort, Fourme, and Gorgonzola. A splash of the right Armagnac could replace a traditional vinaigrette on your salad.
For the main course, Armagnac pairs well with foie gras, smoked salmon, and roasted duck. It also highlights the earthiness of sauces with mushrooms.
For after dinner, pair it with strong coffee. The bitterness will complement it well, highlighting the subtle aromas of cocoa, as well as delightful toasty, smoky flavors.
If you enjoy fruit desserts, match it with candied oranges, lemon tarts, or a pear charlotte. Armagnac is also delicious with dark chocolate desserts and chocolate mousse. Simply splash a sweeter, thicker vintage over ice cream for the perfect ending to your meal.
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