Armagnac is more than a brandy:
Formerly a province of France, the county of Armagnac was the most powerful of the fiefs of Gascony. It was a historic comté of the Duchy of Gascony, was once an important countship and attained its height of prominence in the 15th century.
Armagnac is a region of hills ranging to a height of l000 ft. and on the slope of its hills grow the grapes from which the famous Armagnac brandy is made. The Fallières Decree (named after the French President at the time) is a statutory order passed in 1909 which defines the Armagnac production zones.
Often confused with cognac, Armagnac is very different with regard to its grapes, terroir, distillation, élevage, blending, aromas, tastes and textures. France’s most natural and complex brandy is made from distilled wine, and grapes are the key factor that gives it an original personality. The four grapes commonly used are Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Bacco, even though there are nine permitted varietals in armagnac. While these grapes ultimately give different aromas and flavors, they more importantly offer different weights and textures on the palate.
Armagnac is a hand crafted product, produced in small quantities by the winemakers and negotiant houses. The truth be known, France’s two finest brandies made from wine are not very much alike at all.
In the 14th century, Armagnac was originally consumed for its health giving properties, it being thought to have 40 medicinal benefits, including preserving youth, retarding senility, and improving the memory. Armagnac is the oldest wine based eau-de-vie produced in the heart of Gascony. Although Armagnac pre-dates cognac by about 150 years it never achieved the widespread sales figures that cognac obtained.
The Armagnac methods of fabrication strictly follow the rules and regulations laid down by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) attributed to this eau-de-vie in 1936. 2009 is the 100th anniversary of the Fallières Decree and also a year in which preparations will take place for Armagnac’s 700th birthday in 2010.
Armagnac is one of the world’s most expensive brandies and is the leading product from the southwest of France. But don’t worry, when you’re travelling around the south-west of France, the majority of the smaller and independent producers sell their brandy direct to the public. Look out for half-hidden farm signs indicating Vente Directe. In our case, we saw these bottles for sale in Cahors.