Unlike its more well-known fellow cognac, fame came to Armagnac rather late — only in the twentieth century.
But despite such a long lack of attention, in our time, Armagnac very confidently feels on the tables of gourmets around the world.
Being a member of the glorious family of French brandies, Armagnac It is very different from its strong counterparts, including the most popular of them — brandy. Armagnac has a reputation as a gourmet drink, its taste and aromatic properties are remarkable for their amazing expressiveness and stunning variety.
No wonder the French say about this drink: “We gave the world brandy to keep Armagnac for ourselves”.
Probably the first association that occurs in the majority of the word «Gascony» will be the name of the Musketeer D’Artagnan, but a lover of spirits is, of course, Armagnac. Without the Gascon sun, clayey earth and the true southern heat, this drink simply would not have come into the world. Gascony lies south of Bordeaux and is much closer to the Pyrenees.
Because of the hot southern climate, the grapes in Gascony contain a lot of sugars, which affects the quality of local wines and the quality of brandy. The art of distillation on this land took hold in the XII century.
Apparently, this skill came to the Gascons from the Spanish neighbors, and perhaps from the Arabs who once lived in the Pyrenees.
The first mention of the Gascon «water of life» dates back to 1411. And in 1461, the local grape spirit began to be sold in France and abroad. In the following centuries, Armagnac was forced to strongly press on the market — a powerful brandy went on the offensive.
And, probably, Armagnac would have been destined to remain on the outskirts of history, if local producers had not mastered the aging in barrels. As it turned out, Armagnac for aging takes much more time than Scotch whiskey or the same cognac.
This new circumstance allowed in the middle of the twentieth century to promote old sustained Armagnacs first to the American and then to the European market, instantly conquering the “advanced” alcoholic consumers and gourmets.
An important milestone in the history of Gascon brandy was the appearance in 1909 of a decree establishing the boundaries of the territory of its production, and in 1936 Armagnac officially received the status of AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee).
By law, the entire territory of Armagnac is divided into three subregions — Bas Armagnac (Bas Armagnac), Tenareze (Tenareze) and O-Armagnac (Haut-Armagnac) — each of which has a unique microclimate and its own soil characteristics.
Of course, these factors affect the properties of the grapes, the wine obtained from it and the distillate itself.
Armagnac is known for its wide taste and aroma range. In this case, the most typical for him are seven flavors: hazelnut, peach, violet, linden, vanilla, prune and pepper.
This diversity is largely determined by the number of grape varieties from which Armagnac can be made — there are only 12 of them.
The main varieties are the same as in Cognac: foil blanche, uni blanc and colombar. Harvest is usually collected in October.
Then the wine is made from the berries, and the distillation (or distillation) of the young wine should be carried out until January 31 of next year, since by spring the wine can ferment and it will not be possible to make good spirits from it.
Unlike brandy, which is produced using double distillation, it is allowed to use two types of distillation for Armagnac.
For the first — continuous distillation — the Armagnac alambic (Alambique Armagnacqais), or the Verdier apparatus (named after the inventor) is used, which gives a highly aromatic alcohol capable of long exposure.
Alambique Armagnacqais was out of competition, until in 1972 Charentais alambique (Alambique Charentais) appeared in Armagnac — a double distillation cube from Cognac. This circumstance had a positive effect on the development of Gascon brandy: it became possible to blend two different types of alcohols, thus the taste range of Armagnac expanded further.
The first in Armagnac both permissible methods of distillation began to use the famous house Janneau.
Excerpt Armagnac usually takes place in stages: first in new barrels, then in those already used before. This is done to ensure that the drink avoids too much influence from woody aromas.
For barrels, by the way, mainly black oak from the local Monlezum forest is used. The designation of young Armagnac are «Three Stars», Monopole, VO — the minimum age of exposure of such Armagnac 2 years. The next category — VSOP, Reserve ADC, according to the law, the age of this brandy can not be less than 4 years.
And finally, the third group: Extra, Napoleon, XO, Tres Vieille — the minimum age is 6 years by law. There are, of course, exceptions: while most manufacturers maintain Armagnac VSOP category in oak barrels for about five years, Janneau — at least seven.
And spirits for Armagnac Janneau XO are aged in oak for at least 12 years, whereas for this class Armagnac is enough and six years of aging.
In general, the value of Janneau for Armagnac is hard to overestimate. Firstly, it belongs to the great houses of Armagnac, who glorified this drink around the world. And secondly, it is one of the oldest manufacturers in the region, founded by Pierre-Etienne Jeannot in 1851.
Today, the company also remains in the hands of one family, which more than anything else values the traditions and is simply fanatically devoted to quality.
Therefore, like 150 years ago, Janneau — unlike most major producers — distills, maintains and bottles its products in the same place where the vineyards of the house are located.
The classic line of the house includes the famous Armagnacs Janneau VSOP, Napoleon and XO. Arguing about their strengths and weaknesses is difficult enough, because each of them has its own individual, unlike anything else. For example, Janneau VSOP is known for its elegance and lightness.
Janneau Napoleon simply amazes with a perfumery aroma with an abundance of vanilla tones, dried fruits and berries.
And Janneau XO is known as one of the softest and most delicate Armagnacs in all Gascony.