Armagnac is the oldest spirit in France and belongs to the brandy category. However, Armagnac is currently much less known than its younger brother Cognac, which enjoys worldwide fame.
Armagnac has been a protected designation of origin since 1936, which means that a spirit can only be called Armagnac if it was produced in the defined area and according to the defined methods.
As early as 1310 there were first mentions in the book Liber selectiorum remediorum pro conservanda sanitate ad totius corporos humani morbos ("A book with selected remedies to keep all diseases of the human body healthy") by the Franciscan Vital du Four, who at that time was a provincial of the order (often also referred to as superior or called Prior) of Eauze and Saint-Mont. In this he described the 40 benefits of Aygue Ardente ("Burning Water" - i.e. a distillate or spirit) made from wine, the early form of Armagnac.
In the following centuries, Armagnac developed into a commercial product, which is not only used for medicinal purposes but also as a luxury food.
The phylloxera plague also hit Armagnac in the 1870s and, like in other areas of Europe, was responsible for the destruction of a large part of the vineyards. Of the approx. 100,000ha at that time, only approx. a quarter were replanted. Here the focus was mainly on Bas Armagnac and parts of Armagnac Ténarèze, as these were not as badly affected by their soil conditions as Haut Armagnac.
Wine, the origin of Armagnac
The basis for the production of Armagnac is a white wine, which is usually made from the following four grape varieties:
- Ugni Blanc
- Folle Blanche
The following six grape varieties are also permitted, but are hardly ever used:
- Plant de Graisse
- Clairette de Gascogne
- Jurancon Blanc
- Meslier Saint Francois
- Mauzac Blanc
- Mauzac Rose
Armagnac can be made using two different firing methods:
- Continuous Distillation with an Alambic Armagnacais (Column Still)
- Discontinuous distillation with a pot still
However, pot still distillation accounts for only 3% of annual production and is only used by three producers: Delord, Janneau and Samalens. For example, Delord Blanche Colombard and some older Janneau vintages are made from 100% Pot Still Armagnac.
In Armagnac it is common that not every winery has its own Alambic Armagnacais. That is why there are mobile distillers, the so-called Bouilleurs Ambulants, who drive from winery to winery and distil the wines together with them. These only use the Alambic Armagnacais and no pot stills.
producers and negotiators
In Armagnac there are currently 672 active and registered producers who produce Armagnac themselves. They run their own vineyard, produce their own wine and distil it into Armagnac either themselves or in cooperation with a mobile distiller. However, many producers only produce very small quantities and some are not commercially active. This is comparable to the many distilleries in Germany, some of which only produce fruit schnapps for themselves, the neighborhood or the village.
In addition, there are 164 negotiants who do not necessarily operate their own vineyards or produce their own wine. What they have in common, however, is that they act as trading houses and buy wine, finished distillates or already matured Armagnac from producers or other négociants and use them for their own products. In practice, there are some négociants who also meet all the criteria of a producer.
vintages and age classifications
The Eau de Vie must have matured in the cask for at least one year in order to be sold as Armagnac.
However, there is also the possibility of producing an unripened Armagnac. After distillation, this must be stored in an inert container for at least three months. Inert means that the material must not react with the Armagnac. In most cases, therefore, a stainless steel tank is used.
|Blanche||Stored in an inert container (e.g. stainless steel) for at least 3 months|
|VS - ***||At least 1 year aged in barrel|
|XO and Hors D'Age||Aged in barrel for at least 10 years|
|Vintage (Millésime)||From the harvest of a given year|
In addition to water for dilution, the following three additives are permitted in the production of Armagnac:
- sugar for sweetening
- Caramel (E150a) for coloring
- Boisé, an infusion of oak chips used to enhance the woody aromas in Armagnac
All additives together may account for a maximum of 4% when used. This is measured by the difference between the measured alcohol content with an alcoholmeter (density measurement) and the actual alcohol content (determined by distillation).
These additives are used by many producers but are rarely listed on the bottle label. On Armagnac.de you will only find products without additives or with a clear indication that additives are included. For example, Le Basque sometimes uses a small amount of boisé for their Armagnac, which is noted on the product pages.
Sales figures and export (in 2020)
A total of 7,842hl of pure alcohol was sold in 2020. This corresponds to a quantity of approx. 2.8 million bottles. For comparison: Cognac sold around 220 million bottles in 2019 (more than 75x as much as Armagnac)!
The relationship between export and sales in France itself is roughly balanced:
- France: 1.25 million bottles (about 45%)
- Export: 1.54 million bottles (approx. 55%)
In terms of export value, Germany ranks 5th worldwide with a share of 5.6% (this corresponds to around 86,000 bottles). The four most important markets are currently Russia (10%), Great Britain (10.5%), the USA (16%) and China (17%).