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The savoir-faire 

Which oak to age Armagnac ?

The oak barrels give each Armagnac a part of their personality, their colour, their sweetness and their aromas.  Gascon oak of course !  However, did you know that there are hundreds of varieties of oak ?  The selection of oak by the cooper is a crucial moment in the future development of Armagnac. 


Varieties of oak

Coming from the other side of the Pyrenees after the second glaciation, oak trees became established in Armagnac and most particularly, five different varieties: the Pedunculate oak (common English oak) with its twisted trunk gives elongated acorns at the end of a long stalk ; the Sessile oak with a much straighter trunk gives egg shaped acorns that grow directly on the twig ; the Pyrenean oak, recognised by its deeply jagged leaves that are downy underneath ; the Downy or Pubescent oak, also known as the Truffle oak that keeps its dry leaves in winter ; the Cork oak, that we use for making corks. 

In Armagnac, the bill of specifications states that only pedunculate and sessile or crosses of the two are allowed for cooperage. In any case, it is the pedunculate oak that is the most used.  It produces a wide grained wood that freely releases its tannins which is the most appropriate for the strength of the eau-de-vie.  The Sessile oaks have a finer grain with less tannin and more pronounced flavours. 


Selection of the trees

The choice of the tree is often the responsibility of the cooper or the stave maker (the supplier of ‘staves’, the planks that make up the barrels).  He selects the trees depending on their straightness, the diameter of their trunk (about 60-70cm) and the absence of knots and ‘frostbite’ (a default resulting in a splintering of the wood from frost damage).  The cooper generally avoids the borders of a forest knowing that the oak there grows too quickly and therefore presents a risk of low permeable timber.

«  The oak barrel inspires durability, shows the consistency of methods and signifies the value of past forms in our modern times » said Eric Pothier from the association of Oak origins and wines. Although the Gascon oak is favoured in Armagnac, others can have an equally important role in the ageing of eaux-de-vie such as the Limousin oak (pedunculate) or the Allier oak and oak from the Vosges (both sessile).

More than a simple story of a tree, it is part of the economy and local traditions.  The proof of this is that Gascon oaks often proudly honour the entrance to the estates.  The roots of the trees and the estates are entangled and joined as one.