History and Background
- Where does the word Armagnac come from?
The name Armagnac comes from the name "Armin" meaning "powerful warrior" in old Germanic, a warlord who was given this land as a reward for his bravery during the decisive battle of Vouillé (near to Poitiers) in 507 against the Visigoths. Armin 'Latinised', then 'Gasconised' became Arminius, then to refer to Armin's land, Arminiacus, and finally Arminhac, Armaignac before finally settling on the name of Armagnac.
- In Armagnac is there one vintage that is better than another?
There are so many factors that come into play during the production of an Armagnac.... So many moments when the hand of man shapes the product: vinification, distillation, ageing, blending of the grapes... Whilst the quality of the harvest is a major influence on the future of a wine for drinking, it is not the only consideration that determines the evolution and the quality of an Armagnac, particularly as the grapes are deliberately harvested before they reach full maturity (in order to keep a certain acidity and low alcohol percentage in the wine).
Without doubt each producer has a favourite vintage in his range, though this won't necessarily be the same as his neighbour's.
- Which is the best terroir? The difference between the terroirs?
In Armagnac, diversity is the order of the day...The terroirs are one element and each one gives its own character as they all have different soils. However, exception is the rule and you can find tawny sands in the west of the Haut-Armagnac appellation as you can find clay-limestone soils in certain parts of Bas-Armagnac...and in all cases, rather than putting too much onus on the best terroir, it is more a question of finding an armagnac worked by the producer that appeals more or less, depending on your taste preferences.
- Why do certain producers use the double distillation alambic?
The distinctive feature of an Armagnac alambic is that it doesn’t excessively purify the eau-de-vie, meaning that it retains all of its original aromatic strength even after very long ageing.
Certain Armagnac houses have chosen to produce a part of their production with a double distillation alambic (authorized since 1972 subject to also having a traditional Armagnac alambic), often used for eaux-de-vie to be marketed whilst very young.
- What do we call an Armagnac house?
The term “Armagnac house” is a generic term that describes a negotiant (trader/broker) or an Armagnac producer (wine grower).
A negotiant buys wines for distillation and/or Armagnacs in bulk from the producers or «bouilleurs de crus», (distillers). He continues working on the wine or the distillation if necessary and the ageing or blending work of the Armagnacs before marketing them.
- Does Armagnac continue to age once in the bottle?
No! Unlike wines (grands crus), that continue to improve once in the bottle (as long as they are kept in the right conditions), Armagnac needs wood for ageing: it is the slow oxidation coming from the exchange of air between the outside and inside of the pièce (barrel) combined with the extraction of the tannins from the oak that bring about the ageing.
- Why are the acronyms VS, VSOP, XO in English?
For the consumer’s understanding, simplicity and consistency, Armagnac and other brandies have quite simply continued to use the names invented in the 18th century by the Anglo-Saxon merchants at that time, who were owners of several Cognac houses.
These Anglicisms have remained in use for all eaux-de-vie around the world, but also for certain other spirits.
Armagnac and I
- I’ve found a very old bottle of Armagnac in the family cellar: how much is it worth?
The best thing to do is to contact the Armagnac house directly that sells this brand or estate.
However, remember that a bottle of Armagnac does not keep on ageing. So any estimation will be based on its age when it was bottled, its rarity today and the state of both the label and the cork. If you think that this bottle is valuable you can contact an auctioneer.
- How long will my bottle of Armagnac keep?
If it is sealed, you can keep it practically indefinitely as long as the cork or closure is checked or changed every 5 or 10 years.
If you have opened it, it is best to keep it for 1 to 2 years maximum, otherwise the oxidation, although low, due to air entering the bottle, can change the taste.
In any case, it would be shame to leave such nectar hidden in the cupboard!