Traditional, small-scale, and truly “craft”, armagnac may not have the bling factor of cognac, but this characterful and French brandy is as rich in flavour as it is in history.
With its status as the beloved tipple of hip-hop stars and rap moguls, cognac has long since stolen the spotlight and claimed a place as perhaps one of the most well-known types of brandy.
However – dating back at least 700 years and known for being France’s first brandy – armagnac can rightly claim to be one of the most flavoursome.
Depending on the age and quality, profiles range from the fruity – with prunes, pears and quince – to the decedent. For older liquids, expect to find a buttery softness, alongside chocolates and caramels.
What makes armagnac unique? It's made in the Gascony region of France typically by small producers. There are ten different grape varieties that can be used in armagnac production, though four – ugni blanc, baco, folle blanche, and colombard – are most common. And distinctly, the vast majority of producers remain independent or family-owned.
And while both cognac and armagnac are French brandies, distilled from white wine grapes and aged in oak, armagnac is crucially distilled just once, keeping the idiosyncrasies of the wines rather than smoothing them out. Cognac on the other hand, must be distilled twice.
Armagnac’s unique combinations of different grape varieties and terroirs mean that there’s already an incredibly diverse array of flavour profiles to be found. A new generation of producers are now taking the spirit in a rather different direction.
Experimentation with different barrel finishes is now beginning. However, as they stray from the strict definition of the spirit, they’re not included in our roundup. Chateau de Laubade, for example, is one house pushing boundaries, with both rum and whisky cask finished products set for launch (in the UK) under its les curiosites range in September.
What should you be looking for when you buy? And why is there such a vast difference in price? As a general rule, the longer the ageing, the higher the price and the more complex the flavour. Classifications include VS – a mix of several armagnacs aged for a minimum of one year, VSOP – aged at least four years, and XO – aged for at least ten years.
In short, a flavoursome armagnac needn’t break the bank; we’ve focused on the best value options as well as the best tasting in our roundup of some of the best.
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Chateau de Lacquy 7-year-old VSOP, 40 per cent, 70cl
Having been run by the same family since 1711, traditional producer Chateau de Lacquy does things its own way. In fact, it proclaims to be the oldest family-owned estate still producing armagnac.
Every step of the process, from the growing of the grapes to ageing and bottling, is performed on the estate. Even its woodfire dates back to 1939. This VSOP is made from a blend of armagnacs from five different years, consisting of 35 per cent baco, 35 per cent colombard, 15 per cent folle blanche and 15 per cent ugni blanc, giving it a full burst of flavour.
There’s pear, some plummy notes, a slick of butterscotch and marzipan, and a hint of chocolate. Still bright and summery, this is one to savour.
Delord bas-armagnac l'authentique, 45.9 per cent, 70cl
Something truly special, of course, comes with a special price tag, and we have to say, this one is getting increasingly hard to find. We’re not suggesting this is the armagnac for you if you’re new to the spirit. But if you’re already a brandy fan and are looking for something that’s a real treat, then look no further.
This brandy is a blend of very old armagnacs that have been aged an average of 30 years in oak barrels selected to represent the most typical flavour notes from Delord. There’s something almost grassy about the nose, followed by a heavy waft of vanilla and a smidge of coffee. To sip, you get creamy fudge, a little banana, prunes and roasted notes, all with an exceptionally long, smooth but chewy finish. Yum.
Darroze les grands assemblages 12-year-old armagnac, 43 per cent, 70cl
This smooth, floral sipper manages to offer more flavour than many products twice its age. Founded by restauranteur Francis Darroze, the company sources its armagnac from small estates and producers, before aging them in its own cellars.
The les grands assemblage range combines liquids of different ages and provenances. And though there are older offerings in the range, we love this 12-year-old armagnac for its fresh and bold flavours. With freshly cut grass, sultanas and a crisp sweetness on the nose, this one sips dry at first, before mellowing quickly to smooth honey and apple notes and finishing with a kick of citrus and spice. Simply delicious.
Chateaur de Laubade VSOP bas armagnac, 40 per cent, 70cl
The historic Chateau de Laubade stands out for a few reasons. One, the brand’s wines come from its own 260-acre vineyard. And secondly, it is the only armagnac house coopering its own casks. The VSOP is a blend of more than 20 different eaux de vies from ugni blanc and folle blanche, completed with colombard and baco, and aged from six to 12 years. There’s something slightly funky on the nose, akin to dried tobacco. It's sweeter than many others we tested, but also very fruity. The thick, smooth brandy has comforting notes of spiced fig and honey.
Chateau de Lacquy 1999 bas armagnac, 45 per cent, 70cl
Another indulgence for those who love their spirits, this was awarded Outstanding Gold at the 2018 International Wine and Spirit Competition, and rightly so. Blending 80 per cent baco, 10 per cent ugni blanc, and 10 per cent colombard, this vintage is delightfully rich and powerful. On the nose, there’s the sweetness of molasses and a little citrus. Heady and robust, sipping this thick and warming tipple is tangy and sweet with a hint of lavender and plum, and an exceptionally long finish. Expansive yet delicate, this is a real treat.
Baron de Sigognac 10-year-old bas armagnac, 40 per cent, 70cl
This delectable armagnac from esteemed producer Sigognac stands out as representing particularly great value for money for such a quality brandy. In fact, we think this armagnac is complex and interesting enough to tempt even the staunchest of scotch drinkers. Produced on a short column that’s almost 100 years old, there’s a lovely balance of fruit and spice, with cinnamon, a little nuttiness and just a hint of orange. You can’t go wrong.
Janneau XO blend armagnac, 40 per cent, 70cl
This much lauded tipple comes from what is claimed to be the world's most awarded armagnac house. International spirit competitions have awarded Janneau more medals than any other producer. Though Janneau has many armagnac’s in its arsenal, we’ve chosen this one for its accessibility – taste-wise that is. No, this brandy (deservedly) doesn’t come cheap. The flagship blend marries eau de vie aged in French Limousin oak casks for at least 12 years, resulting in beautiful lemon notes and a hint of caramel.
Castarede XO 20-years-old armagnac, 40 per cent, 70cl
Once voted the world’s best armagnac at the World Armagnac Awards, we think this rich, full-bodied brandy is modestly priced, considering it is aged in casks for 20 years. Powerful, nutty, and a little oily, there are satisfying and moreish notes of chocolate, marzipan, plums and cinnamon. We especially like its long dry finish. This is one to truly sip and savour.
Comte de Lauvia fine armagnac, 40 per cent, 70cl
You can’t argue with the price of this entry-level armagnac from the award-winning producer, Comte de Lauvia. It's made from a blend of eaux de vie from ugni blanc, baco blanc and folle blanche grapes and is aged for four to seven years. This is a lively brandy, with notes of caramel, toffee and burnt sugar upfront, with some smooth vanilla notes and a hint of acidity with a touch of lemon and a little spice.
Domainc Tariquet armagnac XO, 40 per cent, 70cl
Made only from the grapes grown on its own estate, this offering from Tariquet is distilled from 60 per cent ugni blanc and 40 per cent baco that is aged for a minimum of 15 years before bottling. One of the younger entries on our list, this one is a little pushy at first. There’s citrus, apple and marzipan on the nose and plenty of toasted bread, with a hint of wood, a touch of allspice and a satisfyingly long finish.
The verdict: Armagnacs
Unpretentious and offering real value for money when compared to spirits with similar age statements, armagnacs are a labour of love for their small-scale producers. But the right armagnac for you is going to very much depend on whether you’re an aficionado or an enthusiast. That is to say, it is going to come down to price. For its rich flavour and overall quality, Chateau de Lacquy 7-year-old VSOP is a great mid-price, accessible choice.
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