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12 best armagnacs to replace your favourite cognac

From fruity to decadent, wet your whistle with the very best of the beloved French brandy

Claire Dodd
Friday 07 May 2021 12:11
<p>Armagnac dates back at least 700 years</p>

Armagnac dates back at least 700 years

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.

Cognac has long since stolen the spotlight, but armagnac, which dates back at least 700 years and is known for being France’s first brandy, can rightly claim to be one of the most flavoursome drinks of its type.

Depending on the age and quality, profiles range from the fruity – with prunes, pears and quince – to the decadent. 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 10 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.

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.

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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 10 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 round-up.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Best armagnac 2021

  • Best overall – Chateau de Laubade bas armagnac vintage 1990, 40%, 70cl: £82.20,
  • Best value for money – Castarède XO 20 year old bas armagnac, 40%, 70cl: £59.49, Virginwines
  • Best for savouring – Chateau de Lacquy 7 year old VSOP, 40%, 70cl: £50.45,
  • Best richness of flavour – Chateau Pellehaut XO la fleur de l’age armagnac, 40%, 70cl: £56,
  • Best for decadence – Darroze les grands assemblages 20 year old armagnac, 43%, 70cl: £80.75,
  • Best for brandy fans – Delord bas-armagnac l’authentique, 45.9%, 70cl: 97.50,
  • Best for grape variety – Domaine d’Aurensan armagnac carre des fantomes, 46%, 70cl: £73.30,
  • Best for softness and balance of flavour – Chateau De Pellehaut reserve le bel age, 40%, 70cl: £38.99,
  • Best for scotch drinkers – Baron de Sigognac 10 year old, 40%, 70cl: £42.75,
  • Best for accessible taste – Janneau XO blend armagnac, 40%, 70cl: £73.33,
  • Best younger armagnac – Domainc Tariquet armagnac XO, 40%, 70cl: £34,
  • Best entry-level armagnac – Comte de Lauvia fine armagnac, 40%, 70cl: £29.83,

Chateau de Laubade bas armagnac vintage 1990, 40%, 70cl

Best: Overall

Like a beautiful slice of Christmas cake, this rich vintage armagnac is worth taking your time over. The historic Château de Laubade stands out for a few reasons. Firstly, the brand’s wines come from its own 260 acres of single vineyard. And secondly, it is the only armagnac house coopering its own casks.

Made with a blend of baco, ugni blanc and colombard grapes, there’s stewed fruit, plum, almond, raisin, a little nutmeg, and a beautifully bold but also soft mouthfeel. This delivers a nuanced jolt of flavour that mellows and just sits there, before softly fading. Pull up a chair on a rainy day and just sit with it.

Castarède XO 20 year old bas armagnac, 40%, 70cl

Best: Value for money

This smooth but lightly spicy slow sipper was named the world’s best armagnac at the 2020 World Armagnac Awards – quite the recommendation. Castarède is reputed to be the oldest house of armagnac, with almost 190 years of producing spirits, so it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about fine tipples.

It’s certainly not cheap, but – in what will become a common theme in this list – for the age and quality of this liquid, we think you’d struggle to find better value for money from many other spirit categories.

To sip, there’s a moody woodiness first, followed by plum, honey, stewed apple, ginger, Christmas cake, and just a hint of something tropical. If that list of attributes hasn’t made you salivate, then frankly, we don’t trust you. If you enjoy this, seek out the 1979 vintage, which, again, is outstanding value at around £75.

Chateau de Lacquy 7 year old VSOP, 40%, 70cl

Best: For savouring

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 the 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.

Chateau Pellehaut XO la fleur de l’age armagnac, 40%, 70cl

Best: For richness of flavour

This beautiful brandy has spent 20 years in cask, slowly developing its rich flavour. Produced by the Béraut family, who have over 300 years of history at the Chateau Pellehaut at the heart of the armagnac appellation, this blend of ugni blanc is nutty, with a tangy sweetness upfront. Rich, thick and complex, there’s dried fruit, vanilla of course, and a lingering peppery finish.

Darroze les grands assemblages 20 year old armagnac, 43%, 70cl

Best: For decadence

Fruity yet beautifully mellow, this long-aged liquid from Darroze is like sipping velvet. Founded by restauranteur Francis Darroze, the company sources its armagnac from small estates and producers, before ageing it in its own cellars. And frankly, for a liquid this good that’s been sat in the barrel for two decades, it feels like a bargain.

From the “grands assemblage” range, which combines liquids of different ages and provenances, this one sits mid-way in the age statements, which start at eight and go up to 60 years. Though we’re also fans of the 12-year-old for fresh notes of sultana, grass and honey, we’ve chosen the 20-year-old for the sheer smoothness and wonderful richness. With all the fresh, fruitiness of the 12, there’s also toffee up front, giving way to fresh apple, a little almond and chocolate, and warming spices of ginger and cinnamon. Moreish, decadent and great value too. 

Delord bas-armagnac l’authentique, 45.9%, 70cl

Best: For brandy fans

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.

Domaine d’Aurensan armagnac carre des fantomes, 46%, 70cl

Best: For grape variety

For fans of armagnac – or specialist spirits in general – here is a treat you’ll have never tried before. This special release from Domaine d’Aurensan is made entirely from six rare grape varieties, known by the family as the “phantom grapes”.

Though 10 varieties are permitted for armagnac production, most use just four. This one? Well, it uses the other “forgotten” six. Plant de graisse, mauzac blanc, meslier st françois, jurançon blanc, mauzac rosé and clairette de gascogne are all grown on the same plot, and without pesticides.

The result is very fruity on the nose, and there’s just a hint of a cider-like sourness and a little pear, alongside a farmy funkiness. To sip, you’ll get again, a little pear, apricot and a distinct chalky minerality, followed by a little honey and something close to elderflower. With a thick, chewy mouthfeel, it finishes with a bit of heat. It’s rare and delicious.

Chateau De Pellehaut reserve le bel age, 40%, 70cl

Best: For softness and balance of flavour

Another one from Pellehaut – named brandy producer of the year in 2020 by the IWSC – this house still makes its brandies on wood-fired alembic stills. This medal-winning liquid is made from 100 per cent folle blanche and is a blend of several vintages, with the youngest being 10 years’ old.

It’s not as fruit-forward as some of the other liquids on our list, but has some bright and delicate cinnamon, vanilla and a little oak, a little chocolate and some toasted nuts. It’s wonderfully soft and balanced.

Baron de Sigognac 10 year old, 40%, 70cl

Best: For scotch drinkers

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%, 70cl

Best: For accessible taste

This much-lauded tipple comes from what is claimed to be the world's most awarded armagnac house. Though Janneau has many drinks in its arsenal, we’ve chosen this one for its accessible taste.

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 with a hint of caramel.

Domainc Tariquet armagnac XO, 40%, 70cl

Best: Younger brandy

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.

Comte de Lauvia fine armagnac, 40%, 70cl

Best: Entry-level armagnac

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 burned sugar upfront, with some smooth vanilla notes and a hint of acidity with a touch of lemon and a little spice.

The verdict: Armagnacs

From entry-level liquids to long slow sippers, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a great armagnac. However, you do get what you pay for. Of all the long-aged products on our list, our pick is Chateau de Laubade bas armagnac vintage 1990, both for the depth of its flavours and the smooth and well-rounded way it delivers them. Put simply, it’s scrumptious.

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For more luxurious tipples, check out our best calvados brandies from the orchards of Normandy

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