Armagnac (pronounced|aʁmaˈɲak) is a distinctive kind of
brandyor " eau de vie" produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, southwest France. It is distilledfrom wineusually made from a blend of grapesincluding Ugni Blanc, Colombardand Baco Blancusing column stills rather than the pot stills used for example in the production of Cognac. The resulting spirit is then aged in oakbarrels before release. Production is overseen by INAO and the Bureau National Interprofessionel de l'Armagnac (BNIA).
Armagnac was one of the first areas in France to begin distilling spirits, however the brandies produced have a lower profile than those from Cognac, and the overall volume of production is far smaller. In addition they are for the most part made and sold by small producers, whereas in Cognac production is dominated by big-name brands. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/wine/main.jhtml?xml=/wine/2007/02/17/edray117.xml]
The Armagnac region lies between the
Adourand Garonnerivers in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The region was granted AOC status in 1936. The official production area is divided into three districts which lie in the departements of Gers, Landes and Lot-et-Garonne. The May 25th 1909 Falliere’s decree describes the three districts:
Each of these areas is controlled by separate appellation regulations. More recently a new Appellation, "Blanche d'Armagnac", was established to allow the production and export of clear, white brandies which are unaged. [http://www.wine-spirit.com/articles/55000/Blanche-d'Armagnac-draws-mixed-reactions.aspx?categoryid=276]
The region contains 40,000 acres (160 km²) of grape-producing vines.Fact|date=December 2007
Armagnac is traditionally distilled once, which results initially in a less polished spirit than in Cognac where double distillation usually takes place. However long ageing in oak barrels softens the taste, and causes the development of more complex flavours and a brown colour. Ageing in the barrel removes a part of the water by evaporation (known as "part des anges", "angel's tribute" or "angel's share") and allows more complex aromatic compounds to appear by oxidation, which further improves the flavour. When the alcohol reaches 40% the Armagnac can be transferred to large glass bottles called "Dame Jeanne" for storage. From then on the armagnac does not age or develop further, and can be bottled for sale from the next year on.
Armagnac is sold under several different classifications, mostly referring to the age of the constituent brandies. When brandies of different ages have been blended, the age on the bottle refers to the youngest component. A three star or "VS" armagnac is a mix of several Armagnacs which have seen at least two years of ageing in wood. For the VSOP, the ageing is at least five years, and for XO, at least six. Hors d'âge means the youngest component in the blend is at least ten years old. Older and better Armagnacs are often sold as vintages, with the bottles containing Armagnac from a single year, with the year being noted on the bottle.
As with any "
eau de vie", Armagnac should be stored vertically to avoid damaging the stopper with alcohol. Once opened a bottle stays drinkable for years.
Ten different varieties of
grapeare authorised for use in the production of armagnac. Of these, four form the principal part:
Armagnac is the oldest wine distilled in France, and in the past was consumed for its therapeutic benefits. In the 14th century, Prior Vital Dufor, a Cardinal, claimed it had 40 virtues.
"It makes disappear redness and burning of the eyes, and stops them from tearing; it cures hepatitis, sober consumption adhering. It cures gout, cankers and fistula by ingestion, restores the paralysed member by massage and heals wounds of the skin by application. It enlivens the spirit, partaken in moderation, recalls the past to memory, renders men joyous, preserves youth and retards senility. And when retained in the mouth, it loosens the tongue and emboldens the wit, if someone timid from time to time himself permits." "
Between the 15th and 17th centuries Armagnac was traded on the markets of
Saint-Sever, Mont-de-Marsanand Aire-sur-Adour. Subsequently Dutch merchants began promoting the trade more widely.
Research conducted by scientists at
Bordeaux Universityin 2007 suggested that Armagnac has health benefits, [ [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=454221&in_page_id=1770 Daily Mail 11 May 2007 - Brandy can ward off heart attacks] ] finding that moderate consumption can help protect against heart diseaseand obesity. The research suggested that the benefits derived from its unique distillation process and ageing rather than from its alcoholic content. The south western area of France where Armagnac is produced has some of the lowest cardiovascular disease rates in the world.
* [http://www.armagnac.fr BNIA Armagnac official website]
* [http://armagnaclaballe.com/english.aspx Armagnac History]
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