Distilled once, this eau de vie is produced from a variety of grapes, including the most popular Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Baco 22A grapes. It is then aged in casks, usually Monlezun black oak, to calm and mellow this unique spirit, which is known to be more round than its favored counterpart, Cognac.
It is, in fact, the oldest Brandy distilled in France and moreover quite likely one of the oldest spirits in the world, produced on just 37,000 acres of southwestern France in the Gascony region.
And yet, despite its history, it remains unfamiliar to most. What is it?
The lovely Armagnac.
But, as Armagnac has remained largely under the radar, the producers have had the room to experiment and create a truly intriguing spirit of many growing forms—and one that truly must not be missed. Below, in no particular order, is an introduction to some of the best Armagnacs one may find. Some of the best will take some tracking down due to highly limited release, but, of course, this makes for a most rewarding treasure hunt.
It is, in fact, one of the oldest spirits in the world
With 184 years of history, it is the oldest name of the Armagnac. Castarede itself is not, however, a distiller. Rather, it is a firm that selects from the Bas-Armagnac region exclusively to control the aging of Armagnac produced between the 1900s and 2000s. With the ability to focus more on this aging process, Castarede offers an impressive array which most notably includes a hard-to-find cask-strength Armagnac, particularly useful for the cocktail-inclined.
Chateau de Laubade
An Armagnac of worldwide regard is the single distilled creation of Chateau de Laubade. Currently run by its third generation, Arnaud and Denis Lesgourgues, the brand has the largest inventory in the appellation and a focus on its company sustainability, all the while collecting over 120 international awards, including the renowned title of “World Class Distillery.” With a focus on finely aged spirits, you’ll find many full flavors centered around chocolate, leather, and cedar.
All Sempe Armagnac is borne of the Bas-Armagnac and Tenareze regions, distilled just once, and aged in handmade french oak casks. The highlight of the collection is the Vintage, which is a collection dating back to 1888 and can only be found by special release on very limited occasions.
Another distinctive Bas-Armagnac is the Darroze, from creator and namesake Francis Darroze.
Reduced through evaporation rather than the addition of water, the spirit is well-reputed for its purity and strict quality standards. While the Darroze is usually aged for around 15 years for its optimal balance, orders are generally filled only as they come in, so as to continue the aging process as much as possible. Depending on what vintage you are able to find, the tasting notes can vary from dried fruits and vanilla to chocolate and toast.
Dabbling in both single- and multi-varietals over single and double distillations, the Samalens Bas Armagnac collection, dating back to 1882, is a comprehensive library of flavors. The single-varietals, available from eight to 15 years, rely on the Ugni Blanc grapes alone, ranging from a bright, fruit-forward to a tobacco and balsamic.
Known as one of the top ten spirits of all time, the Delord 25-Year-Old is the incredible work of several familial generations of devotion to the Armagnac craft. It may be one of the most difficult to find, but with its deep and bold notes of leather, toffee, and honey—to name just a few—the 25-Year-Old is a most necessary experience.
Baron de Sigognac
Baron de Sigognac takes great pride in the methodology and purity of its Armagnac, which are all grown, distilled, and matured under its care. From the time each parcel of vineyard is harvested and vinified separately to the aging in progressively older oak casks, this spirit has made a name for itself for good reason. For a truly luxurious Armagnac experience, Baron de Sigognac offers completely personalized bottles to the buyer’s taste.
Janneau Grand VSOP
Both a good introduction to and a lasting partner in the Armagnac world is Janneau’s Grand VSOP. This blend, composed of some aged Armagnac well over 20 years, comes from the Baco, Ugni Blanc, and Folle Blanche grapes from Bas-Armagnac and Tenareze, with both single and double distillations. The recipient of many gold medals, the lively white chocolate and caramel notes lend themselves well to sipping by itself or mixing into a cocktail.