Whether it is tipped on one side in a brandy balloon in appreciation of its colour, read about on the wine and spirits lists in a restaurant or ranked among the best bottles, Armagnac is quite intriguing. It is a little like an authentic and distant treasure, yet it is well within reach. This prestigious word means an eau-de-vie made in the heart of Gascony from white wines.
The doyenne of French eaux-de-vie, its first drops flowed in 1310 under the medicinal name of aygue ardente (burning water) that over time and different uses became Armagnac. A few hundred years later, the Gascon nectar was officially recognised by the Fallières decree in 1909 that marked out the boundaries of its production zone. The ultimate accolade was attributed to Armagnac in 1936 when it became one of the first French Appellation d’Origine Controlée products.
Historic precision is an easy story to tell, though fatally incomplete. Although Armagnac is rich in history, each bottle has its own story to tell that is even more important: that of all the parts that make it what it is, that of the men and women that make it and that of the time that enhances it.
With over five thousand hectares of vineyards, all of Gascony is touched by Armagnac. Its vines cover a large part of the Gers, some of the Landes and the Lot-et-Garonne and these are divided into three terroirs : Bas Armagnac, Armagnac-Ténarèze and Haut Armagnac. Their plentiful qualities allow the ten white authorised grape varieties to give their best. Among them, four in particular leave their mark on the eau-de-vie: Ugni Blanc, Baco, Folle Blanche and Colombard.
The grapes are vinified and the wine is distilled according to the local and traditional savoir-faire of the craft producers. It is they that give us this eau-de-vie thanks to the dedicated skill and toil of their hands, the meticulous attention given to the alambic’s flame and the sacred respect of the years of maturation necessary in barrels. Time and wood educate and foster the nectar just until it reaches its prime. It is then bottled so that it may truly come to life in the hands of the seasoned or curious connoisseur.
Finally, it is difficult to say exactly what Armagnac is, as it is all a question of senses and sensations. The best way to define it, and surely the most simple, is to taste it.