Armagnac is a grape-based brandy that’s made in France’s Gascony region. Armagnac is a robust brandy that makes a perfect dessert companion or a nightcap. It’s sometimes compared to bourbon since spices feature heavily in the flavor profile. Armagnac has strong roots in agricultural history. Historically, it was made by roving distillers who would travel to farms in remote areas. Their mobile equipment allowed farmers to produce brandy from their own wine, without having to buy equipment of their own.
Today we are going to take a look at some of the best Armagnacs available that you should try if you love brandy.
It would be easy to confuse Armagnac with Cognac, but they are indeed different. Cognac is far more well-known, but you are welcome to consider Armagnac your fabulous little secret. We like this quote:
“Cognac is almost like the vodka that you store on the kitchen counter. Whereas Armagnac, texturally, is more like the vodka in the freezer, thicker and richer on the palate.”
Charles Neal, importer, Charles Neal Selections
Here are a few key differences between the two:
However, there are definitely some similarities between Cognac and Armagnac. For starters, both use grapes that are extremely undrinkable before the distilling process. (Seriously, don’t try to drink these wines before they are distilled. Yuck.) Additionally, both types of brandies can be sold as vintages or as blends, although both are typically blended before bottling. At the bottling stage, they use the same aging grades: VS, VSOP, XO, and Hors d’Age.
If you are shopping around, try one of these Armagnacs.
Marie Duffau Napoléon
This is an excellent budget buy. This 6-year-old Armagnac has a flavor profile that is autumnal: think dried fruit and hints of vanilla. It also brings forth flavors of caramel, toffee, and chewy taffy. It’s an excellent, creamy choice for starting your Armagnac journey without breaking your bank account in the process. It’s also an excellent choice as an ingredient in a mixed drink.
Castarède XO 20 Ans
The Castarède XO Armagnac is like drinking pure, concentrated caramel. Other flavor profiles that are present are oak, coffee grounds, and piquant black pepper. This is a wonderful drink for late fall, with hints of holiday flavors, like baking spices, eggnog, and cocoa. This brandy has been aged for at least 20 years in oak, way beyond the 10 years required for an XO designation.
Château de Laubade XO Bas-Armagnac
This is a spicy, flavorful choice. It is fantastic if you’ve already experienced brandy once or twice and know what to expect in terms of the powerful alcoholic punch. This brandy is nutty and brings back-of-the-throat heat. If you typically drink whiskey, try this the next time you buy a bottle. The Château de Laubade is made as a blend of more than 40 Eaux de vie, which are aged from 15-25 years in Gascon oak.
Château de Lacquy, Baco 2001 Bas-Armagnac
This brandy looks like dark honey, but its flavors include dried fruits, cream and brioche, and hints of cinnamon. This is a very complex Armagnac and is a big award winner. It’s almost chewy thanks to the barrel influence, like taffy.
Chabot 30 Armagnac
You know that when we find something aged 30+ years, we’re looking at a higher price point. This Armagnac practically glows. (This decanter really complements this bottle of Armagnac amazingly.) The brandy has been specially blended by their Cellar Master from vintages secured in the oldest reserves of Chabot. It has a nose of cherry pastry, dark bread, and toffee. When sipped, this brandy begins with honey and oaky vanilla, then transitions to a dark caramel, toffee, and honey. This Armagnac pairs perfectly with an expensive cigar.
Dartigalongue Grand Eau-de-Vie Armagnac
This is a rich, bold, and buttery brandy. It’s possibly more oaky than some of the other options on this list, but with the other standard spice and vanilla flavors. Aged 25 years, this Armagnac reminds you of vanilla and toffee. It is then followed by cocoa powder, crushed walnut, leather, caramel, and tobacco. “Dollar for dollar one of the best drinking experiences in the store, bar none,” said one reviewer. A judge at the Ultimate Spirits Competition said that in the finish “something reminiscent of old library books is revealed.”
We’ve picked out a variety of excellent Armagnac bottles for you to try, at just about every price point. These bottles can get expensive pretty quickly. That’s partly because of the flavor profile and also because of the limited selection of the grape varietals. If you love a strong bourbon, then give these Armagnacs a try. Because of the similar spiciness, you may very well fall in love all over again!
Here’s a hot tip for sipping your Armagnac: dab your finger in the glass and then dab it on the back of your hand. Once the liquid has evaporated, smell it up close like a fine perfume. You should be able to notice notes of dried fruits and possibly butterscotch and licorice.
Another hot tip: Decant this stuff. Open it up so it’s not so potently alcoholic. Decanting brings out other flavors as well! An artisanal decanter can really highlight an expensive bottle of brandy. They complement each other beautifully.