The hidden world or Armagnac
Today I would like to share with you one of those hidden gems, like perhaps sherry, that due to change in trends or poor publicity get usually overseen by most. So let me share with you one of those secrets, an amazing product at a relatively low price: Armagnac.
Basically Armagnac is a type of brandy produced in Gascony (France). It has many similarities with Cognac, as it is also distilled from grapes (Baco. Colombard, Folle Blance and Ugni Blanc), however unlike Cognac, Armagnac is distilled twice rather than once, hence having more exposure to wood which helps develop its complexity, aromas and flavours. After distillation, Armagnac is aged in local oak casks, usually for a very long time.
Armagnac is considered one of the first areas in France who started distilling spirits, and in fact is even older than Cognac, although less known.
Although some Armagnacs are vintage dated you will find that most Armagnac is a blend of different vintages. In blended Armagnac, the label indicates the age of the youngest wine in the blend, so you will also be tasting some older vintages included in the blend.
The labelling system includes the following:
VS means the Armagnac has spent a minimum of two years in cask.
VSOP and Reserve mean the Armagnac has spent a minimum of five years in cask.
XO and Napoleon mean the Armagnac has spent a minimum of six years in cask.
Hors d'Age requires ten years or more.
Typically, the older Armagnacs are better, more complex and more expensive, but it's also important to choose Armagnac from a good producer. I recommend the Chateau de Laubade which is being sold by the Wine Warehouse in Vietnam, and it is great.
However the real jewels are the vintage Armagnacs, as you can find really amazing bottles, going back several decades, at really affordable prices. I was introduces to Armagnac by my friend Albin Roux, when he came to a party at my home and brought half bottle of the 1985 vintage, which was absolutely gorgeous. That got me started in the research, and obviously in the tasting.
A few months later the Wine Warehouse made my day as they started bringing a selection of vintages to Vietnam (they currently have in stock vintages going back to 1944) so with my birthday coming around I bought the 1970 and the 1981, which I opened at a dinner at home with some friends to close the evening. Needless to say that the Armagnacs were the star of the night, not only for their age, but for the complexity, aromas and taste.
Apart from crazy people like me that buy d collect spirits and wine, these vintage Armagnacs are a great present to wine and spirit lovers, as you can buy your friends, family and business partners the vintage Armagnac matching their birthday year. For collectors, the Wine Warehouse if offering a free Armagnateque for people buying a minimum number of vintages, but even if you buy a single bottle, you will have a great time enjoying it with and impressing your friends.
As it happens with single malts and bourbon, Armagnac stops ageing once it is removed from its wood casks and placed in glass bottles, at the same time it virtually last forever without losing quality, so you can open it and leave it in the cabinet almost indefinitely. However when storing Armagnac you should keep the bottle standing up, not lying on its side, since Armagnac will spoil if it comes in prolonged contact with its cork.
Finally for those of you not yet convinced to try Armagnac, you may want to know that originally Armagnac was drunk for medicinal purposes, especially famous was Cardinal Vital du Four, who in the 14th century claimed that Armagnac was therapeutic for 40 different illnesses, just in case you needed another excuse to enjoy this amazing spirit!