The Custodians of Armagnac, Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l'Armagnac (B.N.I.A.) institute protocols that protect the well earned and respected reputation and image of this noble beverage. In order to wear the badge of quality and appellation, producers will only be permitted to put on these hallmarks on their labels if they adhere to strict rules of provenance and production. In the case of Armagnac, this includes boundaries of viticulture, vivification, distillation, maturation and classification. Here we attempt to summarise the processes and various sub-classifications of Armagnac to assist the consumer better understand the markings on Armagnac bottles.
Armagnac in Brief
Oldest (1310AD) French grape based eau-de-vie produced of France in the heart of Gascony. The department of Gers became the first registered wine growing region.
Armagnac terroirs and the production methods have to meet strict rules laid down by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée obtained by this eau-de-vie in 1936
In 17th Century the Dutch tried to corner all the still wines from the French Atlantic coast but, as the British controlled Bordeaux distribution they stopped all still wines coming down the River Garonne. However spirits were not controlled and the Dutch took advantage of this loophole.
Unaged eaux-de-vie was inconsistent in those days, so stocks of good spirits from certain vintages were kept in oak cask for future consumption. This aging inadvertently added flavour and complexity to the spirit which lead to more structured classifications and aging regimes.
The decree of 25th May 1909 marked out the production zone for the Armagnac eaux-de-vie and it’s three regions, followed by the decree of 6th August 1936 that defined the 'Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée’ Armagnac and its production conditions.
Regions & AOC
Armagnac, Côtes de Gascogne and Floc de Gascogne
Grown over Three French Departments
2.Gers (Haut-Armagnac & Bas-Armagnac & Armagnac Tenarèze)
3.Lot-et-Garonne (Armagnac Tenarèze)
The Fallières Decree, 25th may 1909 market out the initial districts for Armagnac which were refined on 6th August 1936, then 2005 & 2014.
5 Armagnac Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée :
3.Armagnac Tenarèze 40% (Lot-et-Garonne & Gers) Major Towns: Condom, Castelnau-d’Auzan
5.Blanche Armagnac AOC (Unaged) – Decree of 2005 & 2014
Armagnac shares the same AOC limits with IGP Côtes de Gascogne and PDO Floc de Gascogne. In total they cover 15,000 or 20,000 hectares of vines of which 5,200 hectares exclusive for Armagnac:
Bas-Armagnac in the West with poor, acidic clay loam soils & pockets of reddish brown iron elements called ‘tawny sands’. The characteristic sediment in the region are predominantly silty soils termed ‘boulbènes’. This zone produces light, fruity, delicate and highly reputed eaux-de-vie.
Haut-Armagnac is very spread out and sparse in the South and East. Hills are of limestone and clay-limestone with valleys sometimes covered with boulbènes. The vineyards here are quite sparse.
Armagnac-Ténarèze (1993) in the centre is a transitional zone. Here we find ‘boulbènes’ and clay-limestone soils that are heavy yet fertile called ‘terreforts’. Armagnac-Ténarèze benefit from extended aging as these eaux-de-vie are generally richer and more full-bodied.
Armagnac 1988 AOC Varietals
Baco 22A 30% developed in Armagnac after phylloxexa
Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano)
Folle Blanche (Piquepoult) Traditionally used
Clairette de Gascogne
Plant de graisse / Blanquette
Mauzac Blanc & Rosé
Armagnac Age Classifications
• ✯✯✯ – min 1 year
• VS Very Special – min 1 year
• VSOP Very Superior Old Pale – min 4 years
• Napoleon – min 6 years
• XO Extra Old – min 10 years
• Hors d'âge – "beyond age" – min 10 years
• Age Statement – Youngest Cask
• Vintage – Year of Harvest
• Brut de Fût – Cask Strength
• For export to the US, min. 2 years
Armagnac AOC Distillation Rules
1. 95% Single Distillation Continuous Armagnacais Alembic of which 20-30% are Mobile Alembics
2. 5% Double Distillation Cognacais Alembic for lighter, floral early aging Armagnacs
3. La blanche d’Armagnac 52% to 72% ABV
4. Due to low ABV they are often not diluted
5. Distilled before 31st March following Harvest
6. Vinasses or residue removed from bottom of boiler
7. Open Flame Used (usually gas) Copper Stills
Armagnac AOC Aging
1.Min 1 year in Oak
2.Bottle Strength min 40%
3.Oak Cask usually 400L to 420L
4.Gascony or Limousin Oak used
5.Age statement is that of the Youngest
6.Petites Eaux – independently aged Armagnac & Distilled Water used for reduction
Blanche Armagnac AOC
•Minimum 3 Months Aging in inert containers
•Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Baco & Colombard used either pure or as a blend
•Can be double distilled
•Distilled to a higher ABV than Armagnac
•Batch-by-batch sampling, analysis and tasting expert jury before release.
•Fruity & Aromatic
•Decree of 2005 & 2014
•Declaration of plots by 31 July following Harvest
•Blanche Armagnac cannot be converted to Armagnac
Other notes of Aging Armagnac
The distillate is aged in new 400 or 420 litre oak cask for at least one year. Armagnac interacts with the oak and the air, evaporating at the rate of about 3% percent by volume and ½% by ABV a year. To avoid over extraction from the oak, the eaux-de-vie is transferred to older used cask. However, after 40 to 50 years the oak ceases to contribute flavours and at this stage or when the Cellar Master decides it has reached it optimum, and it transferred to large inert glass carboys called Demijohns / Dames-Jeannes/ bonbonnes for future blending.
Petites Eaux or independently aged Armagnac and distilled water is used to adjust the ABV before bottling.