Vodka, gin and even malt whiskey… most people are familiar with that. But what about Cognac, not to mention Armagnac, Cognac's even lesser-known little brother? Here you will find all the answers to your questions!
First of all: both Cognac and Armagnac are French brandies. And brandy, to put it simply, is distilled wine. Just like whiskey (or whiskey) is distilled beer.
Cognac is a brandy from the "Cognac" region in the French south-west. It is distilled primarily from three grape varieties that are rarely found in great wines: Ugni-Blanc (also known as Trebbiano), Folle Blanche and Colombard. Sometimes it is also some Sémillon is involved. When fermented, these grapes produce an undrinkable, sour wine, which only gets its typical character through distillation - or double distillation. The distillation takes place in copper alambics, the shape and size of which depend on the French tax authorities are strictly controlled.
After distillation, the young cognac is stored in oak barrels for several years. With a few exceptions, all cognacs are a blend (i.e. blend) of different barrels, whereby each individual cognac in this composition must be noted so that the origin can be traced. This is called “Eau de Vie” (French for “water of life”). The age of a cognac provides information about how old the youngest “eau de vie” in this blend is. For prestige cognacs, for example, this youngest “eau de vie” can be over 100 years old!
Normally you won't find a direct indication of the age on a cognac bottle, but you will find a few mysterious letters: VS, VSOP, XO.
What is hidden behind this code?
- VS stands for Very Special. Such a cognac must be at least two years old, although it is often more.
- VSOP stands for Very Superior Old Pale. This is at least 4 years old.
- XO stands for Extra Old. This previously had to be at least 8 years old, but since 2018 it has been 10 years old. This cognac is sometimes also referred to as “Napoleon”.
As a rule, the prescribed minimum age of the respective designation is easily exceeded. You can therefore assume that you will always have a slightly older drop in the glass than what is written on the bottle. This is definitely the case with our cognacs.
And now for the Armagnac. This is a brandy from the Armagnac region in Gascony, a region south of Cognac. It is also produced from Ugni-Blanc (Trebbiano), Folle Blanche and Colombard grapes. Sometimes there is also some Baco Blanc. Unlike Cognac, Armagnac is not distilled in copper alambics but, like American bourbons, in so-called column alambics, which are usually made of copper.
Another difference is that Armagnac is only distilled once and not twice like Cognac. Single distillation produces brandies with a broader range of aromas than is known from cognac. That's why Armagnac is better for entering the world of French brandies. Especially for whiskey drinkers.
Armagnac uses the same age label as Cognac, i.e. VS, VSOP and XO. And – again unlike Cognac – there are sometimes even vintage Armagnacs.