Vodka, gin and even malt whiskey… most people are familiar with them. But what about cognac, not to mention armagnac, cognac's much 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 of south-western France. It is made 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, acidic wine that only acquires its typical character through distillation – or double distillation.Distillation takes place in copper alembics, the shape and size of which depends on the French tax authorities are strictly controlled.
After distillation, the young cognac is aged in oak barrels for several years. With a few exceptions, all cognacs are a blend (i.e. blend) of different casks, whereby each individual cognac of this composition must be noted so that the origin can be traced back. One speaks here of "Eau de Vie" (French for "water of life"). The age of a cognac tells you how old the youngest 'Eau de Vie' in that blend is. For example, for prestige cognacs, this latest “Eau de Vie” may be over 100 years old!
Normally you won't find a direct age indication on a cognac bottle, but a few mysterious letters: VS, VSOP, XO.
What is 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 used to have to be at least 8 years old, and since 2018 even 10. Sometimes this cognac is 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 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 made from Ugni-Blanc (Trebbiano), Folle Blanche and Colombard grapes. Sometimes there is also some Baco Blanc. Unlike cognac, armagnac is not distilled in copper alembics but, like American bourbon, in so-called column alembics, which are usually made of copper.
Another difference is that Armagnac is only distilled once and not twice like Cognac. The simple distillation results in brandies with a broader range of aromas than is known from cognac. Armagnac is therefore a better introduction to the world of French brandies. Especially for whiskey drinkers.
Armagnac uses the same age designation as Cognac, i.e. VS, VSOP and XO. And – again unlike cognac – there are sometimes even vintage Armagnacs.