What to Look for When Buying Armagnac
Just like when buying a car or a Smartphone, you always have a better buying experience if you know a little bit about the end product. With that in mind, this article will offer advice on what to look for when buying Armagnac by educating you on the things you need to know. There is no special buying trick, there is no certain type of color, smell, or label to look out for. This article answers the question, “What is Armagnac?” And, it offers information that will help you become a more savvy and knowledgeable buyer.
What is Armagnac?
Can you tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi? Between Nestle and Cadburys? Brandy also has its own flavor too. Over many years, companies have created their own brandy recipes that in turn have a very distinctive flavor.
So famous are Brandy makers in Armagnac that there is a brandy named after the region. Thanks to Europe’s rules, you are not allowed to call a drink Armagnac unless it comes from the Armagnac region. Even if you match the recipe exactly, you cannot call your product Armagnac, and even if a producer from the region makes sub-par Armagnac, that producer may still call it Armagnac.
Oddly enough, before the German-inspired rules came into place, you could produce high-quality Armagnac anywhere and name it Armagnac. So, that expensive bottle you are storing from decades ago may have actually been created by a friendly local producer.
Is There More to Making Armagnac Than Just a Name?
The most honest answer is “No.” Just like how Coca Cola has its own flavor of cola drink but there are other producers who make Cola, there have been plenty of brandy producers in France, in Armagnac, and all over the world who have made and sold Armagnac. In the strictest terms, only people who produce from the Armagnac region in France are creating Armagnac.
However, these days the world is a litigious place, so rules and laws have been set up to protect the idea of Armagnac; just like rules have been set up to protect different breeds of dog.
What Do People Expect When They Buy Armagnac?
As mentioned previously, there are now rules that govern what people receive when they buy the drink named Armagnac.
We all know that alcohol comes from some fermentable biomaterial or another. Apples make cider, hops make beer, and grapes make brandy. Armagnac is distilled from wine, and the rule is that the Armagnac must contain at least some grapes of the Baco 22A, Colombard, Folle Blanche and Ugni blanc varieties. Also, Armagnac is traditionally made in column stills, whereas Cognac is made in pot stills.
Armagnac is aged in oak barrels, which is where it gets its distinctive brown coloring from. When you empty an Armagnac barrel, you can come back to it later and find that it has some more in it. This is because the wood absorbs the brandy, and when the barrel is empty, the brandy pools at the bottom.
Barrels are also wrapped in plastic, like the cling film you use in your kitchen, but this is actually far rarer than people think. Many people think that barrels are wrapped in plastic to stop the angel’s share, but this is not a common French practice. It is more something that Scottish whiskey producer play around with. Yet, there are some Armagnac producers who use barrels designed by Edinburgh Napier University because apparently their shape helps to reduce the angel’s share brandy evaporation to less than ten percent.
How Can I Tell What is Quality Armagnac?
As mentioned earlier, the world is now a more litigious place, which means if you are buying a product with the Armagnac name on it, then the rules state that certain guidelines must be followed.
As mentioned earlier, the Armagnac must have been made in the Armagnac region, and it must have used a mixture of these grapes: Baco 22A, Colombard, Folle Blanche and Ugni blanc.
It also cannot be made using unconventional production methods such as adding certain chemicals to make the grape must ferment faster, or cutting the brandy with pure alcohol rather than distilling the brandy correctly.
In order to keep an eye on how the Armagnac is being made, there are two groups. There is the Bureau National Interprofessionel de l'Armagnac (BNIA) and the Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité (INAO)
What is Quality Armagnac...Continued - What’s the Catch?
The problem with Armagnac is that even if a company in the Armagnac region follows all the rules, they can still create a fairly bad batch of Armagnac. It’s just like how a company can follow all the rules on making custard, and still make a pretty lousy custard. Just because an Armagnac producer is following all the rules, it doesn't guarantee that the resulting Armagnac brandy will taste great.
There is also the fact that Armagnac is not a global phenomenon in the same way that Cognac is. The biggest demand for it is in Europe. Cognac is produced by larger companies, whereas Armagnac is mostly made by smaller producers. This again suggests that if you see two bottles of Armagnac on the shelf, one may have been made by a brilliant producer, and the other may have been made by the producer’s neighbor who is not so great at alcohol production.
What is Quality Armagnac...Continued - Looking on the Bright Side
How many people hire a limousine with no place to go? In short, why would a small producer pay the extortionate costs of producing from the Armagnac region, and why would a small producer jump through all the hoops that the BNIA and INAO demands if it is just going to create poor quality Armagnac? Are there cheap producers? Yes, there are, but producing poor quality Armagnac is simply not a viable business model for producers who live in the Armagnac region.
You can buy a three-bedroomed house in Armagnac, France for what equates to a very reasonable price. But, if you want to buy an Armagnac production company and/or its vineyards, then it is going to cost you a massive amount. It costs a massive amount because you have the privilege of attaching the Armagnac name to the brandy you produce.
What is Quality Armagnac...Continued - What About the Store-Only Drinks? They must be of a Lower Quality
Take the example of the store-only Armagnac in the United Kingdom called, “Tesco V.S.O.P. Armagnac.” Tesco is actually the name of the store selling it, just like the Wal-Mart only products you find on shelves. In the UK, Armagnac brandy is slightly cheaper than in places like the USA, probably because Armagnac has less distance to travel from the Armagnac region in France.
Plus, as in the case of the “Tesco V.S.O.P. Armagnac,” it is produced for Tesco and has the name Tesco right on the label. This is the cheapest Armagnac in the whole store, and it is still pretty darn expensive. Yet, aren't the store-only or store-branded products supposed to be of lower quality? After all, isn't that why they are typically less expensive than named brands or specialist producers?
In reality, the answer is “No.” The Tesco “Cheap Stuff” is brilliant, and it is a genuine Armagnac that comes from distillers in the heart of Armagnac, Gascony in France. The difference is that the small producer has struck a deal with Tesco to keep costs lower. This product also has dried fruits and vanilla tones in order to give it a more distinctive taste, which is allowed as long as all other rules have been followed.
Where Can I Buy Armagnac Online?
Armagnac may not be as popular as Cognac in the USA, but it is still well-known enough to be stocked by many online alcohol retailers. Here are four national companies that stock Armagnac.
However, there should be plenty of options for 21+-year-olds in the USA. For example, grocery stores that offer online ordering and delivery will often be willing to deliver Armagnac. Plus, there are many liquor stores that are offering online ordering and delivery in their attempts to keep up with the larger grocery chains.
How Strong Should The Armagnac Be?
Armagnac is distilled just once, as opposed to Cognac that is distilled twice. This means that the Armagnac comes out at around 50+ proof. As the Armagnac ages, it loses some of its alcoholic content, with the possible exception of those that wrap their barrels in plastic. Since the Armagnac comes out less alcoholic than things such as Whiskey and Cognac, it doesn't usually have water added to the final product.
This does mean that the longer the Armagnac is left in the barrel, the less alcoholic it becomes. However, the flavor becomes more complex and the color becomes darker. This is because the liquid soaks into the wood, which influences the taste and color. Plus, the process of evaporation is believed to create new aromatic compounds that mix in with the Armagnac. The bottles you buy will have around 40% to 48% alcohol by volume.
What is Armagnac going to cost if it is older? Take note that once Armagnac is in its bottle, it stops aging. This means that buying older bottles is not necessary, nor does an older bottle mean a better caliber of Armagnac. However, just like with wine, there are sometimes good years where a small producer produces an excellent batch one year. In these cases, older bottles of Armagnac may be worth paying a little more for. Remember to keep the bottle upright so that the alcohol does not attack the cork.
As stated earlier, there is no real trick to determining what is good or bad Armagnac except to say that if it is real Armagnac, then it will probably be of very high quality. Armagnac is a protected name, which means only certain producers in certain locations can create it, and a producer that creates poor quality Armagnac will quickly go out of business. So much of a producer’s business depends on getting the process right that even new producers will rarely get it wrong. In reality, if your Armagnac tastes a little off, then it is more likely because the drink has been tampered with, such as bar workers who add water, or the Armagnac has been incorrectly stored.