Gascony Brandy, it's all about Armagnac
There are lots of reasons you might want to visit Gascony, and especially to come on holiday in this special, little-known, unspoilt and very beautiful part of South West France. And one of the best reasons is that jewel of Gascony's history, the noble Gascony brandy - Armagnac!
ALL ABOUT ARMAGNAC
Armagnac is France's oldest recorded 'Eau de Vie' (water of life) and has been produced in Gascony for over 700 years. Commonly referred to as just 'Gascony Brandy', Armagnac 'houses' are small family businesses, each one handcrafting this extraordinarily diverse spirit that has such a fine reputation among connoisseurs around the world. Armagnac is produced from a base of raw wine. There are three distinct Armagnac regions: Bas Armagnac in the West, Armagnac Tenarèze in the Centre and Haut Armagnac in the South and East. Which region produces the 'best' Armagnac is a discussion that can last all night...
The grapes are harvested in late September or October and the wine is made. Once the wine is ready after fermentation, it will be distilled using an Armagnac 'Alambic', a special still used in 95% of Armagnac production. Every Alambic is unique and 25% of Armagnac 'continuous' Alambics are still wood fired whilst the rest use gas. Only 60 Armagnac houses own their own Alambic so the others use what is known as an 'Alambic Ambulant', a roving Alambic that travels from estate to estate.
On leaving the Alambic, the clear and perfumed spirit is about 60% alcohol. This is put into new 400 litres oak barrels. These are called 'pièces' in Armagnac and the oak often comes from the forests of Gascony. Three very important things happen to the spirit in the barrel: the extraction of tannins from the barrel, the evaporation called the 'Angel's Share' (the same term is used in making Malt Whisky) and the development of the aromas coming from the wood through the slow oxidation of the Armagnac in contact with air through the barrel.
Armagnac comes in many different blends and vintages. The typical blends are VSOP (youngest Armagnac in the blend must be a minimum of 4 years old), XO (minimum of 6 years old), Hors dâ€™Age (minimum of 10 years old). Single year vintages are specific to Armagnac and must be at least 10 years old. They are the product of the harvest of the year marked on the label and these bottles are often given as the perfect gift to celebrate a birth, wedding or other special anniversary.
Armagnac is a very diverse spirit and no two are the same. The older vintages should be drunk as a traditional digestif, but younger blends can be served on ice as an aperitif or in cocktails. But however you choose to enjoy your Armagnac, you will be experiencing the spirit of Gascony!
Based on an article by Amanda Garnham, of the: BNIA (Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l'Armagnac) For more information, go to:www.armagnac.fr
Or to try out Armagnac for yourself and make the first step of your Gascony journey, browse our available holiday rentals.